The role of social media in debate

By Regan Paranihi

In today’s society, more people feel comfortable addressing social issues such as discrimination through social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

The changes in conversation that social media is sparking has seen many users raising awareness on sensitive issues from the relative security of their laptops and smartphones.

Recently, news pieces within Māori media regarding racism have ignited such discussions.

On March 18 Te Ao reported an incident where a kuia on a West Auckland train overheard two middle-aged women making racial comments about the new te reo Māori language system on the train.  The Facebook post attracted more than 1.8 thousand reactions and over 70 comments, many sharing personal stories.

One user said in a comment, “I don’t catch the trains every day but was really pleased to hear the announcements in both English and Te Reo. Little by little “we” are addressing our responsibilities under Te Tiriti AND helping to make sure everyone hears the correct pronunciation too [sic].”

In wake of the Christchurch terror attack last month the debate around racial discrimination extended to religious communities when Destiny Church leader, Brian Tamaki, disagreed to the broadcast of the Islamic prayer, stating that ‘Jesus Christ is the only true God.’

In response to the wider kōrero, Anglican Priest Christopher Douglas-Huriwai took to Facebook to debate the issues raised and to elaborate on the meaning of the term Allah. 

Huriwai’s post read, “I’ve been seeing some interesting comments from some Maori Christians opposing the National Call to Prayer or opposing Allah today.”

The post received 1.6 thousand reactions, 902 comments and was shared 716 times.

The online debate provoked by the use of social media is a double-edged sword. 

On the one hand, people are able to call out and address issues which they may find difficult in other settings.  However, on the other hand the negative reactions, name-calling and hostility that such a limited form of communication can encourage show that, while social media isn't going anywhere, it should be approached with caution.

Read more:

My Māori name - Readers share their experiences of discrimination

"Racism is real whānau" - wahine subjected to abuse in online video