Jacinda Ardern may need continued security as a private citizen

Jacinda Ardern may need continued security as a private citizen

jAcinda Ardern is likely to require an unprecedented level of security for a former New Zealand Prime Minister given the extent of abuse and threats she faced while in office.

Continued police protection for retired leaders is unusual in the South Pacific nation, where politicians can return to life as private citizens once they retire. But Ardern, who announced his shock departure last week, has been subjected to some of the darkest and most extreme online abuse, according to research from the University of Auckland.

Read more: What Jacinda Ardern could do next

“The virulence is, frankly, off the charts,” said Paul Buchanan, a former intelligence and defense policy analyst who has consulted for US security agencies. “Threats to her won’t go away just because she quits. Some of these people are capable of taking violent action against her.”

Buchanan believes the New Zealand Diplomatic Protection Service, a specialized arm of the police responsible for security, will assess the risk to Ardern and his family and provide 24-hour security for the foreseeable future.

Chris Hipkins, who formally succeeded Ardern as prime minister in Wellington on Wednesday, declined to comment on security arrangements for the former leader, describing some of the treatment she received as “abhorrent”.

Read more: Jacinda Ardern carried with her heart. That’s one reason she’s leaving now

Researchers at the University of Auckland analyzed posts from online platforms such as Gab, 4chan, Telegram, Reddit and 8kun dating back to 2019 that mention Ardern and six other high-profile officials from across the New Zealand political spectrum.

Ardern was found to have faced 50 to 90 times more criticism online than any of the others. She was mentioned in more than 18,000 posts, with 5,438 classified as strongly negative, angry, sexually explicit, or toxic. The investigation also found that abusive messages increased in the second half of last year.

“I came to the conclusion that misogyny was a key part,” said Chris Wilson, senior professor of politics and international relations at the University of Auckland. Ardern drew backlash for being a left-wing woman in power who “symbolically or otherwise was taking a number of steps to undermine structures of patriarchy, racial hierarchies, and structures within society,” she said.

Kate Hannah, director and founder of independent research group The Disinformation Project, said the genesis of the abuse targeting Ardern was her response to the 2019 Christchurch terror attack that killed 51 people when a gunman opened fire on Muslim worshipers. in two mosques.

Read more: How will Jacinda Ardern use the world’s attention?

“Her quick intervention in banning assault rifles and iconic visual images of her wearing the hijab had a lot of power internationally in both mainstream media and online discourse,” Hannah said. “That’s when we started to see rhetoric.”

Both Hipkins and former Prime Minister Helen Clark have denounced misogyny and hate directed at Ardern in recent days. But Ardern herself has said that the abuse did not influence her decision to withdraw from it.

“I would hate for anyone to see my departure as a negative comment on New Zealand,” he told reporters on Tuesday. “I have experienced so much love, compassion, empathy and kindness when I have been in this job. That has been my predominant experience.”

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