Some perspective from the New Zealand Prime Minister’s former social media manager
I don’t even know where to begin with that Liz Gunn clip 😳
Anyway, as a Wellingtonian (who works for the government and spends a fair chunk of my time eating lunch on that lawn), I’m so pleased they’ve now been moved on. Every day was a weird new level of low. My personal lowlights were the tinfoil hats, lamb lady and the black clotted blood and of course the peak destruction of the final day.
I was pretty saddened to see my 14 year old niece sharing images from the protest (she didn’t actually go) with captions like “I get to choose what goes into my body and I shouldn’t have any consequences”. It’s peak Pākehā privilege in her case and the fact that her entire family are anti-vax, led by my brother-in-law who regularly donates to VFF etc and is firmly down the rabbit hole. The sad part for me is they have effectively cut themselves off from the rest of the family now. Once a regular part of our lives, we haven’t seen them for months despite living up the road. To be honest I can’t deal with their vitriol, and we don’t intend to either. I’m not sure how we come back from this either. My brother-in-law is one of the smartest people I know, on the leadership team of a big international company in NZ, and the conspiracy crowd had him on board from the start of this virus outbreak.
Their disregard for their community and prioritising their individualism over the collective is hard for me to process. I guess that can be extrapolated out as a whole for the anti-vax crowd.
However, once we get to the other side of this, if we do, there’s gonna have to be quite a bit of healing time. I want my sister and her whānau back but at the same time, they’ve shown little concern for our elderly parents or the younger kids in our family who are only becoming eligible for their second jabs now. I’ve got a lot to process before I can forgive and I’ll do it but it is so hard.
I watched that Liz Gunn clip yesterday and was so sickened by the misogynistic vitriol directed at the PM. Is this bs happening to any male heads of state? It probably is, but it alarms me how patriarchy has so conditioned us to hate women that people (and I know many of them) are drastically changing their lives, losing jobs, friends and family just to avoid being ‘told what to do’ by ‘Jacinda’.
My sense of the video is that Liz Gunn has had a breakdown and is in need of help and I hope she gets it.
As someone who has worked in the mental health space for many years I suspect some of what we are seeing is just the tip of the iceberg. Our under resourced mental health services are buckling under the weight of many traumatised people who seem to have lost hope and meaning. A rabbit hole must seem awfully reassuring to a rabbit that is convinced it’s being hunted.
Of course none of that excuses the riot. I will never forget images of some of our new police recruits looking justifiably frightened as they found suddenly themselves in a vortex of violence. I have tremendous respect for how the police handled themselves with restraint and dignity. One positive take from what was for me a harrowing and deeply disturbing spectacle.
I truly think that the best thing we can do for our loved ones down the rabbit hole is not cut them off entirely. Because then they are completely at the mercy of the conspiracy grifters and alt-right crowd. They make "new friends" who "understand" (and fill their heads with more nonsense). I'm having some success with a friend who is very far down the rabbit hole by just engaging in "how are you" and then completely ignoring any conspiracy theory bullshit that comes up. If there's 3 paragraphs of conspiracy, I'll only reply to the part about how her kids are doing. She's actually started reaching out to me more for other things, and that means I'm maintaining a connection with her that she can use if she ever decides to come back from the VFF cult. It's so hard but holding the boundaries gently seems to be working.
I love reading the free Webworm newsletters when they come out, and this time I think you hit a nerve and I had to write back. This one in particular provided a unique perspective, with input from a social media manager that I don't think I've seen in other places online.
I can definitely relate to what has been said. I have quite a few friends who went deeply down the rabbit hole very quickly in 2020 when Covid came along, and most of them are EXTREMELY VOCAL!!! I think that is one of the hardest things, when you have friends who push their views and opinions really strongly whenever Covid comes up as a topic. Any opportunity they had they would complain about Covid and say it wasn't real, complain about lockdowns etc. Then over time when Covid did get here and deaths around the world were rising, they started admitting that Covid was real, but that it was very very mild and the mainstream media was slanting everything and making it worse than it actually is.
It's been most interesting to see how my "friends" have responded on social media. Sometimes this has meant hijacking peoples facebook posts, sending abusive messages, or posting large status updates with their alternative facts and other information about why the response was better in country X because they did X, Y, and Z.
My brother in Law attended the protest after it had been going for a week or so, and was there for two weeks and only left at the very end. He attended because he was loosely anti-mandate but I think the real reason he went along was he wanted to escape from reality, so it was less about attending the protest, and more about getting away from his life.
In two weeks we watched him descend swiftly down the rabbit hole, until he started messaging my wife with some alarming conspiracy theories. His last few messages on the final day of protest amounted to the police actually being trespassed from the property by the local Iwi because it was Maori land, and that all the protesters were actually there with permission. He said that the politicians who televised their injection were given something fake like a saline solution. I even saw messages from him that said Jacinda is an ex-junkie, Clarke Gayford imported cocaine and that they gave the mob 2.5 million for meth?!?
I think the whole ordeal is the most scary because of the innocent and well meaning people who attended the protest because they wanted to be heard about being anti-mandate, but over time they rubbed shoulders with other protesters, who had crazier views and other conspiracies they were chasing. I have to wonder how many people left the protest far deeper down the rabbit hole than when they first attended it... and it makes me feel sick to my stomach....
Thank you so much for your work and your writing, I really do get excited each time I see an email from you in my inbox. I really like the perspective you bring and find it refreshing!
All the best,
Sometimes I despair that we are going to keep discussing how crazy their theories are and how bad their behaviour is right up to the next organised attack.
We know that the vast majority of NZers do not support the views of the conspiracy theorists who have recently been evicted from Parliament grounds.
I hope that their credibility has been further eroded by association with violent thugs.
What concerns me most is the nasty misogyny aimed at our Prime Minister.
This reminds me of the sentiment that I was exposed to when I visited my expat relatives in Sydney during Julia Gillard's tenure as PM. I was constantly told how dreadful and useless she was without any explanation of her specific shortcomings.The nature of this talk was not that of informed criticism, it felt like blind hatred of a woman in a position of real power.
This is what is now being aimed at our PM.
In hindsight Julia Gillard regrets not 'calling out' early the misogyny she was exposed to. She had hoped that her record in office would dispel the misgivings of the public, however this is not the way it played out as we know.
I think all of us, Jacinda included, would be wise to learn from this and refuse to tolerate and to emphatically challenge the campaign of hateful misogyny now directed her way.
Thank you for the Liz Gunn clip. I am sure I will get angry and fall into despair about it all, but first I have to stop crying with laughter. Enhanced by some of the Twitter comments: "If she gets brain damage from long Covid, how will we notice?" I needed brightening up during a tough week and wasn't expecting the Wellington riots to do that but you can rely on Webworm.
The guest commentary is spot on. Well done on getting this on (electronic) paper.
When someone says "The antifa is against us!" I wonder if they realise this statement makes them the fascists.
She's right. If you are in a protest and alt-right joins in you have two options: tell them to go away and make sure they go, or you go away. Otherwise you are participating in an alt-right protest.
It's the old saying "if there's a Nazi at the table and ten other people sitting there talking to him, you got a table with eleven Nazis."
And that's not even invoking Godwin's Law.
That was a good piece of writing from the social media person. My daughter and her husband went down the 4chan/alt right rabbit hole and he rang me the day after the mosque shooting expressing concern that there would be a clampdown on social media. I have known people who have said that the shooting didn't happen, or it did but no one was killed, or that the terrorist wasn't a terrorist, but anyway it was all about quashing dissent and taking our guns. Reading that today from the social media worker, asking could she have done more, could she live with herself. We end up with this guilt we know is misplaced, it might not be guilt but just heartbreak.
Thank you for this, and huge ups and thanks and hugs to the social media manager who shared their thoughts and fears here, because that feels like sane NZ to me. This para in particular - 'People try to make this into a “freedom of speech” argument. It isn’t. It’s also not about left and right. It’s about putting community first, it’s about respecting basic human dignity. There is no intellectualising your way out of white supremacy and fascism. ' Totally - no excuse for being in the same space, and therefore supporting, as these utter contemptible humans. I personally don't care if they were suckers or not, they went right down deep in there if they are threatening human lives and the lives of people in media and government. I hope we root them out and show them what consequences are - in a way that works for our own sense of justice. Expose them, call them out, lock 'em up for while or make them do community work. Whatever. But let's act on this. As for Liz Gunn - a total example of racism and determined ignorance. Her consequence in this case is clearly covid. I am trying really really hard not to hope that she gets very very sick with it - I fail often in that endeavour and so I resent her even more for making me ashamed of myself. :-(
Having to wander up Lambton Quay and past the protest a few times in order to get to various meetings was certainly an eye opening experience, and it seemed to get more surreal by the day after the first week.
In hindsight, it has struck me more as an event of mass psychosis than anything else - ironically, the same claim made often by protesters about the COVID response - but absolutely understandable given the enormous pressures placed on people's mental health.
Unfortunately, this is not something that can be legislated away through a technocratic response, or dealt with by appeals to reason.
This paroxysm was all about emotion and 'fight or flight'. It's hardwired into us that humans revert to type under stress, and a percentage of the population will always look for answers and patterns - no matter how outlandish - to comfort themselves that there is a design or reason associated with an event, and gain some modicum on control over their own lives when in extremis.
The best we can do as a society is to provide a safe outlet for people's anxieties and support to get through them, but also to present an unflinching countervailing force to mitigate the worst excesses when that behaviour impacts other people or our collective social institutions.
Postscript: Watching a clearly out-of-her-gourd Liz Gunn didn't make my day.
Oh god. I’ve just watched the Liz Gunn clip. It’s the first thing I’ve seen of the anti crowd. I truly don’t understand. I don’t understand where the hatred is coming from. Vile hatred. I agree with Kate, the selfishness makes me despair. A colleague of mine happily told me yesterday that he and his wife flew from
Auckland to Wellington while Covid positive. In response to my zoom facial response (couldn’t help myself) he exclaimed “we had the tickets!” Oh that’s ok then. Fuucckkkk!!
Those riots sure were wild. I had a cousin who was part of the protest (not sure if he hung around for the rioting) and a few friends, and maybe another cousin, on the Police side of things.
It really would have made for a hilarious whānau anecdote if my Police cousin had arrested my conspiracy theorist cousin.
Some truely horrible stuff is said about Jacinda on social media. I wonder how much she is aware of. Her ability to not show any sarcasm or anger towards these people amazes me. Politically I wouldn't call myself a supporter of either of the two main parties but as a woman I am really proud of Jacinda. I can't help but feel that if she was a man she wouldn't be getting the same level of hate.
Happy international woman's day !
Liz Gunn on the other hand is just a huge embarrassment. Urghhh
I am so dumbfounded by that Liz Gunn clip I cannot articulate what is in my head. Wow just wow.
Thank you to your writer today. What a hell of a lot of pressure you put on yourself.