New Zealand a 'prime target' for foreign interference ahead of election, says expert

A synthetic media expert is warning Kiwis over the real possibility the upcoming election could be influenced by foreign interference. 

Your playlist will load after this ad

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s high profile overseas means NZ shouldn’t rule out foreign interference in the election, an expert warns. Source: Q+A

Brainbox research director Curtis Barnes says New Zealanders are "exceptionally vulnerable" to the possibility of overseas influence due to the country's popular political moves. 

Particularly the New Zealand's decisions around oil and gas exploration, gun reform and terrorism since the last election has made the country a "prime target", Mr Barnes said.

“These really are more than just practical decisions, they’re symbolic decisions. They’re statements to the world that New Zealand has a particular set of political beliefs which make us stand out.”

Mr Barnes believes the ease of social media is allowing for politically charged posts influenced by foreign bodies to spread undetected.

While posts may appear both authentic and legitimate, it can be hard for the public to identify the agenda of the original poster.

“Most of the time you’re scanning and skimming you’re phone and share things that are interesting. In fact, really a large degree of it comes down to just being conscious about the things you’re seeing online.”

The country’s position on a global stage would make it a particular prize of sorts to foreign bodies attempting to sway the election, according to Mr Barnes.

“There is sense that if you could disrupt the New Zealand election then you’ve really landed a big fish.”

He thinks that due the “very little effort” put monitoring foreign interference in New Zealand, it would be particularly hard to identify if the country had been targeted.

A degree of “pushing back” by the public sphere may be required in order to mitigate the influence of foreign bodies.

More focus over identifying particular trends occurring across the internet and in particular social media platforms would help to identify foreign interference, Mr Barnes said.

“Which are the platforms most active with dissident voices from overseas or agitation propaganda… essentially just providing information to the public that gives them something to lean on.”

Mr Barnes believes a non-government organisation of sorts would be most effective at identifying the messages online by following the steps of other countries.

“In America there’s no shortage of funding but of course America has also been hit. They’ve had good reason to but a lot of effort into this being disrupted in the last round," Mr Barnes said.

While he says most social media avenues are able to be used without the public falling victim to foreign influence, you can’t be certain at all times, especially around an election