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Harmful Inaccurate Information and Māori

A HEIA Thematic Report / Report # 4

Primary author: Ethan Renner (Ngāti Maniapoto, Tainui, Ngāti Apakura, Ngāti Pikiao, Ngāti Pukeko, and Ngāti Awa)

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Executive Summary

  • This report examines how HII affects indigenous communities overseas and Māori in Aotearoa. Indigenous communities and Māori are disproportionately affected by HII.

  • We also examine HII and hate speech about and targeted at Māori, conducting a data driven and mixed method examination of Aotearoa’s online spaces. We do so because we contend that HII targeted at indigenous communities breaks down trust and is therefore an important driver of HII among that community.

  • We analyse two databases of 2,183 New Zealand-based hate speech posts and 3,436 New Zealand-based HII posts collected from Facebook, Reddit, Instagram and Telegram through 26 November 2023 - 11 March 2024.

  • Our methodology includes the use of two Large Language Models (LLM) to detect HII and hate speech posts, which were then manually verified and categorised.

  • Posts within these datasets (one HII and one hate speech) discussing Māori were manually identified and coded.

  • We conclude with seven key findings:

  1. HII and hate speech targeting Māori undermines trust and intergroup cohesion and thereby increases HII among Māori,

  2. HII depicting Māori as a drain on public resources undermines initiatives to benefit Māori and thereby increases HII among Māori,

  3. HII and hate speech targeting Māori are therefore closely related,

  4. Anti-Māori HII is often populist, involving claims of an out of touch, self-serving elite,

  5. We identify small volumes of HII, however current events and media coverage cause surges,

  6. HII among Māori is a consequence of inequity,

  7. HII targeting Māori recycles colonial era tropes.

Whakataki – Introduction

Hate and Extremism Insights Aotearoa (HEIA) conducts data-led research to measure and analyse harmful and false online rhetoric. HEIA is based at the University of Auckland and led by Dr Chris Wilson. HEIA is politically neutral, and provides data and analysis for evidence-based consideration of the problems facing Aotearoa and the world.

Harmful Inaccurate Information (HII) is false ideas, beliefs and claims spread which are capable of causing a range of harms to individuals, communities and institutions. HII has spread more widely among and caused disproportionate harms to indigenous communities, particularly since the Covid-19 pandemic (Berrío-Zapata et al., 2024; Edsitty, 2022).

This thematic report employs a mixed methodology to examine HII both among and targeted at Māori. Using published studies and other sources, this report analyses HII among Māori. And, utilising online data collected from late November 2023 through to March 2024, the report also examines online HII which is about and targeted at Māori as well as anti-Māori hate speech.

We do so because HII and hate speech are closely connected.[1] This is particularly the case with Māori and other indigenous communities because hate speech often seeks to undermine the very identity and rights of that community as the first nation of Aotearoa. HII targeted at Māori and anti-Māori hate speech also likely play a role in increasing distrust and reducing social cohesion and as a consequence, increasing levels of HII among Māori (and other groups).

The report begins by considering the problem of HII among indigenous communities worldwide, and then discusses the levels and impacts of HII among Māori in Aotearoa. We then discuss the results of our data analysis of online HII about and targeted at Māori (including anti-Māori hate speech) in Aotearoa over a 4-month collection period.

[1] For more information on the relationship between Harmful Inaccurate Information and hate speech, see the HEIA Hate Speech thematic report

We have included a small number of anonymous posts which represent the HII and hate speech themes discussed. While these by no means represent the most offensive messages in our dataset, and we have redacted offensive terms, readers should exercise caution before reading.

Hate Speech 

HEIA defines hate speech as speech that goes beyond highlighting differences in practices and identities between groups, and vilifies, demeans, abuses or dehumanises people on the basis of their gender, ethnicity, religion, disability status or other identity. In doing so, hate speech is therefore different to political opinion and debate.

 Harmful Inaccurate Information

‘Harmful Inaccurate Information’ (HII) refers to all misleading information which causes harm or which is likely to have a harmful impact, regardless of whether the spreader of that information is a) aware of its misleading nature or b) intending to cause harm.

Not all hate speech is HII

While hate speech involves slurs and abuse, it can occur without including the spreading of inaccurate information as fact. In such cases, this speech is abuse or opinion (as heinous and ignorant as others may find it) and not HII.

Example: ‘Yes, [homophobic slur should] be smacked over starting with you’ (21/12/2023).

Not all HII is hate speech

A lot of HII contains false and misleading claims which are harmful in a range of ways but which do not demean a particular community. These statements are HII but not hate speech.

Example: ‘Mark of the beast is upon us covid-19 real meaning is certification of vaccinations by ID identification. (-19) means it's a patented Bioweapon not a Vaccine’ (27/02/2024).

In some cases HII and hate speech overlap In these cases, the speaker demeans a particular group and spreads inaccurate information. Example: “[x group] control the mainstream media, social-media, banking systems and are in key positions of political power in all White societies.  It is very obvious that they are not ‘victims’ - they are a hostile aggressive tribe with an innate biological drive to dominate and subjugate” (08/02/2024).

Defining Harmful Inaccurate Information

Misinformation is false content spread without any intention to mislead or cause harm. Disinformation is information disseminated with the knowledge that it is false and likely to cause harm (Gibbons & Carson, 2022; HEIA, 2023; Wang et al., 2022). 

Because it is often difficult to know the intent of those who spread false ideas, discriminating between misinformation and disinformation online is challenging. Hereby, in this report (as in our other reports) we use the term ‘Harmful Inaccurate Information’ (HII) to refer to all misleading information which causes harm or which is likely to have a harmful impact, regardless of whether the spreader of that information is a) aware of its misleading nature or b) intending to cause harm. This broad definition is outcome focused, and is best suited to data collection for an analysis of the problem of HII in Aotearoa’s online spaces (HEIA, 2024). For an in-depth definition of HII, see ‘Harmful Inaccurate Information: Defining disinformation, misinformation’.

HEIA does not recommend the regulation of hate speech and HII. Suppression of speech through regulation and content removal can undermine rights of free expression, risks disproportionate targeting of certain (legal) political and other opinions, and causes backlash and grievance, acting to solidify divisions and inflame feelings of persecution, undermining trust. This may only prompt the spread of further hateful rhetoric (Udupa et al., 2020). This approach can encourage the movement of those with alternative opinions to less mainstream platforms where more insidious perspectives are rife (Johnson et al., 2019). Freedom of expression is an essential value for supporting civil society and liberal democracy, but so too is protecting vulnerable communities and individuals from identity-driven harm, and defending their capacity to fully participate in society. 

HEIA therefore asserts that it is wise to track and monitor narratives of hate and HII within Aotearoa’s online spaces (while maintaining poster anonymity), to establish baselines and highlight notable trends and patterns. This helps prepare us for future increases in damaging inaccurate information, allowing agencies and others the evidence needed to respond effectively.

Hate Speech and HII

There are close links between hate speech and HII, as discussed in Thematic Report 2. Claims which contain more false information are also more likely to contain hateful rhetoric (Hameleers et al., 2022), likely due to ‘scapegoating’, where a person or group is unfairly blamed for a problem (AEC, 2023). Both HII and hateful content are more common in times of crisis, anxiety and social unrest, and often rise in tandem (Udupa et al., 2020). HII can trigger increased levels of hate speech and vice versa.

HII and hate speech therefore often sit in close proximity, and differentiating between them is sometimes difficult. For example, broad brush claims about the supposed criminality of an entire group are often considered to be opinion (rather than HII), but generalising about an entire group in this way is both false and harmful.

We contend that this overlap between HII and abusive hate speech is particularly prevalent when targeted at indigenous communities. This is because HII often seeks to undermine the status of first nations peoples by questioning their indigeneity and unique experiences with state led injustices. This is most often achieved through hate speech.

What is less clear are the ways in which hate speech and HII interact within online spaces. This gap is particularly present in Aotearoa, we have little systematic knowledge of the ways in which online HII is targeted at Māori, nor the effects this might have.


Harmful Inaccurate Information and Indigenous Communities

HII among Indigenous communities:

Indigenous communities around the world have been particularly vulnerable to the spread of HII. This was particularly notable during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Fredericks and colleagues (2022) reported that low vaccination rates from vaccine hesitancy among aboriginal Australian and Torres Strait Islander in 2022 were due to HII. HII included false claims that morgues were overrun due to vaccine-related deaths (Fredericks et al., 2022); claims that efforts by the Australian Defence Force to move residents in remote locations were a repeat of past experiences of the Stolen Generations[2] (Allam, 2021); and that COVID-19 vaccinations would create a ‘new genocide’ (Fredericks et al., 2022, para. 13).

HII-driven suspicions also circulated among the indigenous community in the campaign leading up to Australia’s Voice referendum in 2023. This was despite the initiative designed to institutionalise indigenous rights and a role in government (Starcevic & Chandran, 2023). In a video recording, an Aboriginal woman claimed that her community would lose rights to tribal lands if the referendum were to pass (Starcevic & Chandran, 2023; Williams, 2023).

In Brazil, HII led to violence and distress within the Jamamadi, Rio Tapajos and other indigenous communities between 2020 and 2021 (Berrío-Zapata et al., 2024). These communities rejected vaccination after HII generated distrust in ‘white medicine’ and pushed people towards ineffective cures (Berrío-Zapata et al., 2024, p. 354). Rumours spread that the vaccination would kill them within 15 days of its administration, that the Chinese had put monitoring chips in the serum, and that the medicine might turn them into alligators. In Mexico, rumours spread among indigenous communities in Chiapas that drones were being used to spread Covid-19 among their people (Phillips et al., 2020). In Argentina, HII claimed that the United States Central Intelligence Agency was spreading COVID-19, while in Peru communities believed that deceased COVID-19 victims were being dumped in the ocean and contaminating seafood (Phillips et al., 2020). In Canada, 2022 survey data showed that Canadian First Nations people were consistently more likely to believe COVID-19-related HII - especially HII about forced vaccinations (Bridgman et al., 2022). In British Columbia, data from 2021 showed that 40% of First Nation community members aged 65 and under reported vaccine hesitancy (Vancouver Sun, 2021). As we contend below, longstanding distrust of state authorities meant that during a crisis such as the pandemic, indigenous communities were unsurprisingly more likely to doubt the motives of officials.

[2] For more information on the Stolen Generations, see Krieken (1999).

HII targeted at indigenous communities:

Indigenous communities have not only faced higher rates of HII within their communities but also been the target of a great deal of HII spread by other communities. This has often included vilification, and the dissemination of demeaning stereotypes.

Between 2020 and 2021 in General Carneiro, Brazil, HII blaming local indigenous tribes for outbreaks of COVID-19 spread throughout social media (Berrío-Zapata et al., 2024). These claims took root among white settler communities in the area and fueled violence between the two groups.

HII about indigenous communities has often been ingrained within intergroup understandings in settler colonial countries. In Canada, harmful myths about the ‘savagery’ of indigenous populations before colonisation have been integrated into histories written from colonial perspectives in official textbooks used in school curriculums (Cummings, 2012; Mediaplanet, 2022). Used to reinforce the erasure of indigenous history and culture through dehumanisation, such HII perpetuates the idea that colonisers saved Canada’s First Nations people and rationalises the theft of their land, and dismisses indigenous voices in the classroom when they speak up to correct the information.

As well as perpetuating damaging stereotypes, these textbooks omit the displacement, deprivation, dehumanisation, and death of indigenous communities at the hands of colonisers in their historical accounts. Cummings (2012) analysed 10 such textbooks used in a rural school district in New Jersey. None provided a complete history of the intense warfare, disease and starvation endured by the local indigenous tribes via colonisation. In this way, HII targeting indigenous communities often omits past injustices and their role in causing present day marginalisation.

HII also sometimes targets initiatives designed to advance the interests of indigenous communities. On October 14, 2023, Australians voted against a referendum (referred to as the Voice campaign) that would have established an indigenous advisory body to give advice on matters affecting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people (Besser, 2023). The lead up to the vote was marred by HII across social media with a direct impact on the failure of the campaign (Starcevic & Chandran, 2023). Wellauer and colleagues (2023) reported that support for the referendum dropped from 65 per cent to as low as 35 per cent in the lead up to the vote, as a ‘brutally effective’ HII campaign opposing it (para. 4). This involved incorrect claims including that a Yes result would strip landowners of their property, that the advisory body would have the power to make laws, that it would cost indigenous people their rights and tribal lands, and that the referendum was a United Nations plot to turn Australia into a totalitarian republic (Sydney (AFP), 2023; Wellauer et al., 2023).

Similarly, in the United States, disinformation was employed by the state to undermine indigenous protests against the construction of an oil pipeline at the North Dakota Standing Rock reservation in 2016 and 2017 (Brown & Sadasivam, 2023; Harb & Henne, 2019). Protesters were angered the pipeline crossed sacred burial land and would contaminate tribe’s water supply (Harb & Henne, 2019). To counter the protest and their messaging, local law enforcement, the company installing the pipeline and a private security firm it had employed spread pro-pipeline disinformation designed to change the public’s perception of the protests and discredit protesters’ concerns as fake news (Brown & Sadasivam, 2023). These included information flyers falsely listing several non-profit organisations supporting the protests as ‘Extremist Environmental Groups’ (Brown & Sadasivam, 2023, para.47) and social media campaigns depicting protestors as ‘violent, professional, billionaire funded, out-of-state agitators’ (para. 33).

What explains high rates of HII among indigenous communities?

There are often good reasons why HII can more easily find a foothold among indigenous communities. The legacies of colonial harm suffered by indigenous communities at the hands of the state have left them distrustful of its government and institutions (Bridgman et al., 2022; Fredericks, et al., 2022). These legacies include the interconnected problems of: high rates of poverty, low home ownership and crime to a large degree stemming from the expropriation of land and ongoing structural racism. A 2021 study conducted by the University of Queensland found that an inherent mistrust of mainstream authorities among some Australian indigenous communities increases the chance of some community members seeking, encountering, or acting on unverified information (Fredericks, et al., 2022). In the Australian state of New South Wales, reports show that racism within the state's public health services is a key barrier for Australian indigenous people trying to access healthcare (Woodburn, 2021). These experiences include derogatory and degrading treatment from healthcare professionals, alongside dismissal of indigenous patients without proper assessment (Woodburn, 2021). For example, a pregnant indigenous woman died from septicaemia after presenting to a NSW hospital over twenty times (Woodburn, 2021).

In Canada, where first nations communities had much higher rates of vaccine hesitancy and belief in conspiracy theories, many in these communities are survivors of the residential school system, some of whom were experimented upon and even forcibly sterilised (Bridgman et al., 2022; Vancouver Sun, 2021). On an ongoing basis, everyday experiences of racism, stereotypes, intergenerational harm, and mistreatment can increase a person’s receptivity to HII (Smith et al., 2022). In Canada, racism and prejudice in the British Columbian healthcare system mean that indigenous people are more likely to be turned away from emergency departments (Vancouver Sun, 2021). These experiences unsurprisingly lead to a greater likelihood to question official health advice.

In addition to distrust in the state, other factors can contribute to the spread of HII among indigenous communities. Due to poor internet access and infrastructure, limited information, and geographical isolation, indigenous communities in countries such as Brazil and Cambodia have poor social media literacy, making it difficult for them to discern factual information online from HII (ANFREL News, 2023; Berrío-Zapata et al., 2024). This caused COVID-19-related HII to spread throughout Brazilian indigenous communities between 2020 and 2021.

The impact of HII on indigenous communities:

Indigenous communities around the world are impacted by HII in unique ways, often due, in part, to the legacies of harm they have suffered via colonisation.[3]

When HII swept through and took root among Brazil’s indigenous communities during the pandemic, it affected vaccination campaigns and the delivery of aid, compromising the health and survival of many in the communities (Berrío-Zapata et al., 2024). Crowds attacked health missions, rejected vaccinations and turned to ineffective COVID-19 treatments causing deaths to skyrocket, with mortality rates three to five times higher than in the white population (Berrío-Zapata et al., 2024). Elders were more affected by the virus, in turn weakening tribal heritage and memories. Combined with worse health care, poverty, and malnutrition, HII had left indigenous communities twice as vulnerable to COVID-19 infection than the white population.

In Bolivia, after politicians promoted a toxic bleaching agent as a cure for COVID-19, this claim was accepted among local communities, resulting in multiple cases of chlorine dioxide poisoning (Phillips et al., 2020). HII purporting that 5G telecommunication towers spread COVID-19 via radiowaves prompted villagers in the Huancavelica and Peruvian Andes to detain engineers for over a day (Phillips et al., 2020).

In the United States, language barriers among Californian indigenous communities limited access to official healthcare advice and contributed to the spread of COVID-19 vaccine-related HII (Getahun, 2021). This led to poor vaccination rates among these communities and many became ill and died when the Delta variant swept through California (Getahun, 2021).

HII also undermines the participation of indigenous communities in their democracy and political system. Because indigenous communities are affected disproportionately, those communities will be disproportionately pushed out of full participation in political and social life. In Cambodia, concern was raised in the lead up to the country’s national elections that poor digital literacy would undermine the ability of indigenous communities to discern truthful information from false information online (ANFREL News, 2023). Community representatives and activists asserted that this affected the ability of indigenous people to access correct information from opposition political parties and vote in an informed manner.

During moments of crisis HII campaigns often involve abusive rhetoric which in turn has a detrimental effect on interethnic relations and security. The HII campaign during the Voice referendum in Australia was marked both by ‘confusion and misinformation’ and racial division, thereby sparking anger and inciting racial abuse toward indigenous activists (Starcevic & Chandran, 2023, para. 9). In Brazil, HII directly caused violence between white settlers and indigenous communities, as the latter were blamed for local outbreaks of the virus.

[3] (Cummings, 2012) (Bridgman et al., 2022) (Berrío-Zapata et al., 2024)

Harmful Inaccurate Information among Māori

The COVID-19 pandemic saw many New Zealanders including Māori fall victim to health-based HII which challenged the validity of official health advice (Te Ao - Māori News, 2021). Activists have argued that Māori (like indigenous communities elsewhere) are particularly vulnerable to disinformation due to the distrust many felt towards the Crown after generations of colonial-era and postcolonial harm (Cook, 2020; Ngata, NA).

Māori have suffered land alienation, economic impoverishment, cultural marginalisation, forced social change, and multi-level hegemonic racism (Barnes & McCreanor, 2019). The contemporary impact of these harms has left Māori systematically disadvantaged in comparison to Aotearoa’s other ethnic communities, with poorer mental and physical health outcomes, lower education levels, and overrepresentation in prison (Barnes & McCreanor, 2019; Ministry of Justice, 2023; Ngata, NA; Walters, 2018).

For example, Māori are more than 5 times more likely to have their children taken by the state, with nearly 70% of all child uplifts in 2019 being Māori children, and then accounted for a further 75% of children who were sexually and physically abused as wards of the state (Ngata, NA). Crucially, this abuse occurred while these children were in state care and was perpetrated by state-approved staff. As seen among indigenous populations internationally, these experiences have left many Māori distrusting of the state (Ngata, NA).

It is then perhaps unsurprising that during the COVID-19 pandemic Māori health outcomes were particularly threatened by HII and anti-vaccination conspiracy theories (Cardwell, 2022; Te Ao - Māori News, 2021). In 2021, Māori health providers in Taranaki reported that HII on social media meant that only 9.66% of Taranaki Māori aged 16-plus had been fully vaccinated compared to 13.15% of the general population (Martin, 2021). Māori nationwide had lower rates of vaccine acceptance (64.8% in 2021 compared to 70.7% among the total sample) and higher rates of being unlikely to take the vaccine (21.5% compared to 14.2%) (Prickett et al., 2021). A 2022 study found that only 88% of Māori had had their second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, while only 58% had had their third dose compared to 95% and 73% respectively of the general population (Cardwell, 2022). In early April 2022, a co-leader of the National Māori Pandemic Group reported that these lagging COVID-19 vaccination rates among Māori (due to exposure to HII) was costing the lives of Māori, particularly between 40 and 60 years (Cardwell, 2022).

Vaccine hesitancy among Māori has continued, with full immunisation among Māori children at 24 months old dropping from 87% in January to March 2020 to 69% in January to March 2023 (Charania et al., 2024). In addition to HII, Māori also face additional barriers to this healthcare such as insufficient engagement by health officials, and a lack of support for Māori-led strategies during the COVID-19 pandemic eroding community trust in routine immunisations (Charania et al., 2024).

During the COVID-19 pandemic HII actors co-opted symbols of Māori culture and sovereignty to promote far-right claims. In 2020, a conspiracist and aspiring politician built a sizable following promoting conspiratorial narratives while appropriating the language of indigenous resistance, including that Agenda 2030 was a foreign programme implemented without proper consultation which undermined the Treaty of Waitangi and Tino Rangatiratanga (Clark & Stoakes, 2023, p. 16). In turn, other Māori resisted this campaign, with iwi calling for anti-vaccination protestors co-opting these symbols and other customs to stop (NZ Herald, 2021).

Methodological notes

This report collected and analysed anonymous New Zealand-based posting data from public online platforms including Facebook, Instagram, Telegram, Reddit. All data is anonymised on collection and no personal information is intentionally collected. Any personal information inadvertently collected is deleted and we do not provide any such information or other data to third parties nor use it in our analysis.

We collect two bodies of posts: HII about and targeted at Māori; and anti-Māori hate speech. As discussed above and shown in more detail below, HII about and targeted at Māori and anti-Māori hate speech are often closely related (in some cases very difficult to differentiate).

The report used two proprietary Large Language Models (LLM) to detect HII and hate speech from 1,546,742 anonymous posts from these platforms.

The HII LLM identified posts based on the input: ‘This post must include inaccurate or false information that will deceive people and is likely to cause harm. This includes conspiracy theories, which are false, incorrect and untrue claims of a powerful group of people enacting a plan to increase their own power which has damaging consequences for the majority of people or society’.

The hate speech LLM identified posts based on the input: ‘Does this poster show hatred towards, or vilify, demean, abuse or dehumanise an individual or community because of their cultural or ethnic identity or disability status or physical appearance?’.

The posts identified as HII and/or hate speech by the LLMs were then manually checked by a team of four researchers who also categorised posts based on specific key themes and subthemes. Regular meetings and comparison ensured coding was consistent between team members.

Posts within these datasets (one HII and one hate speech) were manually coded as ‘about Māori’ if they discussed Māori as a group or Māori public figures; discussed topics specific to Māori, such as Te Tiriti o Waitangi; discussed stereotypes about Māori; used slang, terms, or slurs associated with Māori.

The numbers of HII and hate speech about Māori within our dataset are low. We do not suggest that this is representative of the level of HII or hate faced by Māori communities in Aotearoa. We only collect from public areas on particular platforms, while some of the most extreme hateful sentiments are posted in private online spaces. In addition, our rigorous methodology, with strict benchmarks for ‘harm’ and ‘inaccurate’ alongside a two-step verification process for weeding out posts which don’t meet these benchmarks, results in a database of the most clearcut HII and hate speech. This allows us to conduct a more targeted analysis of the state of HII and hate speech in Aotearoa. Our aim is to identify observable patterns and trends related to the relationship between HII, hate speech, and Māori, rather than provide a complete picture of these phenomena.

For the reporting period of 26 November 2023 to 11 March 2024, 19,058 posts were identified (by LLMs) as containing hate speech, and 26,297 posts identified as containing HII. Once the resulting posts were manually checked against our high threshold, our database consisted of 2,183 New Zealand-based hate speech and 3,436 New Zealand-based HII posts.

We include below examples of posts from our dataset which contain HII and hate speech. We have carefully considered the merits of reproducing posts, and believe their inclusion is important to convey the messaging involved and the vitriol sometimes directed towards Māori. Some posts have been counted in both datasets.

Online HII about Māori and anti-Māori hate speech

Figure 1. Anti-Māori hate speech and HII about Māori

Overall, 579 posts discussed Māori (related to HII or hate speech). Of the 3,436 New Zealand-based HII posts, 119 (3.4%) of these posts contained HII about Māori. Of the 2,183 New Zealand-based hate speech, 478 (almost a quarter) contained anti-Māori hate speech (of which 35 were HII). For a closer examination of the links between HII and hate speech see HEIA’s second thematic report. We found that anti-Māori hate speech was often very close to HII (making unsubstantiated claims about Māori as a community for example).

We found that anti-Māori hate speech was often very close to HII

There was a noticeable spike in the About-Māori and anti-Māori hate speech categories in January 2024. The simultaneous spike in the two categories reinforces how this content is often concerned with the same issues and the two forms can influence one another.

Harmful Inaccurate Information about or targeting Māori

HEIA identifies four categories of HII: 1) Health and Covid-19, related to distrust in the official health narratives and initiatives of the New Zealand Government and international health organisations; 2) Globalist Conspiracies, which relates to the belief that world events, including in New Zealand, are being controlled by an elite coalition of ‘globalists’ intent on creating a ‘New World Order’; 3) Politics (Distrust and Withdrawal), which maintains the New Zealand Government is undemocratic and/or cannot lawfully control individuals; and 4) Social Anxiety, which is associated with a belief that society is moving in the wrong direction. For a full explanation of how HEIA categorises HII data, see the see ‘Trends in Harmful Inaccurate Information in New Zealand’.

Figure 2. HII about Māori broken down by HII theme over time

Of the 119 HII posts about Māori, 11 (9.2%) were Globalist Conspiracies, 14 (11.7%) were Politics (Distrust and Withdrawal), 65 (54.6%) were Social Anxiety, 20 (16.8%) were Health and Covid-19, and 21 (17.6%) were Other forms of HII. As discussed, many more posts discuss Māori but we set a very high threshold to identify those posts which are both harmful and inaccurate (ie HII).

Figure 3. Breakdown of HII themes within HII about Māori

Anti-Māori Hate Speech marked as HII

35 of the 119 (29.4%) HII posts about Māori were also marked as anti-Māori hate speech (referred to as ‘anti-Māori HII). All of these were made between 01/02/2024 and 07/03/2024. 15 of these (42.8%) fell under the Social Anxiety category.

Figure 4. Proportion of HII about Māori that is also anti-Māori hate speech

Social Anxiety HII about Māori

Figure 5. Social Anxiety HII about Māori over time

54.6% of HII about Māori falls under the Social Anxiety theme. Of these 65 Social Anxiety posts, 42 posts (64.6%) fall under the Anti-Co-Governance subtheme, and 25 posts (38.4%) fall under the Culture Wars subtheme. For explanations of these subthemes see HEIA’s first snapshot report.

As shown in Figure 5, posting spiked noticeably (albeit in low numbers) in mid and late February 2024 on two occasions. Analysis of the posting data reveals that the majority of posts are preoccupied with co-governance, with some claiming that a series of policies were designed to lead to negative outcomes for non-Maori. This increase was likely driven by media coverage relating to the repeal of the controversial Three Waters legislation[4] and the announced disestablishment of the Māori Health Authority.

Health & Covid-19 and Other follow Social Anxiety as the second and third largest categories with HII posts about Māori. These categories overtook Social Anxiety in late February and early March 2024. These spikes were caused by media coverage on the planned disestablishment of the Māori Health Authority:[2]Today the segregated Maori-veto-controlled health system, hopefully tomorrow the racist taxpayer- funded abomination that is the Waitangi Tribunal’ (26/02/2024).

Three themes in HII (and associated hate speech) targeting Māori

Analysis of posting about Māori reveals three main themes: first, that Māori are a privileged class and action to support them is anti-democratic; second, Māori are a primitive, violent race and were saved by colonisation; third, a denial of Māori indigeneity. Combined, these themes seek to undermine partnership with Māori in the governance of the country and initiatives designed to reduce inequities stemming from colonisation and decades of marginalisation.

Theme 1: HII portraying Māori as undemocratic privileged class

The first theme in posting claims that Māori, their parties, activists, needs, and initiatives constitute a ‘privileged’ class in Aotearoa and act in anti-democratic ways. This form of HII frames as negative and self-serving and a threat to Aotearoa’s democracy any action by Māori or initiative for Māori and ignores or belittles ongoing inequities in ethnic outcomes.

Many claim that Māori or a group representing them are vying for an apartheid state in Aotearoa, wherein ‘15% of the population [Māori] [have] 50% of the power’ (07/12/2023). Some link Three Waters to this goal, framing it as ‘[a] covert process to introduce legislation very unrelated to water’ (30/12/2023). Other claims insist that Three Waters was a foreign ‘water raid’ of which iwi and key political parties were accomplices (14/02/2024).

Posting in this theme is often populist, contending that a ‘Māori elite’, sometimes in partnership with globalist or foreign forces, is driving some initiatives for personal gain. The ‘elite’ targets of this HII vary, some focus on Te Pati Māori party and others the Waitangi Tribunal. Likewise, other claims insist that foreign entities like the World Economic Forum are involved and level accusations relating to the Culture Wars theme: ‘90% of Maori are anti immigration not globalist antifa members like the fake Maori party. You don't get to pretend to have some special indigenous rights whilst adopting globalist positions to undermine new Zealand and new Zealanders […] a clear cut sign of brown communism which is rooted in an resentment of white success fueled by a racially motivated inferiority complex’ (12/12/2023). In this way, local issues are connected to global HII.

Posting in this theme is often populist, contending that a ‘Māori elite’, sometimes in partnership with globalist or foreign forces, is driving some initiatives for personal gain

The overarching theme of discussion centred around the HII narrative that Māori have extra rights and privileges when compared to other races in Aotearoa. Posting asserts that challenges faced by Māori are manufactured by the Māori elite and are performative gestures designed to increase ‘handouts’ given to them by the government.

Connected hate speech:

Anti-Māori hate speech surrounds and provides ballast to this HII. Unsurprisingly anti-Māori hate speech often targets Māori public figures. Most of these figures were women, with many such posts including misogynistic commentary. Anti-Māori hate speech also concerned itself with Te Reo Māori and its use in Aotearoa. Generally, users described it as an ugly and dying language and also expressed outrage at its inclusion in educational curricula: ‘Hopefully this new government will scrap all of the unnecessary Te Reo crap in our degrees […] there is no place in tertiary education for this virtual signalling ****’ (26/11/2023). Māori cultural symbols and practices were similarly targeted, particularly Māori facial ta moko. Some posters (and those speaking in offline forums) discuss conflict between Māori and Pākehā in concerning ways which provide potential for escalation in rhetoric and risks of real violence. We have chosen not to include these posts in this report.

The very thin line between a great deal of hate speech and HII - and their combined effect on any initiatives to increase equity - are clear.

[4] See Lahatte (2024) for more information on the Three Waters repeal.

[5] See Jones (2024) for more information on the disestablishment of the Māori Health Authority

Theme 2: Negative tropes portraying Māori as undeserving and incapable of governing

A second theme within HII targeting Māori portrays the community in very negative ways, by nature selfish, backwards, and/or violent and incapable of technological and cultural advancement. ‘Unfortunately for them [Māori], the majority are far too *** to achieve anything radical’ (29/11/2023). These posts also claim that while other communities are hard working, Māori expect handouts: ‘Yes non-maori tend not to expect everything handed to them on a platter (15/12/2023).

These discussions ignore or deny evidence of the challenges Māori face in Aotearoa and how those challenges often stem from colonisation. HII narratives portray any initiative to improve Māori outcomes as evidence for their claims that Māori are less capable. Many incorporate pro-colonisation narratives to support their arguments. For example, such posts state or strongly imply that Māori should be grateful for what they do have, and argue that Māori do not need equity because ‘without us white folk yall wouldn’t have civilisation’ (13/02/2024). Some users even argue that colonisation did not go far enough in ‘civilising’ Māori; ‘If anything, all the stats about worse maori health outcomes are evidence we didn't colonize them enough’ (21/01/24).

British colonisation therefore saved the Māori from themselves; ‘they [Māori] were never going to retain their lands. They were (and are) a pro war people […] they’d happily kill other tribes and sell it for their own personal gain’ (01/02/2024). Such HII even claims that Māori could see they ‘would soon become extinct’ and ‘asked Britain to intervene to become their guardian and protector’ (01/02/2024), with some listing list all the advantages the Crown has bestowed upon Māori: ‘Maori are colonizers too’ (19/12/2023).

This ongoing HII seeks to - and we believe plays a role in - undermining proposed initiatives designed to support better outcomes for Māori. This HII portrays Māori as less capable than other races which in turn is used to oppose giving Māori a role in governance in Aotearoa: ‘when it comes to conversation, the iwis should not have a say on it, as history has shown Maori practices are not sustainable and they did not care about sustainability’ (11/02/2024). When Māori advocate for themselves, they are belittled.

This ongoing HII seeks to - and we believe plays a role in - undermining proposed initiatives designed to support better outcomes for Māori

Some posts describe Māori as naturally savage, violent, and abusive; ‘Maori are naturally a chip on shoulder sour faced angry race of people that will always feel aggressive to other cultures’ (29/11/2023). Māori were also deemed parasitic to Aotearoa and their achievements were belittled; ‘So sick of seeing Maori be praised for doing the bare minimum and acting like they contribute anything but crime to the country’ (26/11/2023). ‘The only thing the Maori worldwide view consists of violence, stand overs and racism. You don’t own no one nor anyone owes yous **** back’ (18/01/2024).

Theme 3: HII which denies Māori indigeneity

A third theme in our dataset involves claims that Māori are not indigenous to Aotearoa.

Such claims have been made in Aotearoa since as early as the 1910s when ethnologists S. Percy Smith and Elsdon Best popularised the pre-Māori myth (Brett, 2020; Ngata, NA) claiming that the Moriori settled Aotearoa before the Māori who forced the Moriori from the mainland through cannibalism and violence. In reality, the Moriori settled Rēkohu 1000 and 1400 and are descended from or closely related to the same East Polynesians who became Māori (Brett, 2020). Other, more fantastical, examples of the pre-Māori myth, include various claims that the Celts, Phoenicians, and Tamils settled Aotearoa first (Brett, 2020). Such claims have been used as a tool historically to deny Māori their indigeneity which in turn undermines any claim to a special status in Aotearoa (The Detail, 2020).

A number of online posts in our dataset repeated these claims: ‘If the European s had treated Maori like the Maori treated say the Moriori, there would be no land claims just tummy pains!’ (28/02/2024). HII actors use pseudo-science to support their claims; ‘I found 4 flat faces on 1 block, using my 3D LASER SCANNER and metrology software - all within 1 or 2 degrees of 90 degrees — THAT WALL IS MAN MADE —’ (20/02/2024). This HII denies Māori the status of the indigenous community of Aotearoa thereby undermining any initiative which gives Māori a role in governance of the country.

HII denies Māori the status of the indigenous community of Aotearoa thereby undermining any initiative which gives Māori a role in governance of the country

7 Key Findings



Regular and highly visible rhetoric which depicts Māori as incapable of a role in governance, as solely responsible for their own socio-economic position, as undemocratic, as non-indigenous and in other negative ways, undermines trust and cohesion between Māori and Pākehā and between Māori and the state. This in turn makes Māori, as the target of this vitriol, more vulnerable to HII. The lived experience of Māori, who are constantly targeted and vilified by HII which explicitly disparages their communities, opposes their programs, and invalidates their traumas and achievements. This has a direct impact on Māori and erodes their trust toward other communities as well as the state and its institutions.



Ongoing claims that Māori are a drain on public resources in turn undermines initiatives which might improve conditions for their community. As seen internationally,[6] the unfortunate consequence is that the general public may view these initiatives as wasting resources and refuse to support them. This in turn maintains the social and economic conditions – poverty, inequality, incarceration etc – which allow HII to thrive.



As we have shown, hate speech targeting Māori easily transitions to HII as it often seeks to deny Māori indigeneity. We contend this stems from the unique inequities that Māori face as a result of Aotearoa’s colonial and postcolonial history. Efforts to support Māori to overcome these challenges have given rise to the idea that Māori are privileged in Aotearoa which is common throughout both HII and hate speech targeting Māori.

Further hinting at the unique nature of anti-Māori hate speech, we found that this category of hate speech was far more likely to only focus on Māori. Most hate speech targeting other communities often referenced two or more groups. For example, 40.5% of anti-immigrant hate speech and 21.44% of anti-LGBTQIA+ hate speech contained another category of hate speech.[7]

Further hinting at the unique nature of anti-Māori hate speech, we found that this category of hate speech was far more likely to only focus on Māori



Anti-Māori HII narratives argue that Māori enjoy more rights in Aotearoa than other communities and that the challenges Māori face are actually manufactured by a group of Māori elite. Pro-colonisation narratives are also present throughout anti-Māori HII and their tropes are used as devices to justify opposition to these so-called ‘extra rights’ (which take the form of policies and initiatives intended to promote positive Māori outcomes). This is another unique form of HII and hate speech, due to the prominence of Māori politicians and institutions.

Pro-colonisation narratives are also present throughout anti-Māori HII and their tropes are used as devices to justify opposition to these so-called ‘extra rights’



As seen in Figures 4 and 5, while the numbers are low, both HII about Māori and anti-Māori hate speech are prone to sudden surges in activity. Textual analysis shows that these surges are in response to media coverage of current events relating to Māori. Likewise, all posts marked as anti-Māori HII were made between 01/02/2024 and 07/03/2024 and focused on common issues relating to Māori (such as the disestablishment of the Māori health authority). This period of activity demonstrates how HII and hate speech can be concentrated and spike at particular moments in time, typically in response to specific events.

HII and hate speech can be concentrated and spike at particular moments in time, typically in response to specific events



As discussed in our qualitative review, Māori have suffered land alienation, economic impoverishment, cultural marginalisation, forced social change, and racism (Barnes & McCreanor, 2019) leaving Māori systematically disadvantaged. As seen among indigenous populations internationally, these experiences have left many Māori naturally suspicious toward the state, and therefore more vulnerable to HII.



Contemporary HII about Māori often recycles racist colonial ideas and tropes that settlers used to subjugate Māori. HII utilises traditional colonial myths to deny Māori their indigeneity and dehumanise them by framing them as violent savages, uncivilised and incapable of technological and cultural advancement. These myths continue to be used as a tool to justify denying Māori equitable rights and justify ongoing marginalisation.

[6] The failure of The Voice referendum in Australia is an ideal example of this. For more information, see Starcevic et al. (2023).

[7] For more information on the relationship between HII and hate speech in Aotearoa, see <insert link to thematic report>.

Concluding remarks

This report analysed how HII has targeted and affected Māori, while also considering the role of anti-Māori hate speech in this relationship. This was done utilising online data posted from within Aotearoa that was collected over a period spanning the end of 2023 and early 2024. Both hate speech and HII can undermine social cohesion, threaten democracy, and harm target communities. This is especially true for vulnerable indigenous communities who are still dealing with the harmful impacts of colonisation.

We advanced seven key conclusions. Most notably, we assert that HII and hate speech which targets Māori plays a key role in 1) undermining interethnic relations and trust and 2) undermines public support for initiatives which might reduce the longstanding inequities between Māori and other groups in Aotearoa. In turn, both of these effects make it more likely that HII will gain a foothold within Māori communities. Further research should engage in indepth research with and within Māori communities to better understand the causes and impact of HII.


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