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New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern Compares Free Speech Online To ‘Weapons Of War’

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NEW YORK, NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 23: Prime Minister of New Zealand Jacinda Ardern speaks at the 77th session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) at U.N. headquarters on September 23, 2022 in New York City. After two years of holding the session virtually or in a hybrid format, 157 heads of state and representatives of government are expected to attend the General Assembly in person.
Michael M. Santiago / Getty Images

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern called for censoring the internet during her recent speech at the United Nations, arguing that unregulated free speech on the internet was a “weapon of war.”

“As leaders, we are rightly concerned that even those most light-touch approaches to disinformation could be misinterpreted as being hostile to the values of free speech that we value so highly,” she claimed. “But while I cannot tell you today what the answer is to this challenge, I can say with complete certainty that we cannot ignore it. To do so poses an equal threat to the norms we all value.”

“After all, how do you successfully end a war if people are led to believe the reason for its existence is not only legal but noble?” she continued. “How do you tackle climate change if people do not believe it exists?”

“The weapons may be different but the goals of those who perpetuate them is often the same: To cause chaos and reduce the ability of others to defend themselves, to disband communities, to collapse the collective strength of countries who work together,” she added. “But we have an opportunity here to ensure that these particular weapons of war do not become an established part of warfare.”

WATCH:

PARTIAL TRANSCRIPT:

JACINDA ARDERN, PRIME MINISTER: This week we launched an initiative alongside companies and non-profits to help improve research and understanding of how a person’s online experiences are curated by automated processes. This will also be important in understanding more about mis and disinformation online. A challenge that we must as leaders address.

Sadly, I think it’s easy to dismiss this problem as one in the margins. I can certainly understand the desire to leave it to someone else.

As leaders, we are rightly concerned that even those most light-touch approaches to disinformation could be misinterpreted as being hostile to the values of free speech we value so highly.

But while I cannot tell you today what the answer is to this challenge, I can say with complete certainty that we cannot ignore it. To do so poses an equal threat to the norms we all value.

After all, how do you successfully end a war if people are led to believe the reason for its existence is not only legal but noble? How do you tackle climate change if people do not believe it exists? How do you ensure the human rights of others are upheld, when they are subjected to hateful and dangerous rhetoric and ideology?

The weapons may be different but the goals of those who perpetuate them is often the same. To cause chaos and reduce the ability of others to defend themselves. To disband communities. To collapse the collective strength of countries who work together.

But we have an opportunity here to ensure that these particular weapons of war do not become an established part of warfare. ….

In these times, I am acutely aware of how easy it is to feel disheartened. We are facing many battles on many fronts.

But there is cause for optimism. Because for every new weapon we face, there is a new tool to overcome it.

For every attempt to push the world into chaos, is a collective conviction to bring us back to order.

We have the means; we just need the collective will.

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