GUEST BLOG: Bryan Bruce – Hate in the time of the Internet


3-year-old Mucaad Ibrahim was murdered on March 15th this year. He was the youngest of 51 victims shot by a gunman who entered two Christchurch mosques wielding a military style semi-automatic weapon and broadcasted his hateful act to the world, in real time, using social media.

In an effort to prevent any similar atrocity from happening again in our country , our government has taken the following actions.

(1)Instigated a ban and buy back scheme on military style semi-automatic weapons as well as some other changes to our gun laws.

(2) The Prime Minister has fostered international interest in trying to curb hateful content on the internet especially in social media

In broad terms I have applauded both of these responses and I have consequently received some pushbacks from a few readers who think such measures unfairly restrict their civil rights . Some have also claimed I have had a kneejerk reaction to the Christchurch massacre.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Twenty- two years ago I made a documentary about mass murder in which I had the harrowing experience of interviewing the families of the mass murder victims.

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Back then (1997) I recommended banning military style semi automatic weapons and registering ALL guns, as did Justice Thorp in his report published around that time.

Our opinions were ignored by consecutive governments and the men, women and children who were killed and wounded in the Christchurch attack on March 15 th paid the terrible price for our unwillingness to change our gun laws.

So I have been here before and I have wrestled with the issue of individual rights and the Public Good many times in my professional life.

Here are some of my thoughts.

Not all “rights” are created equal.

In my view little Mucaad’s right to life (indeed the right to life of ANY person ) far exceeds the “right” of anyone to own semi-automatic weapons or use the internet to incite hatred and broadcast acts of murder and atrocity.

So if you want a completely uncensored internet and no restrictions on gun ownership then you have very different moral code to me.

I don’t want any other people murdered in our country because I just stood by and did not help to push for law changes to deny would -be killers their weapons of choice, or restricted their ability to project their hatred across the internet.

Equally, if you are at the other extreme of the civil liberties bell-curve and you want absolute state control of what we are allowed to think, read and say, then you are also talking to the wrong guy.

Why ? Because a lot of my documentary work has been calling authorities to account and I have been actively involved in setting up New Zealand Public Television (check it out at precisely so that people in our country can have a platform for alternative voices and stories you are unlikely to see or hear in the mainstream media.

I’m all for freedom of speech – it is the cornerstone of democracy. But what does “freedom of speech” really mean?

Well for one thing it doesn’t mean you can say anything you like about anybody . Our Human Rights Act 1993 makes that very clear.

Under Section 61 it is illegal “to publish or distribute written matter which is threatening, abusive, or insulting, or to broadcast by means of radio or television or other electronic communication words which are threatening, abusive, or insulting”

So the idea that freedom of speech is not a licence to promote hatred has been a guiding principle in our law for many years.

What has happened since 1993 is of course the invention of the internet which is why we now have The Harmful Communications Act of 2015. In line with the Human Rights Act 1993, it states as its main aim “ to deter, prevent, and mitigate harm caused to individuals by digital communications; and…provide victims of harmful digital communications with a quick and efficient means of redress.”

The proposal by Prime Minister Ardern then, to restrict how the internet may be used to distribute hate, is not new.

Indeed it could be argued that what is being attempted is to apply, internationally, restrictions we already accept in New Zealand as being in the Public Good.

As to the question “Who decides what we shall see and hear ?”

The answer , I think, is we that we ALL do through our democratic law making process and using the courts to seek redress as our hedge against totalitarianism.

Is it possible to control the viewing of content on the web? Yes it is . The Department of Internal Affairs already monitors the internet for objectionable material such as child pornography and has filters to prevent it.

You can read about their powers and your rights here:

Are there some issues associated with the details of Censorship ? Yes of course .

For example – should I be able to read Mein Kampf on the internet but not the manifesto of a recent mass murderer, is an interesting question to which I don’t have a clever answer and would like to see argued in court.

But broadly I accept the well established legal and moral principle that we should not harm our fellow citizens by word or deed – which means I also have to accept the restriction to my “freedom” of speech and some degree of censorship in the Public Good.

Some people are fond of quoting article Article 19 of Universal Declaration of Human Rights at me which states:

“Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers”

But I say you should firstly read Article 1 before you skip to No 19 because it sets up the context for that whole human rights document.

Because Article 1 states:

“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.”

That last phrase that we “should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood” underpins the rules for commenting on my page.

I have them because I believe we cannot have a decent society if we do not behave decently towards each other.


Bryan Bruce is one of NZs most respected documentary makers and public intellectuals who has tirelessly exposed NZs neoliberal economic settings as the main cause for social issues.


  1. I wonder if its that easy since censorship is going to be Internet Service Providers (ISP) doing the actual enforcing of the block lists, rather than the police knocking on some end-user’s door.

    How long will proxy servers remain viable, when they can just be censor as well (and as fast as they can be found, since ministers won’t need a court order to blocks block someone). Of course we are talking about hate speech and peoples emotions and nothing will get out of hand. Am I correct?

    Can you think of any other ways to circumvent an ISP censor? Trying to modify their block lists is going to be tightly controlled since its going to be their ass in court (and in jail) if that’s not kept on a short leash.

  2. The child’s right to life vs semi automatic gun ownership is a false dichotomy.
    All semi autos could have been simply been put in to E category (more strict control) which in NZ has a 0% offense rate, and saved the taxpayer many millions and a bunch of guns going underground .
    Banning large capacity magazines had been called for for years by gun owners but no action was taken.
    And a gun register… please list below all the instances where a gun register has prevented a crime: there are none? Gun registers do not prevent crime this has been found all over the world.
    Australia, held up as a shining example if gun control, has a large underworld gun problem and higher gun Joni use rate than NZ.
    Arthur Allan Thomas was the only time a register came in handy for the cops, and it does give them a (faulty)list of lawfully owned guns when they decide to confiscate the next lot.
    Criminals aren’t affected at all by a register – they simply grind the serial number off.
    Vetting works when the cops do it properly.
    How many are aware this government was making moves to reduce vetting and doing it online?

    • If the register is introduced now (with so much recent ill will created over ‘railroaded’ legislation) it simply means those that want to register firearms will, those who don’t- won’t. So the unintended consequences are that- at a stroke it will potentially take a large number of firearms out of secure safes and into hiding or even out on to the black market eventually. Armed crime /gang warfare will likely go up in NZ over the next few years if that is the case, and probably fueling more shoot outs with the police.

      • Clearly everyone who is concerned about undemocratic process and police failings must be a “gun nut” eh mjolnir?
        That’s the woke moral police go to tactic isn’t it.
        Far be it for anyone to have safety concerns over badly thought out law.
        Or you could discuss the article if you were able to refute any of my points..

        • People have a right to mobility, but they need a driver’s license to operate an automobile or a pilot’s license to operate an aircraft. People have a right to own property, but not to pollute or use child labor or run a factory without paying attention to health and safety codes. When you drive a car, pilot a plane, own and operate a restaurant or a factory your activities effect the lives of others and you have a responsibility to use them correctly because incorrect use can hurt or kill those around you. Responsibility for such things goes hand in hand with accountability and oversight to make sure that said restrictions are followed. That police failed to act on reports of menacing behaviour by the Christchurch shooter is an operational discretion of the highest order. And unfortunately as a result the whole thing is going to be taken away and for good reason. I hope you can see that reason too.

          • I do see the need to control centrefire semi automatic weapons better also Sam. I would do it differently though, sadly, important bridges in our community are being burned.
            I’m not a semi auto owner but I understand there are genuine reasons for people owning them. Look at Bens situation on this blog.

            Our system has worked well for kiwis for many years and it’s not them (us) that has failed now. It’s horrible seeing the police and government scapegoating the Christchurch tragedy, they are playing the shooters game for him.
            This government was in the process of further weakening firearms license vetting procedures.
            But civilians it civilians that will continue to pay the price for their failure, now in loss of freedom, and the blinkered woke will cheer them for it.

          • @keepcalm

            Yeah, we are a juvenile nation. Shocker.

            This much of the problem that the “the ends justify the means” as a philosophy is people who do so tend to handwave the means as just not mattering – they aren’t really trying to justify the means, just to convince people to ignore them. It tends to turn into “any ends justify any means”.

            It’s also and I would argue more important that there is no better solution that we are ignoring because it’s inconvenient or embarrassing or some such. But this is where I would argue that it’s a bit more important that there’s good reason to think that “the means” will work.

  3. You also sing the praises of our democratic law making as a hedge against totalitarianism but ignore the fact the first round of gun laws was rushed through undemocratically with minimal opportunity for consultation. Why, if you want best law?
    Because it was a cynical opportunity for the police association and certain politicians.

    • Absolutely, the initial OIC achieved everything that was required at the time. Had they then spent 6-12 months on a proper legislative process and come up with the same conclusion no one would have grounds to complain. Instead they rushed through bad legislation, and we still have the same guns out in the community because the police cannot gear up to receive them without adequate notice.

      What we have is the clear indication that this government will not honour democracy when it does not suit them to do so. On this issue it’s not a big deal for the average voter, next time it might be very different. We should be extremely concerned about the future of democracy in this country. Frankly, I expected much better from this government. The idea of this same bunch of clowns being the ones that make hate speech legislation is very scary. I never thought I would be in the position of contemplating voting ACT simply in the hope of seeing democracy remain in NZ.

  4. well brother you certainly do a good job modelling that woolly ruminant contemplation of fences. We’ll call you Brother Sheep.

    lovingly of course. lamb shanks tonite

  5. Freedom of speech is a good thing, and censorship can be too in the right situation. The real trouble is who gets to do the censoring! Personally I believe banning the idiots manifesto just make it appear the Govt has something to hide, and also considers the general population too simple minded to not be taken in by what it says. This ‘benevolent leader looking after our interests by removing confusing reading matter’ is the way Stalin and Kim Jong Un think, but not my idea of democracy.

    As for firearms, the Stuff homicide report is telling reading. The rifles that have been banned (on A category licences) represent a miniscule percentage of our homicide in the last 15 years, and the ‘E category’ rifles that were specifically banned represent 0.0% of the homicides. Almost all firearm homicides were committed by unlicensed users, so it is an issue of criminality, not legal users. So is this ban really a sensible policy, or is it just grandstanding to public opinion at a time of high emotion?

    I have a bias, I have planted 300,000 trees here and have created a perfect habitat for goats and deer. After shooting goats with a bolt action rifle and having a number of them escape injured to die slowly and horribly in pain I got myself an E category firearms license, and used the rifle (an sks) to humanely control goats; the quick follow up shot ensures no slow agonizing death. To get the licence involved rigorous police vetting, registration of the firearm, and an extremely secure gunsafe (6mm steel 130kg safe, bolted to concrete walls and wall frame in 8 places, and located inside a locked room). By getting a E licence I voluntarily opened myself to total freedom of police inspection at any time, and very strict useage requirements with no second chances. Basically E cat FAL owners agreed to less rights than a paedophile living next to a primary school! And the crime rate from E licence holders has been zero. So is the country really safer now they are banned? I don’t see how. There WILL be a lot more wounded goats dieing in the bush though now we’re back to slower loading rifles… although as multiple tens of millions of people were killed by bolt-action rifles last century again I don’t see we are any safer. The practical difference between a semi auto and a bolt action rifle is in the speed of the follow up shot, but the time taken to acquire the next target is the same.

    It seems to me from the small extracts of the manifesto available before censorship, the banning of firearms, corruption of democratic process and increase of police powers were exactly what he wanted to see done. Well done Jacinda, way to go rewarding a terrorist with everything he dreamed of.

    • Real issues highlighted, as we might have had a chance to work through as a grown up country without the rush to utilise the moral panic pushed by police.
      Can I gently suggest not attaching your name to specific details of firearms (if this name is your real one), on the internet.

  6. Kia ora Bruce
    You may be aware that the Chief Censor’s ban on “The Great Replacement” was unlawful, and you will also be aware that the political establishment has responded to his actions with nothing more than a nod and a wink. Does that not make you wonder whether rule of law and democratic process can co-exist with the kind of wholesale political censorship which the New Zealand government is striving to impose in the wake of the Al Noor massacre?

  7. “In my view little Mucaad’s right to life (indeed the right to life of ANY person ) far exceeds the “right” of anyone to own semi-automatic weapons or use the internet to incite hatred and broadcast acts of murder and atrocity”

    You hare so on tge button with that , Bryan

    At last, a voice of balanced reason

  8. The ban on semi-automatic weapons may be justified but it will not prevent mass murder.
    The problem of political violence demands political examination and ultimately political solutions, which, for its own reasons, the political establishment in New Zealand is resolutely and unanimously determined to resist.
    Political censorship (in the Prime Minister’s words, designed to prevent political “radicalisation”) will not work and in the long run it will only aggravate the problem.
    Neither will armed police on every street corner, shopping mall, masjid and church do anything to avert mass murder.
    In the aftermath of the massacre I met an Afghan war veteran in police uniform carrying a semi-automatic rifle standing guard in the travel and history section of the local public library. He knew as well as I did that his presence there could have no practical effect. He was “just doing a job” that made no practical sense.
    If you rule out political solutions, the second best way to deter or suppress political violence is community self-defence. No such measures were in place at Al Noor and Linwood masjids because the Muslim leaders had decided that their physical safety could be guaranteed by a policy of close collaboration with the New Zealand Police and, more particularly, the NZSIS. That was a grievous mistake.
    An organised group of a score or so unarmed people working at close quarters can pull down a lone attacker, even one armed with an automatic weapon. In that way twenty or thirty lives could have been saved at Al Noor.
    In fact, if the Muslims had been sensibly prepared to respond to such an attack it most likely would not have taken place. Tarrant had intelligence on the unpreparedness of the masjids which gave him the confidence to launch a solo attack. In any other circumstances he would have needed a team of at least three shooters to achieve his object with some degree of safety, or to have employed explosives rather than firearms.
    It follows that even with the ban on automatic weapons, attacks ending with mass casualties are still possible. The bar is set just a little bit higher, and that is about as good as it will get for a country that is resolutely determined not to address the political issues, and communities that for whatever reason fail to provide for their own self-protection.

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