top of page
  • HEIA

Trends in Harmful Inaccurate Information in New Zealand No. 5

A HEIA Snapshot Report March 2024 - April 2024


Download this report in PDF format:

HEIA_Snapshot_240430_Trends_in_Harmful_Inaccurate_Info_NZ
.pdf
Download PDF • 1.15MB



Introduction

This report is the fifth in a series of snapshot reports designed to understand themes and trends in Harmful Inaccurate Information in New Zealand. This report focuses on the period between 11th March and 11th April 2024.

As discussed in a recent definitional report because it is often difficult to determine the intent of those spreading information, we use the phrase Harmful Inaccurate Information (HII), which 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. HII includes both misinformation and disinformation (false information, which is spread unintentionally and deliberately, respectively) and can also include other components such as hate speech or incitement of violence involving false information. The spread of HII can erode trust, cohesion, and the health, education and wellbeing of individuals and groups. We use this broad definition because we believe it is best suited to data collection and an analysis of the problem of HII in New Zealand. HII is a term specific to HEIA’s work and has no bearing on DPMC’s or any other work on disinformation.

Our second snapshot added discussion of the Israel Hamas conflict to our analysis. We reported that access to reliable information about the conflict was being impacted by the ‘fog of war’, where facts on the ground are unable to be easily verified and, in many cases, have been manipulated to appeal to audiences’ biases.

Our third snapshot report confirmed a continued low volume of HII-content as a proportion of New Zealand-based posting though there was a rise in Health and COVID-19 related activity. With a new government in New Zealand, there was confirmation of transfer of Globalist Conspiracy narratives to the new government though a decline in HII relating to Politics (Distrust & Withdrawal), and Social Anxiety.

Our fourth snapshot confirmed the continued increase in Health and COVID-19 related HII alongside the continued transfer of Globalist Conspiracy narratives to the new Government.  The report also identified a convergence of pro-Russian HII regarding the invasion of Ukraine and anti-semitic commentary are visible within Aotearoa’s HII networks. Climate change denial narratives also remained persistent, though neither this nor the Ukraine-related commentary have yet taken on a New Zealand character.


Global Context

HII remains a common topic of concern on the world stage and continues to be used as a tool in ongoing conflicts. Likewise, as new technologies develop, its impact on the digital ecosystem continues to grow alongside the risk it poses to information integrity. While some actors have capitalised on this tumultuous environment, others continue to implement countermeasures in an effort to counter its risks.

'HII remains a common topic of concern on the world stage and continues to be used as a tool in ongoing conflicts'

Global conflict is a hotbed for HII.

As armed conflicts continue around the world, HII continues to be used as a way of generating tension and targeting civilians elsewhere. HII related to the Russia-Ukraine and Israel-Hamas conflicts (as seen in an earlier HEIA report) in particular, and elsewhere such as Myanmar and Ethiopia, have generated such tensions.[1]On March 27th, the Council of the European Union imposed restrictive measures against two individuals and one entity responsible for conducting propaganda actions against civil society in the EU and its neighbouring countries.[2] These actions gravely distorted and manipulated facts to justify and support Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine. The measures subject the culprits to an asset freeze and forbids EU citizens and companies from making funds available to them. The measures also impose a travel ban within EU territories.

A terror attack in Moscow.

On March 22nd, a terror attack was carried out at a concert hall in Moscow, killing at least 113 people.[3] Despite the Islamic State taking responsibility for the attack, supported by evidence provided by the United States, Moscow and Kyiv both claimed the other was responsible.

The European Parliament approves the Artificial Intelligence Act.

Snapshot 4 identified that an increased use of Artificial Intelligence and other new technologies continue to be used in foreign influence campaigns to generate tensions and division.[4] The European Parliament has since approved the Artificial Intelligence Act in response to these challenges.

The Act aims to protect fundamental rights, democracy, the rule of law and environmental sustainability from high-risk AI.[5] The regulation establishes obligations for AI based on potential risks and level of impact by:

  • banning AI applications that threaten citizen’s rights;

  • imposing restrictions on the use of biometric identification systems by law enforcement;

  • introducing transparency requirements for general-purpose AI systems, including compliance with EU copyright law.

This global context provides information related to HII in the international environment. It is intended to highlight some of the challenges faced overseas and some responses taken by governments and other agencies. While much of this information is not related to Aotearoa, and we do not yet face challenges on a similar scale, HII is a global phenomenon and developments in one location can quickly affect countries elsewhere.


[1] Brew, C., Spink L. (2024). Disinformation Harms Civilians in Conflict in More Ways Than You Thought. Center for Civilians in Conflict. Retrieved from https://civiliansinconflict.org/blog/disinformation-harms-civilians-in-conflict-in-more-ways-than-you-thought/

[2] Lenzu, M. D. (2024). Information manipulation in Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine: EU lists two individuals and one entity. Retrieved from https://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/press/press-releases/2024/05/27/information-manipulation-in-russia-s-war-of-aggression-against-ukraine-eu-lists-two-individuals-and-one-entity/

[3] Gera, V. (2024, March). What we know after the Islamic State group claims responsibility for Moscow massacre. Retrieved from https://apnews.com/article/russia-moscow-concert-hall-attack-islamic-state-753291d25dad26a840459ee8f448d59e

[4] The Global Disinformation Index ‘GDIs top trends of 2024’ published 6 March 2024 The Global Disinformation Index

[5] Yakimova, Y., Ojamo, J. (2024). Artificial Intelligence Act: MEPs adopt landmark law. Retrieved from https://www.europarl.europa.eu/news/en/press-room/20240308IPR19015/artificial-intelligence-act-meps-adopt-landmark-law



Methodology

This report collects and analyses anonymous New Zealand-based posting data from publicly available platforms where Harmful Inaccurate Information (HII) is prevalent. Platforms include Facebook, Instagram, Telegram, Reddit. We do not capture data from all online platforms, and we therefore do not claim to provide a complete picture of HII in New Zealand. The purpose of HEIA’s snapshot reports is to provide a measured indication of trends in conversation, why they might occur, and where.

For the reporting period 11 March 2024 - 11 April 2024 our dataset comprises 394,421 New Zealand-based posts / online entries. Of this dataset we identified approximately 1,966 posts which are confirmed HII. This is 0.5% of our dataset of New Zealand-based posting for this period. This total is made up of the following number of posts for each theme: Health and COVID-19 (897 posts), Globalist Conspiracies (1068 posts), Politics/Distrust and Withdrawal (151 posts), Social Anxiety (422 posts). A further 95 posts confirmed as HII did not align with the above categories and were marked as miscellaneous.

In line with previous snapshot reports, we have continued to use a proprietary Large Language Model (LLM) to detect HII from a very large dataset of online posting. This method allows for more accuracy of capture when paired with manual verification. We set a high threshold for harm and inaccuracy to ensure we do not include political and other opinions expressed as part of citizens’ rights to free speech.

Subsequent manual verification of data first identified as HII by the LLM by a team of researchers removed posting which did not meet our threshold of inaccuracy and harm. Once posting data had been confirmed as HII, the posts were then categorised by key theme and subtheme. Often posts were attributed to multiple categories, given the nature of certain conspiracy narratives. The few posts that did not align with a key theme were attributed to a miscellaneous category.

Because our method of filtering data has changed to capture only HII (and not HII-related content), our results are more conservative (i.e. identifying a lower volume of HII) compared to previous reporting. This enhanced method using an LLM designed to detect and analyse HII / disinformation has greater utility to identify emerging themes in the future. However, as discussed above, because this tool is in the early stages of development, substantial manual checking of the data is still required and was conducted for this report.

All data is anonymised on collection and no personal information is intentionally collected or used in HEIA’s research. In cases where users have included personal information in the content of their posts, it may be collected unintentionally. Any personal information identified is deleted and we do not provide any such information or other data to third parties and do not use it in our analysis.

HEIA only collects publicly available data from public online spaces and does so without infringing on user privacy. This means that HEIA does not collect data from private online spaces and does not claim to have a comprehensive dataset of all HII posted online from within Aotearoa. And because we apply a rigorous methodology and strict benchmarks to differentiate between HII and opinion (however contentious or distasteful), the numbers in our dataset are lower than might appear in methodologies with less conservative definitions. The purpose of this is threefold. First, the data includes only posts which are clear examples of HII. Second, these numbers are manageable, allowing us to conduct a more targeted analysis of the state of HII in Aotearoa. Third, our aim is to identify observable patterns and trends related to HII observable in various online spaces in Aotearoa, rather than provide a comprehensive picture of HII (which often occurs in more private spaces and in face to face interactions).


Key Themes

From our initial qualitative and quantitative review of the majority of mainstream and fringe online platforms we identified four main themes in Harmful Inaccurate Information (HII) in New Zealand.

  • Theme 1, Health and COVID-19 is HII related to distrust in the official health narratives and initiatives of the New Zealand Government and international health organisations.

  • Theme 2, Globalist Conspiracies is HII infused with the belief that world events, including in New Zealand, are being controlled by an elite cabal of ‘globalists’ intent on creating a ‘New World Order’.

  • Theme 3, Politics (Distrust and Withdrawal) is HII which maintains the New Zealand Government is undemocratic or cannot lawfully control individuals. Elections are rigged, and the government is authoritarian and / or tyrannical.

  • Theme 4, Social Anxiety is HII associated with a belief that society is moving in the wrong direction. It often includes suspicion of any attempt to support marginalised communities.

In the following section we discuss each of these themes in turn and the volume of posting associated with each.


Theme 1: Health and COVID-19

As observed in the last three reports, HII relating to Health and COVID-19 is gradually increasing. In this reporting period, we observed the largest spike in this type of HII since early December 2023, with 67 posts disseminated on April 3rd, 2024. New media reports surrounding the death of a 13-year-old boy in 2021, which some articles framed as potentially connected to a Covid-19 vaccine, prompted this spike.

'In this reporting period, we observed the largest spike in this type of HII since early December 2023'

COVID-19 remains a central topic within this theme of HII, and the availability of a new COVID-19 vaccine to New Zealanders in early March appears to have been an influential topic within this reporting period: ‘And the Health authorities are still advertising clot shots, murderers, all of them!’ (Facebook, 31/03/2024). The discourse continues to focus on alleged harmful side effects of COVID-19, with a particular focus on myocarditis, ‘the mRNA vaccine that didn’t stop transmission and caused myocarditis, particularly in young people’ (Reddit, 01/04/2024). Posters reference official documents that mention the potential for harmful side effects in rare cases, but inflate the severity, ‘Medical officer reveals Covid Vaccine related HEART ISSUES skyrocketing in active duty Naval officers. Myocarditis rises 151%’ (Telegram, 15/03/2024).

Another common theme is the assertion that politicians and other public figures know that the vaccine is harmful, but advocate for it anyway: ‘They knew there would be side effects. They all turned a blind eye’ (Facebook, 26/03/2024). Echoing foreign narratives now present in Aotearoa's online spaces, claims that the COVID-19 vaccines are intended to control the population are observed in our dataset: ‘Covid-19 Was A Mass Mind Control Operation: Pandemic Used To Inflict Psychological Terror On World’ (Telegram, 19/03/2024). Oftentimes, HII surrounding tech and surveillance become integrated into this narrative, referencing the ‘Elite’s Plan for Mass Genocide Via COVID Shots and 5G’(Telegram, 30/03/2024)

Snapshot four revealed calls for an independent inquiry on the alleged harms caused by the COVID-19 vaccine, where citizens were encouraged to share their own stories. Correspondingly, the current reporting period observes posts containing personal anecdotes, attributing illness/deaths of loved ones to the vaccine despite there being no proof of the connection: ‘I know of 5 people who have died or suffered adverse events from the vaccine, all of which have been attributed to other things’ (Reddit, 03/04/2024).


Theme 2: Globalist Conspiracies

The volume of HII posts containing Globalist Conspiracies is higher than in the previous reporting period, and gradually increased throughout the current period. Elite Control remains the most significant sub-theme and is consistently more prevalent than the other three sub-themes throughout this period.

Consistent with our previous reports, posts within this theme are centered on the belief that Aotearoa’s institutions are controlled by a global cabal, with local politicians frequently described as ‘globalist puppets’ (Facebook, 02/04/2024). Antisemitism is rife within this conspiracy, where ‘Jewish elites’ are accused of attempting to dominate the world through the control of global organisations such as the World Health Organisation, the World Economic Forum, and the United Nations.

'Antisemitism is rife within this conspiracy'

In response, some posters call for measures to detach from transnational interdependence, like 'become independent from the North Island, refuse the UN, WEF, WHO, close our borders to immigration until we are set up, and operate our independent Southern Isle under Natural Lore. Anchor our monetary system to gold again, and stay neutral”(Facebook, 27/03/2024). Calls to reject international connectivity are common within Globalist Conspiracies, with posters encouraging the use of cash and gold as currency to avoid the ‘agenda to push for cashless society’ (Facebook, 03/04/2024). The Covid-19 vaccine is sometimes implicated within this conspiracy of financial control, where it is conceived as containing microchips ‘which [are] used as a form of antenna, that could be part of a Digital ID, and Digital Currency transfer mechanism’ (Telegram, 08/04/2024).

In this reporting period, a terror attack in Moscow on 22nd March is a frequently discussed topic. Though the Islamic State claimed responsibility for the violence, conspiracists argue that shadowy Western elites were behind the attack, because ‘the West has effectively confessed its involvement by blaming the CIA-backed and funded ISIS’ (Telegram, 25/03/2024). In other cases, the Islamic State is framed as an ‘elite Jew’ invention: ‘The CIA created ISIS = Israeli Secret Intelligence Service’ (Telegram, 24/03/2024)

Climate change remains a common theme within the data, and related conspiracies accuse global elites of staging a ‘climate scam’ to spread ‘fear and panic’ (Facebook, 03/04/2024). Proposed reasons for it vary, but generally centre on control and brainwashing: ‘By moulding the minds of the youth, they hope to alter the trajectory of the near future in line with a 'sustainable' socialist vision. [...] Children and young people are being weaponised by climate action initiatives” (Telegram, 05/04/2024). Many posts describe ‘Agenda 2023’ - a reference to the UN’s goals for sustainable development - but project nefarious motivations onto them. Particularly relevant in our dataset is the notion that farmers are being targeted by the Agenda, where ‘THE RED MEAT INDUSTRY IS SCHEDULED TO BE SHUT DOWN’(Telegram, 20/03/2024). This shows how locally relevant concerns, like the future of Aotearoa’s farmers, can be reflected in globalist conspiracy theories.


Theme 3: Politics (Distrust and Withdrawal)

In snapshot four, an upward trend in posts related to Politics (Distrust and Withdrawal) in early March indicated that this reporting period may also see an increased volume. This upward trend did not continue throughout the current reporting period, however, which observed a reduction in HII related to this theme.

Surprisingly, there was a comparatively significant spike in Politics (Distrust and Withdrawal) posts from April 5-6, echoing a similar spike from the previous month on March 7. We notice that one HII post-structure was shared many times within both of these spikes: ‘FACTS ARE THREATENING TO THOSE INVESTED IN FRAUD AND TYRANNY. NEVER FORGET. YOU ARE MANY, THEY ARE FEW. PRINT & SHARE THIS FAR AND WIDE. JOIN US’ (Telegram, 06/04/2024). These posts contain a link to a particular telegram channel, indicating that one group or individual may put in a monthly-scheduled effort to disseminate this post.

The topics within this theme oftentimes reflect those observed within the other four themes in our dataset, with an added accusation of tyrannical control. For example, the Covid-19 pandemic is often implicated: ‘I mean the most "Nazi" thing the previous government did was forced medical experimentation, removal of the right to refuse medical treatment, and implement medical apartheid "show me your papers please"’ (Reddit, 18/03/2024).

Some posts reference government initiatives to reduce hate towards minority communities as a mechanism to gain political power: ‘Governments Are Creating A Fake Hate Panic To Censor, Interfere In Elections, And Imprison Their Political Enemies’ (Telegram, 23/03/2024). In some cases, the New Zealand Police are implicated as facilitating or ignoring governmental tyranny: ‘The NZ POLICE know they have a system in place and being built upon — Yet, but they are silent.. Their silence is a deception upon the GOOD People of NZ. They are complicit in the enslavement of KIWI’(Telegram, 11/03/2024)

This theme echoes the logic of Globalist Conspiracies but includes locally-specific topics, such as Maori interests within governance: ‘The He Puapua plan secretly hatched by [politician] came to light. It aimed at Maori control of New Zealand by 2040. This is treason’ (Reddit, 02/04/2024).

This theme echoes the logic of Globalist Conspiracies but includes locally-specific topics, such as Maori interests within governance

Theme 4: Social Anxiety

HII related to Social Anxiety was observed in very small numbers in previous snapshots. The current reporting period mostly aligns with this general trend, however, a very significant and distinct spike occurred between March 23-30th 2024. In particular, this spike contained conspiracies related to gender, misogyny, and anti-LGBTQIA+ alongside ideas surrounding culture wars. We contend this occurred because it marked the one-year anniversary of Posie Parker’s visit to Auckland: ‘Today is the anniversary of the deranged and brutal actions against True Women at the Posie Parker event’ (Telegram, 24/03/2024).

Correspondingly, a central theme in this reporting period is an alleged ‘trans agenda’, which conspiracies assert is corrupting and indoctrinating Aotearoa's youth: ‘The Transgender Agenda Is Built on Sand: The narrative that children can change their sex with the aid of social transitioning, puberty blockers, cross-sex hormones, chest binders and tucking is exploding before our eyes’ (Facebook, 19/03/2024). This narrative was applied to an event at an Auckland library, which hosted a drag queen reading age-appropriate and inclusive stories to children: “A disgrace that Library is! They ought to be ashamed of themselves! The “safety concern” ought to have been allowing [derogatory slur] to display their sick sexual fetish! Exposing children to that evil was supporting the “grooming” of the children!” (Facebook, 20/03/2024).

Within the subcategory of culture wars, a number of posts accused designated spaces for Māori and Pasifika at the University of Auckland of ‘racial segregation’ (Reddit, 25/03/2024), feeding into a wider HII narrative that supporting the needs of marginalised communities connects to an agenda of cultural change: ‘it’s these high profile universities and businesses that are fuelling this kind of discrimination. Probably PC, do gooding white folk with the help of a few elitist maori, to push their agenda’ (Reddit, 25/03/2024). This perceived agenda frequently implicates multiple social groups as working together to shift social norms: ‘The NZ You Once Knew Is Fast Becoming A Trans-Islamic State. The Trans/Gay Takeover of our Next Generation. Islam is fast becoming the Religious and Social Imposter in NZ Society. In 3 yrs NZ will not be Liveable or Safe for Kiwi’ (Instagram, 16/03/2024).


Conclusions

There is a low volume of HII content as a proportion of New Zealand-based posting. This trend was observed in previous snapshots and remains true in the current reporting period. However, the trendlines also indicate that despite these low volumes, discussion is prone to occasional spikes as discussed below.

'Discussion is prone to occasional spikes as discussed below'

Globalist Conspiracies and Health and Covid-19 HII are gradually increasing, which was also observed in snapshot 4. The general themes within the current reporting period remain consistent with what was observed in previous reports but implicate current events reported in the news cycle, such as the Moscow terror attack.

A monthly spike in Politics (Distrust and Withdrawal) was observed, which echoed what occurred in the previous reporting period. Whilst this theme remains proportionally low, we have observed a spike occurring early each month for the past two reporting periods where one HII post structure was reshared multiple times.

An anniversary spike in social anxiety HII occurred around March 25th, marking one year since Posie Parker's visit to Auckland. This shows how one event can influence the dissemination of (and topics within) HII well after it occurs. Despite this, social anxiety HII remains proportionally low compared to other themes.

'An anniversary spike in social anxiety HII: occurred around March 25th, marking one year since Posie Parker's visit to Auckland'

Local events are transformed to fit into a Globalist Conspiracies framework. This includes claims that New Zealanders are being brainwashed to believe in a ‘climate scam’ that the country’s farmers are being explicitly targeted by the United Nations Agenda 2023 program. These claims are similar to those seen in Snapshot 4 and indicate a continuing trend wherein locally relevant concerns, like the future of Aotearoa’s farmers, can be reflected in globalist conspiracy theories.


References

Brew, C., Spink L. (2024).  Disinformation Harms Civilians in Conflict in More Ways Than You Thought Center for Civilians in Conflict (accessed 7 May 2024)

Gera, V. (2024, March). What we know after the Islamic State group claims responsibility for Moscow massacre. Retrieved from https://apnews.com/article/russia-moscow-concert-hall-attack-islamic-state-753291d25dad26a840459ee8f448d59e

Lenzu, M. D. (2024). Information manipulation in Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine: EU lists two individuals and one entity. Retrieved from https://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/press/press-releases/2024/05/27/information-manipulation-in-russia-s-war-of-aggression-against-ukraine-eu-lists-two-individuals-and-one-entity/

The Global Disinformation IndexGDIs top trends of 2024’ published 6 March 2024 The Global Disinformation Index

Yakimova, Y., Ojamo, J. (2024). Artificial Intelligence Act: MEPs adopt landmark law. Retrieved from https://www.europarl.europa.eu/news/en/press-room/20240308IPR19015/artificial-intelligence-act-meps-adopt-landmark-law


Disclaimer

This report was commissioned by the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (DPMC) and prepared independently by HEIA. The report does not represent the views of DPMC or the New Zealand Government.

At DPMC’s request, information that could identify any individual person is redacted to protect privacy.


For enquires regarding this report please contact Dr. Chris Wilson at chris@heiaglobal.com







Download this report in PDF format:

HEIA_Snapshot_240430_Trends_in_Harmful_Inaccurate_Info_NZ
.pdf
Download PDF • 1.15MB

Comments


Commenting has been turned off.
bottom of page