Making Facebook great again

Just before the election Facebook did the right thing by removing Advance NZ’s page. It was too little too late for PAT PILCHER’s liking.

 

Facebook finally took action and booted off the Advance NZ page

Citing repeated breaches of Facebook misinformation policies, Facebook¬† removed Advance NZ’s political page just days before the NZ general election.

Advance NZ’s leader, Billy TK, was most displeased. He published an angry statement alleging that “Facebook’s decision to unpublish the page of a registered political party in New Zealand, two days before an election, is nothing short of election interference”. Te Kahika also said that the decision to pull the social media plug on Advance NZ’s Facebook presence was an attack on free speech.

Freedom of speech is one of those terms that is often applied when it suits the needs of people pushing an unpalatable or ethically dubious agenda. The sad thing is this: Very few people bother to pause to consider that there really is no such thing as free speech. All speech has consequences. There is almost always a price to pay when an idea becomes speech and speech translates into actions.

 

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This seems to be wasted on Billy TK, who has attracted a considerable amount of controversy since forming the Advance NZ party. In a recent long-form investigative piece on Stuff Circuit, Te Kahika came under scrutiny. What emerged was very unflattering.

Billy TK’s flying adventures

Ironically, the Advance NZ party had positioned themselves as the party determined to get to the “truth” of Covid-19 and 5G. A study led by Victoria University researchers found that 31 per cent of Advance NZ social media posts media were “half-truths”. They found that the posts consisting of information that while not totally fake contained a lot of incorrect or non-factual information. A further six per cent of Advance NZ’s social media posts were found to be fake news.

Happily, despite what at times seemed like strong (or at least noisy) grassroots support, Advance NZ tanked in the polls leading up to the election, and those polls proved accurate, as Te Kahika and pals only got 0.9 percent of the votes on the night. They can hardly blame Facebook for the fail, as a good percentage of votes were cast in advance (ho-ho!) prior to Facebook’s ban. Hopefully, the party’s poisoned chalice of tepid conspiracy theories will see the party consigned to political oblivion now that the results are in.

Freedom of speech vs. misinformation

It couldn’t happen to a nicer bunch of people. On 12 September Advance NZ ran an anti-lockdown protest in Auckland’s Aotea Square. The protest was organised by Billy TK who called it the “National Rally for Freedom”. Despite there being a new Covid-19 cluster and a lockdown in place (at the time the government was urging Aucklanders to wear masks), 1000 protestors attended. Many carried signs showcasing the liberal assortment of conspiracy theories they believed in. These ranged from calling New Zealand a police state through to anti 5G and anti-Covid-19. Despite a 53-year-old man dying from Covid, Advance New Zealand protestors urged on by Billy TK chose to flout lockdown rules and march down Queen Street not wearing masks or complying with lockdown rules aimed at preventing further Covid-19 infections.

Six days later, Billy TK tossed a can of petrol into an already raging Covid conspiracy bonfire by refusing to properly wear a facemask on a flight from Wellington to Dunedin. After posting a selfie showing he wasn’t wearing his mask properly (he claimed his nose felt “wrong”), he was asked repeatedly by cabin crew to wear his mask correctly. He refused to comply.

NZers can stand proud with Advance NZ at only 0.9 percent

When the flight landed in Dunedin police and an Air NZ manager met him at the arrivals gate. Billy TK argued that there was no legal basis for wearing a mask, saying there was nothing in the Covid-19 legislation that required he should wear a mask. Air NZ and the police, however, pointed out that the Civil Aviation Act requires passengers to comply with all orders from the pilot-in-command. Not exactly the stuff of an intending PM, is it?

We also take issue with Facebook. Why is it that they finally chose to act just days before the general election? Victoria University and other credible sources had been sounding alarm bells around what they allege were misleading posts and adverts from Advance NZ for some time. It was all just a little too late.

Surely a permanent ban for the leadership and party members of Advance NZ would be an effective means of preventing further misinformation from being posted. Worse still, the damage has arguably been done. Advance NZ has had enough time on Facebook to ensure that at least some New Zealanders will buy into their policies. Shouldn’t Facebook have acted far sooner? A public education programme on Facebook would have helped.

Billy gets the Facebook boot

Aside from a few small PR pieces in the media, Facebook seems to have done bugger-all to educate its users about the misinformation that is so prevalent on its platform. Given their sheer reach (in 2019, over half of all New Zealanders used Facebook, it is arguable that Facebook has a moral responsibility to New Zealand to ensure they don’t distort or otherwise damage our democracy. By hosting ethically dubious posts from political parties for much of the general election, Facebook appears to have precisely done this.

 

 

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