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Wednesday 24 April 2024

Of babies and bathwater.

Disinformation, misinformation, tech giants, and censorship have suddenly become the singular issue of the day. Illegal immigrants arriving magically on Australia's shores, the record level of migration, the dirty tricks played by Labor ministers relating to Brittany Higgins, and even the cost of living issues have been replaced in the headlines. I guess that seems to be justification enough. Yet today's talking points are about Elon Musk and Jacqui Lambie's calls for an 'X-odus'. 

The issue is being presented in such naive terms that it is hard not to react. As presented it is a simple case. Do we want wanton violence pushed by Social media to unsuspecting innocent users? Why should these high-tech billionaires corrupt the minds of the innocent? 

It is hard to argue that the violence shown on social media is healthy for anyone. Even a short sojourn through the pages of X or Meta shows many videos portraying violence, sometimes wanton violence. Youth seem to capture fights with multiple assailants ganging up on a single victim, or one on one fights, or even just accidental capture of an unprovoked attack on a passerby. Then of course there are the demonstrations with large mobs screaming slogans at pedestrians who happen today to be Israeli, or even just 'look openly Jewish'.  Then again there is the footage of terrorist attacks and war in action. At a less direct level, there is the precursor of violence. The full-throated exhortations by so-called 'preachers' to denigrate, vilify and demean a race, a religion a people and quote the Koran that condones their murder. 
So yes, there is widespread violence, threats of violence and incitement to violence on Social Media.

But then again these are not confined to social media alone. You can see the same in our Newspapers our televisions and of course plenty of violence in our movies. Violence is not confined to social media. Yes, many will counter, that there are better controls on our media, with some well-defined rules as to what can and what cannot be shown and at various time-slots. Social media seem to have an exemption as they are not classified as 'publishers'. Of course the publishers would like to level the playing field and have social media also classified as publishers. And maybe so. I will leave that argument, for another occasion. Yet it will not solve the problem given that wanton violence is everywhere in our 'publisher ' media too.

The sudden focus on a single video of a terrorist attack on a Christian bishop however seems strangely convenient. Convenient? Yes, convenient. Just last year the government tried to introduce legislation that would have given widespread power to some media bureaucrats to censor social media.  In response to a request for public commentary the government received some 25000 submissions against the legislation so the government reluctantly shelved its implementation
Given this history, many are suspicious that the sudden vilification of social media following the recent terrorist attack is being used to soften us up for another attempt at this legislation. Certainly the government has not asked for many equally offensive videos to be removed from social media. On ABC television there is still a video showing an indigenous assailant stabbing a police officer and in trun being shot by a second police officer. This video is similar in violent content to the stabbing of the Christian Bishop. So what standard are they really pushing?

Censorship is a difficult area, We have a wide range of views regarding what should or should not be censored. I too have my own limits and find much of what I see,  and pass through quickly, on X beyond my limit. Yet censorship has a cost. We should be very cautious about our willingness to censor speech/video we do not like. Any laws that prevent speech/video we personally do not like will end up restricting our access to information that we need. One does not have to think too far back to our recent Pandemic handling to realise the types of abuse governments will use to prevent us from accessing information they do not want us to have. Consider these questions regarding the recent COVID-19 pandemic
  • Did COVID-19 come from a lab? 
  • Are the vaccines safe? 
  • Did the masks work? 
  • Were lockdowns necessary? 
  • what is the cause of excess deaths? 
  • Does Ivermectin work?
All these questions have been taboo, and really remain taboo even today. Yet consider if we had had the chance for open discussion and consideration of these questions. We would have greater trust in our Police and our government, and our society would be better prepared for any future pandemic. So the consequences of censorship are very serious indeed. 

The possibility of abuse of censorship laws is the major argument against such censorship. 
So let's avoid censorship and not throw the baby out with the bathwater.


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