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Ardern names her next steps

Jacinda Ardern is unsurprisingly leveraging the unprecedented international profile she achieved as a New Zealand prime minister during her five years in the role.

Even before she rose to speak for the final time in Parliament yesterday, two appointments that represent her next career moves had already been announced.

Kensington Palace has confirmed Ardern will serve as a trustee of the Earthshot Prize, billed as “the Prince of Wales’ prestigious environment award”. First handed out in 2021, it taps five winners each year for their contributions to environmentalism, awarding each recipient a grant of £1 million to continue their environmental work.

The heir to the British throne said that Ardern’s “life-long commitment to supporting sustainable and environmental solutions” and her experience will “bring a rich infusion of new thinking to our mission”.

For her part, Ardern said she is “humbled and excited to be working with the Earthshot team”, given her belief in the prize’s “power to encourage and spread not only the innovation we desperately need, but also optimism”.

Critics of her government’s progress – or lack thereof – in addressing what Ardern described as “my generation’s nuclear-free moment” might wonder what she’ll really bring to the table in terms of actionable innovation but even the most mealy-mouthed among us will surely have to concede she has the optimism angle covered.

The other appointment, announced by Prime Minister Chris Hipkins, is as Special Envoy for the Christchurch Call, the international initiative she spearheaded following the 2019 Christchurch mosque attacks – a collaboration involving governments, the tech sector, and civil society that aims to “eliminate terrorist and violent extremist content online”.

Ardern has declined any remuneration for the newly created position, which will see her reporting directly to the PM.

Although the initiative’s goal of “ensuring there is no place for terrorist and violent extremist content online” is surely a noble one, it could also inadvertently result in authoritarian outcomes.

The devil, as ever, lies in the details, and so far the Christchurch Call has been pretty light on those.

In a world in which many political figures appear to have taken on board the ultimately illiberal idea that “words are violence”, can we be sure that “violent extremist content” actually means what it appears to? Especially given the advent of the slippery concept of “stochastic terrorism”, an academic idea that’s recently been ‘mainstreamed’.

Defined as the use of language “to incite random actors to carry out violent or terrorist acts that are statistically predictable but individually unpredictable”, it’s already used as a highly politicised metaphorical cudgel to accuse people of inciting violence via speech that doesn’t actually meet the [current] legal definition of incitement to violence. Its potential as a pretext for ever-increasing censorship to prevent ill-defined “harm” should be obvious.

It’s far from clear Ardern is alive to this danger, given her address to the UN General Assembly last year in which she asked, “What if [a] lie, told repeatedly, and across many platforms, prompts, inspires, or motivates others to take up arms? To threaten the security of others. To turn a blind eye to atrocities, or worse, to become complicit in them. What then?”

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