Ardern focuses on online misinformation in Harvard address
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern delivered the 2022 commencement address to a crowd of 8,000 Harvard University students.
His speech touched on a wide range of topics, including his childhood in Morrinsville, his daughter Neve and the diversity of his cabinet, noting that the Deputy Prime Minister is a “proud homosexual”.
But the main theme focused on how society is tackling the spread of misinformation online. It was a clear link to his experience in charge of New Zealand following the attack on the Christchurch mosque.
“We are at a precipice,” she said.
“And rather than asking what caused it, today I want to talk about how we are fixing it,” she told the crowd.
The speech was warmly received by Harvard students, who enjoyed the first in-person graduation since 2019, with the past two years canceled by the pandemic.
For some students, the most recent semester was the only one they attended on campus – with the pandemic giving them degrees via Zoom.
Ardern follows in the footsteps of previous recipients, including Angela Merkel, Winston Churchill and John F Kennedy.
The prime minister also received an honorary degree, along with journalist Gloria Steinem and World Kitchen founder Jose Andres.
For the occasion, she wore a kākahu, a traditional coat made by more than 250 women who worked together on the piece. It was woven from harakeke muka fibers, natural tree bark dyes and kiwi feathers over 35 years old.
The Prime Minister’s speech sometimes drew applause from the crowd, at the mention of the decriminalization of abortion and the banning of semi-automatic weapons.
But his speech also included a direct request for social media companies to change the way they do business.
“Now is the time for social media companies and other online providers to recognize their power and act on it,” she said.
Ardern implored the companies to abide by their terms of service and develop “responsible deployment of algorithms.”
The Prime Minister is now heading to America’s West Coast for meetings with tech executives, including Twitter executives. She is expected to continue discussions on online misinformation and the role of Christchurch Appeal at this meeting.