Inaction over 'slaughter Māori' video sparks apology, overhaul at InternetNZ

By Will Trafford

It took more than 24 hours for a video of a masked man threatening to kill Māori, to be removed from YouTube. Photo / File

The country’s online watchdog, InternetNZ, has apologised for systemic racism, which saw it fail to act on racist, abusive, and threatening online content targeting Māori.

InternetNZ oversees .NZ domain names and supports internet policy development in Aotearoa but it was slammed in May last year when, having been notified of a video inciting violence and threatening to "slaughter Māori", it failed to act for more than 24 hours.

“We did not step up and defend Māori communities or work to have the material removed from the internet, and we were wrong,” a statement from the not-for-profit says.

Evidence of institutional racism within InternetNZ’s history, membership, governance, management and staff levels were uncovered in a report commissioned by the group from CORE Education tumu whakarae Hana O’Regan.

Two wāhine Māori, who were members of the board at the time, complained InternetNZ did not sufficiently act on the extremist video, which attacked Te Pāti Māori leaders among others.

The two councillors, who resigned in protest, also said other threats of violence and harm made toward Māori, and wāhine Māori in particular, weren't addressed either, according to the report.

Other examples of racism over a 20-year period included rejecting a Kohanga National Trust application to set up Kohanga.nz as an online domain in the late 1990s. 

Cultural competency upskilling required

"They were flatly declined and told to use .school.nz and .ac.nz," the report says. 

'.kura.nz was declined as well,' the report says.

O’Regan made a series of recommendations including a Tiriti-based governance policy, upskilling in cultural competency, more Māori and diversity on boards, and a commitment to more directly address online harm, in consultation with a broader range of stakeholders.

While acknowledging the decades of institutional racism, the organisation had unanimously approved the recommendations, according to Vivien Maidaborn, InternetNZ’s chief executive.

“These systems, and the way people have acted within them, have caused harm to te ao Māori. We unreservedly apologise for the harm to te ao Māori. We know that, from here, it is our actions that will right these wrongs,” Maidaborn said.

”The council commissioned this review and in that moment took responsibility. Now the council and me, as chief executive, will keep taking responsibility by stepping up to change racist systems and build strong partnerships with Māori that ensure equitable outcomes for Māori online, including .nz.”

A full action plan with associated deadlines will be released in early 2023.

Public Interest Journalism, funded through NZ On Air