New research from Unisys Corporation, conducted before and after the attacks on two Christchurch mosques on 15 March reveals that before the attacks New Zealanders had the lowest level of concern about criminal attacks at large events of 13 countries surveyed and ranked war or terrorism as only seventh out of eight types of security concerns.
But New Zealanders’ attitudes toward their security changed immediately after the attacks, with war or terrorism now cited as the top security concern for Kiwis for the first time in 12 years as well as a clear public expectation on the role of social media to identify and prevent malicious activity - according to the 2019 Unisys Security Index.
The only recurring snapshot of security concerns conducted globally, the Unisys Security Index measures concerns of consumers on issues related to national, personal, financial and internet security.
In polling conducted two weeks before the Christchurch attack that examined the public’s security concerns at large-scale events such as a rugby match or music festival, New Zealanders were more concerned about theft of credit card data (39% seriously concerned) or personal data (38% seriously concerned) from a mobile device when using public wi-fi at the event, than a criminal attacking and harming event attendees (35% seriously concerned). Of the 13 countries surveyed, New Zealanders recorded the lowest concern about such criminal attacks.
After the attack, more than half of all New Zealanders (51%) reported being very or extremely concerned about national security in relation to war or terrorism – up from 29% two weeks before the attack. And for Christchurch city residents, concern more than doubled.
“Clearly our most recent experiences drive our security concerns at a given time. It is no surprise that concern about terrorism in New Zealand has increased. While the attacks targeted Muslims as they worshipped, they registered throughout the country as attacks on all New Zealanders and brought the reality of such a threat into our backyard. However, it is important to note that New Zealanders continue to hold a much lower level of concern than most countries – only Germany and the Netherlands are lower,” said Andrew Whelan, vice president Commercial and Financial Services sectors, Unisys Asia Pacific.
At the end of March, the overall measure of security concerns of the New Zealand public was 143 out of 300, up from 139 two weeks before the attack which had been relatively unchanged from 138 in 2018. Despite this increase, New Zealand has the third lowest level of concern of the 13 countries - but the type of security concern has changed.
The research also found that the vast majority (80%) of New Zealanders believe that it should be the responsibility of social media companies to monitor and remove content that they deem to be hate speech, racist memes, inappropriate comments and malicious or disturbing content. Only 25% agreed with the statement that New Zealand is a free country and New Zealanders should be allowed to post whatever they like on social media as ‘free speech.’
“New Zealanders reacted strongly to the role social media played in publicising the attacks and helping the gunman achieve his objectives. The Unisys Security Index suggests strong support for governments, regulators and social media giants to come together to create a framework to stop these internet echo chambers from creating an environment that encourages hate and violence. New Zealanders want tangible change to minimise the chance of further violence,” said Mr Whelan.
“With only one in four Kiwis stating they should be allowed to post whatever we like on social media, the research indicates that the public understands that with ‘free speech’ comes responsibility. And the New Zealand public is calling for social media companies to take the same responsibility in working with law enforcement agencies and helping to remove inflammatory content,” he said.
More than half (56%) of New Zealanders agree that police, law enforcement and other government agencies should be able to access and monitor all social media channels, including private chat groups, to look for disturbing content and malicious activities.
Tim Green, industry manager for Justice, Law Enforcement and Border Security, Unisys Asia Pacific said: “Social media has great value in bringing together people and communities, but other groups, darker in nature, use the same mainstream platforms to promote their causes and lifestyle. Social media platforms enable those groups to be just a few clicks away from our children and those most vulnerable to radicalisation. The Unisys Security Index indicates New Zealanders support legislative change and forgoing some privacy on social media to enable police investigations and intelligence operations to prevent the abuse of this technology.”