Internationally Jacinda Ardern’s speech to the Harvard graduating class has been well received.
The Guardian has said this:
Jacinda Ardern has spoken out against the online “scourge of disinformation” in an address at Harvard University, in which she also won standing ovations for her government’s gun control laws, diversity and decriminalisation of abortion.
“The New Zealand prime minister was honoured by the American university , making the annual commencement addressto more than a thousand students on Thursday from the same stage as figures such as Winston Churchill, Angela Merkel, Steven Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey.
Ardern’s addresswas built around the need for democratic systems and informed debate, invoking the same plea from the late Pakistan prime minister Benazir Bhutto, who underscored the “fragility” of democracy in her own address to the university in 1989.
But, with the United States reeling from the Texas school massacre and paralysed over how to stop the violence, she won loud cheers and a standing ovation when she spoke about how her government cracked down on gun ownership in the wake of the 2019 Christchurch mosque attacks.
“We knew we needed significant gun reform, and so that is what we did,” she said. “But we also knew that if we wanted genuine solutions to the issue of violent extremism online, it would take government, civil society and the tech companies themselves to change the landscape.””
The Harvard Gazette drew comparisons between her speech and earlier speeches by Benjamin Franklin and Benazir Bhutto:
After the 1787 Constitutional Convention, Benjamin Franklin was asked whether the U.S. would be a monarchy or a republic. “A republic, if you can keep it,” was his response. Two centuries later, at Harvard’s 1989 Commencement, Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto echoed Franklin’s warning: “We must realize that democracy … can be fragile.”
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern offered a similar reminder at Commencement on Thursday, updating the theme for our times. When facts and fiction have become a matter of opinion and the trust that underlies democracies is being eroded, blind faith in the resilience of democratic governance is shortsighted, she said.
The subject is vitally important for the future of the world’s democracies and the topic demands further discussion.
How was the local media cover?
Not so good.
Newstalk ZB described Ardern as having a swift at keyboard warriors.
And on Newshub they interviewed the self appointed spokesperson for the left Josie Pagani who came up with this baffling take:
Political commentator Josie Pagani noticed a ‘jarring’ description of keyboard warriors in the Prime Minister’s speech and questioned whether it is time for the “be kind” message to run its course.
Ardern said: “In my mind, when I read something especially horrific on my feed, I imagine it’s written by a lone person unacquainted with personal hygiene practices, dressed in a poorly fitted superhero costume – one that is baggy in all the wrong places.”
Pagani said she thought “this is not very kind.”
“She attacked the keyboard warrior in a slightly sneering way,” Pagani said.
Pagani is used regularly and was nominally described as a left wing commentator. I am not sure why. I cannot think of anything she has said over a number of years where I agreed with her.
Her particular form of contrarianism always irks. She seems to be brought out so that a supposedly supportive left wing voice criticizes the left. On the right Matthew Hooton, while occasionally critical of his party, nevertheless manages to manufacture an anti Labour message out of the most benign of events. I cannot recall Pagani ever getting stuck into National.
As for Pagani criticizing Ardern for not being very kind I don’t know where she has been for the past five years but Ardern has been subject to the most appalling attacks on social media that I have ever seen. Her criticisms of the people who spew hate at her daily was pretty gentle and when you consider what she has to put up with they were remarkably restrained.
The media should be concentrating on the issues raised in the speech like this passage which I thought was outstanding:
Social media platforms were born offering the promise of connection and reconnection. We logged on in our billions, forming tribes and sub tribes. We published our thoughts, feelings and ideas freely. We found a place to share information, facts, fiction dressed up as facts, memes, and more cat videos than you ever thought possible.
We found a place to experience new ways of thinking and to celebrate our difference.
But increasingly, we use it to do neither of those things.
I doubt anyone has ever created a group titled “political views I disagree with, but choose to enter into respectful dialogue with to better understand alternative perspectives.”
As humans, we are naturally predisposed to reinforce our own views, to gather with people like us and avoid the dreaded sense of cognitive dissonance. We seek validation, confirmation, reinforcement. And increasingly with the help of algorithms, what we seek, we are served, sometimes before we even know we’re looking.
Now I am not here to argue that social media is good, nor bad. It’s a tool. And as with anything, it’s the rules of the game and the way we engage with it that matters.
But social media matters a lot. And perhaps, much more than we thought.
The destabilizing effect that social media has had on various democracies has been well documented. Just read about Donald Trump’s election or how the Australian Liberal Government somehow with the help of the Murdoch Press survived. Or how Boris Johnson prevails in the UK.
The hyper parochialism engendered by social media is a problem especially for the ultra right who have used it to radicalize Murdoch reading Fox News watching conservatives. And the disruption caused by the anti vaccination movement is evident.
This is a significant issue faced by all democracies. It needs unpicking so that the quality of our democracies can approve. It is a shame that the media and in particular media commentator Josie Pagani are not able to contribute to what is a vitally important discussion.