Are Kiwis closet racists?

02:24, Aug 22 2011
Paul Henry
More than 1000 online responses to videos featuring infamous New Zealand race furores involving Paul Henry and Hone Harawira were analysed.

A growing number of Kiwis are airing their "dark underbelly" in racist comments online, according to research.

Those behind the study warn that something needs to change or New Zealand could face similar race-motivated and social networking co-ordinated riots that have wracked London and Sydney.

The research, due to be presented at the Human Rights Commission's National Diversity Forum in Hamilton today, analysed more than 1000 online responses to videos featuring infamous New Zealand race furores involving Paul Henry and Hone Harawira.

Researchers found 80 per cent of comments on the videos, in which Henry poked fun at an Indian official's name and Harawira made disparaging remarks about pakeha, obscenities or a mixture of both.

Deputy director of Victoria University's Centre of Applied Cross-Cultural Research James Liu, who supervised the research, described the findings as "disturbing" and illustrative of a "dark underbelly" to New Zealand society.

"There has been a lot of analysis of print media but not much has been done on social media. Social media allows a broader spectrum of opinion and allows people to talk openly and with anonymity.

"There have been a lot of reports saying that social media will change the world and bring people together but that is not what we've found. This is opening a door to the basement of society and the basement is very dark."

He stopped short of calling for censorship of sites like Youtube which allowed anonymous comment posting but said that if nothing was done to curb the rise in racism - it could boil over.

"I don't think that New Zealand is immune to the (race) riots in Sydney or the riots in England," he said.

"A big worry is that people are justifying racism by saying "It's okay because it's funny" or "He's just saying what is on everyone's minds" but if that is what is on everyone's minds then we've got a big problem."

Race Relations Commissioner Joris de Bres agreed that New Zealand was experiencing a rise in online racism.

"I think the majority of New Zealanders are positive of race relations but there is an unquantified minority with hateful views. It's a minority with a very big voice. We get some very ugly stuff appearing on the internet. It's instant, anonymous, basically open slather and certain things (like the videos) trigger it."

With 55 per cent of school children in the northern region of the North Island of Maori, Pacific Island or Asian descent he said this could cause a lot of harm.

Mr Liu said many of the comments were freely accessible to children on popular websites and social media.

"The worry is the younger posters are getting no civil education about how to be a good citizen and how to behave online. If they think this is alright and then go into a smaller community (with those views) there could be consequences."

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