Jacqui Van Der Kaay: Te Puke is not Hawaii

Jacqui Van Der Kaay: Te Puke is not Hawaii

The issue with Christopher Luxon’s social media post talking about his day in Te Puke when he was in Hawaii is it’s fake news.

He has since apologised for the mistake. But this doesn’t negate its impact. This mistake, misstep, gaffe or whatever you like to call it, is about trust.

Christopher Luxon is not only a Member of Parliament, he is the leader of one of New Zealand’s major political parties.  He can, rightly, be held to account for his actions and New Zealanders should expect the information he shares on social media to be correct.

So to share a post on social media in which he said “Listen, today I’m in Te Puke, the heart of kiwifruit country” when he was in fact on holiday thousands of kilometres away in Hawaii is that, to point out the obvious, it is simply not true. It doesn’t matter that it was a staffer who posted it, as Luxon rightly acknowledged, the responsibility rests with him.

The rise of misinformation and disinformation is coinciding with declining levels of trust and engagement in politicians and politics. The 2022 Institute of Governance and Policy Studies Trust Survey, conducted by Victoria University,  showed that Members of Parliament are among the least trusted institutions in New Zealand with Government Ministers only slightly higher. Mistakes such as this do little to enhance their credibility. It impacts the level of trust that people have in our elected representatives – a key institution in New Zealand’s democracy.

Misinformation and disinformation are rife around the world and, as the recent parliamentary protests against vaccine mandates showed, New Zealand is not exempt. Research by the Disinformation Project found that during the protests, the number of people engaging with social media, in their words “exploded”. The project has expressed concern that the growing use of social media will lead to more political polarisation, as has been seen in the United States.

The power of social media and the impact it has should not be underestimated. In other parts of the world, such as Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Mexico, Myanmar, and India, social media has been blamed for inflaming ethnic and political tensions.

Social media has become the main source of information and news for many people with many believing that everything that is on social media is factually correct. Disinformation can affect people’s attitudes and beliefs, therefore, impacting democratic institutions and ultimately democracy as a whole. Further,  efforts to control what is distributed on social media, as New Zealand has experienced through the Christchurch call, are challenging.

Luxon has tried to defect focus on the mistake by stating that he has more important things to focus on than a social media post. However, as one of the country’s major political leaders, who could be in the running to become the country’s Prime Minister, it’s important not to understate the effect this has.

Errors such as these only further erode the already low levels of trust in MPs, our political leaders, and ultimately our system of democracy. And, the more this erodes, the more opportunity there is for misinformation and disinformation to flourish.


Jacqui Van Der Kaay, a former journalist, holds a Masters degree in Political Science from Victoria University of Wellington and has a specialist interest in political leadership, voter behaviour, immigration and how social media affects democracy.