Govt to take action against disinformation

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images
The Government is set to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to build an "empirical picture of the disinformation landscape", as part of a three-pronged response to digital deception.

A tender placed by the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (DPMC) on Monday requested proposals to provide insights into the "disinformation landscape" in New Zealand as part of a whole-of-society approach to strengthen the country’s ability to address misinformation.

The reports would be made public and would have to be trustworthy, transparent and recognise the need to maintain an open internet and uphold freedom of expression, the tender said.

A DPMC webpage updated on Monday said the national security public survey last year had shown New Zealanders believed misinformation was a concerning future security threat.

Individuals or groups communicating to shape public perception in ways which were manipulative, deceptive or misleading, could be classed as disinformation, the webpage said.

The Government was seeking to support a whole-of-society approach to build resilience against disinformation harm, which would be primarily led by those outside government.

DPMC would play a co-ordinating role, with a three-pronged approach.

Firstly it was seeking to convene a civil society-led group to scope longer-term work, which would advise DPMC on options for future institution building for strengthening resilience to disinformation, including a possible non-government organisation.

In January, the Otago Daily Times reported the DPMC’s national security group was considering a June 2022 report it commissioned from Auckland’s Brainbox Institute, which argued for the establishment of an independent institute which sat outside government and existing institutions.

Secondly, the Government was working on a one-off fund to support community projects and organisations to build resilience against disinformation.

Thirdly, a set of reports would be commissioned to monitor and analyse New Zealand’s online information ecosystem, which would illustrate the impacts of disinformation and inform the two other workstreams, the webpage said.

Documents obtained by the ODT showed the reporting contract was expected to start in July.

Several suppliers were being sought, and up to $450,000 was envisioned as the cost of a set of reports over a year.

One-off reports could also be procured, at up to $60,000 a time.

The reports were to be confined to monitoring and providing insights, and were not to be geared towards inhibiting communications or intervening in disinformation.

Potential applicants were asked to consider how they would meet privacy obligations and minimise the risks of over-collection.

They were also asked if they had any arrangements with social media companies for collecting data or if they intended to use any machine-learning techniques in their data analysis.