Alarm bells must bring out disinformation fire fighters


The cancellation of two disinformation seminars this week amid threats and harassment should be ringing very loud alarm bells.

The seminars, organised by the Disinformation Project and communicated through the Science Media Centre, were to allow journalists to discuss disinformation with a range of experts. However, details of the media-only events in Auckland and Wellington somehow appeared on extremist social media channels. Traffic on those channels suggested the events could be gate crashed and they were cancelled as a safety precaution.

The director of The Disinformation Project, Kate Hannah, told Newsroom political reporter Marc Daalder she had received a death threat after the decision to cancel had been made but before legitimate attendees had been notified. Members of the project had been scheduled to brief journalists.

What is disturbing about this episode – the latest in a string of intimidating actions – is that the invitations were privately despatched to individuals via the Science Media Centre. Like the Disinformation Project itself, the SMC is a highly reputable organisation (whose advisory board I had the privilege of chairing). The fact that a screenshot of the invitation then appeared on Telegram fringe channels raised the ugly possibility that one of the potential invitees shared it with someone connected to those channels, or that their email accounts have been hacked or otherwise compromised. Continue reading “Alarm bells must bring out disinformation fire fighters”

The merits of honest work

A friend this week sent me a link to a TED talk by a very wise man. Michael Sandel is Professor of Government at Harvard University, where he teaches political philosophy. His TED talk focused on the increasing failure to recognise the worth of honest work. Here is a link to the talk:

https://www.ted.com/talks/michael_sandel_the_tyranny_of_merit?utm_content=2020-8-25&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=social&utm_source=facebook.com&fbclid=IwAR1KdQTo6_jfAQTPHgoppNvesMegUudQD6ur728SsGmO1H-HLc2EmMIsJoI

It brought to mind a graduation address I gave at the Auckland University of Technology 15 years ago. It is on a similar theme, although not expressed with Sandel’s eloquence. Nonetheless, I thought I would dust it off and share it with you.

Here it is: 

Continue reading “The merits of honest work”

Parting shots at the messenger

Quite frankly, New Zealand politicians don’t know how lucky they are.

Last week several of them wasted part of their valedictory speeches lambasting the news media. All had been the authors of their own fall from the political pedestal. Yet they saw fit to paint themselves as victims of journalists – a profession they characterised as lacking in ethics, scruples and plain common decency.

New Zealand media are, in fact, more restrained than their counterparts in countries where tabloid press and tabloid television run roughshod over the personal lives of politicians and have done so for a very long time. Continue reading “Parting shots at the messenger”

Let’s hit Cyber-barons with Australia’s big stick.



Andrea Vance is right. The Prime Minister won’t be ditching her Facebook account any time soon.

Writing in the Sunday Star Times, Vance noted that Facebook is her medium of choice “because it allows her to directly engage with a precise and captive audience [where] she is not constrained by troublesome questions from traditional media.” She went on to say Jacinda Ardern won’t be deleting her account “because it wouldn’t be expedient, especially in an election year.”

It is also odds-on that, for the same reason, the Government will not be joining its Australian counterpart in finally coming down hard on the unrecompensed appropriation of news content that attracts billions of dollars in advertising revenue to Facebook and Google.

On Friday, the Australian Treasurer Josh Frydenberg announced the much-anticipated mandatory code that will make the social media giants pay for news. Legislation to enact the code will pass through the federal Parliament before the end of the year. Continue reading “Let’s hit Cyber-barons with Australia’s big stick.”