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She’s back… and ready to fight any disinformation except her own

In brief
  • Former PM Ardern will begin a new role as special envoy to PM Hipkins for the Christchurch Call. 
  • Is the Call’s stated purpose of tackling violent extremism online a Trojan Horse for censorship? 
  • Labour under Ardern has a documented history of censoring political opponents online.

Laying low

Former Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has kept a low profile since her resignation from the top job in January 2023. On 5 April 2023, Ardern also resigned from her position as Member of Parliament for Mt Albert. 

New roles

Ardern will take up roles with the Christchurch Call and Prince William’s Earthshot Prize respectively. Journalist Patrick Gower called the new positions “Very on brand”.

Let’s look at her new role with the New Zealand-born Christchurch Call.

Christchurch Call

Ardern is set to begin her new role on 17 April 2023 as special envoy reporting directly to the Prime Minister. Notably, Ardern’s new role may be similar to the role played by The Disinformation Project to the Cabinet when Ardern herself was Prime Minister. 

It’s widely reported that Ardern chose to not accept payment for the work, but associated costs will be compensated (note she has a $57,000 annuity and other lifelong perks from her PM role). The role will be reviewed at the end of the year, presumably after the election.

The Christchurch Call is an international initiative that includes the OECD and was set up after the twin terror attacks on two mosques in Christchurch, 15 March 2019.

She’s back… and ready to fight any disinformation except her own - Centrist
Will The Call be a Trojan Horse for censorship? Image courtesy of OECD

The initiative was launched during Ardern’s trip to the United Nations in 2022 where she addressed the General Assembly. While intended to deal with issues of “terrorist and violent extremist content online”, there’s concerns the work may become politicised and a Trojan Horse for online censorship.

Mission creep”, where the mandate of the initiative expands, has already occurred since the original mandate has broadened to include the hard-to-define and very subjective term “extremism”.

In Ardern’s original UN speech when launching the initiative, she said “How do you tackle climate change if people do not believe it exists?” Will Ardern be using her leverage to have climate change denialism be considered “extremism”? 

In that same speech, it’s also notable, she said “The weapons of war have changed.” With an example of the “new” weapons being “A lie online or from a podium…”.

The Government’s efforts to silence its critics on social media are well documented.

The French Connection

It’s reported Ardern will work closely with the French Government with whom the initiative was jointly launched.

Currently in France a woman faces a  €12,000 fine ($21,000 NZD) for describing President Emanuel Macron as ‘filth’ on Facebook. The woman was reportedly arrested at home and is accused of “insulting the president of the republic”.

Foreign policy priority

Prime Minister Chris Hipkins has called the Christchurch Call a foreign policy priority for New Zealand and lauded Ardern’s relationship with leaders and technology companies.

He also noted work was being done to determine how artificial intelligence and algorithms, which guide content on social media platforms, feed into radicalisation. 

In an election year, with cancel culture and the culture wars continuing to escalate, how will the public view Jacinda Ardern’s renewed involvement?

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