- The Guardian
- Issue #1983
Conservatives, it always seems, live in glasshouses. Warrior for “free speech” and defender of “democracy,” the Morrison government has made it part of its brand to rally against illiberalism.
It’s curious, then, that a government that prides itself on these things would attempt to censor or expose those who make comments that Prime Minister Scott Morrison has qualified as “outrageous.”
Earlier this month, Morrison, speaking on the need for government intervention into social media stated that “[c]owards who go anonymously onto social media and vilify people and harass them and bully them, and engage in defamatory statements […] need to be responsible for what they’re saying.”
Morrison’s comments follow his deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce, who stated that “[t]he idea that someone can have a pseudonym on Twitter and say the most outrageous things and we in 2021 sit back and say that is fair enough, that has got to stop.”
Morrison went a step further, making the most alarming comments, stating that anonymous online trolls “should have to identify who they are […]. And the companies? If they’re not going to say who they are, well, they’re not a platform any more – they’re a publisher.”
In the context of “bullying,” these comments may seem fair and appropriate. No one advocates that people – particularly private citizens – should be mocked for whatever incidental aspect of their life happens to become public. However, the consequences of exposing social media users could be wide-ranging.
What exactly would qualify as “harassment” or “bullying”? Currently, in NSW, we are seeing comedian and “independent” journalist Jordan Shanks (aka friendlyjordies), who has been exposing former deputy Premier John Barillaro’s career dealings, taken to court for alleged “defamation.” His producer, Kristo Langker was aggressively arrested, then charged with two counts of stalking and intimidating Barillaro. NSW Police Deputy Commissioner Dave Hudson and Assistant Commissioner Mark Walton said of the arrest that he didn’t “think appropriate processes were properly followed.” Could Shanks’ antics fall under “bullying” and “harassment”?
Who is to say that if any hypothetically proposed legislation to curb such actions couldn’t be used to silence or expose whistleblowers? Are private citizens not entitled to anonymity to express their views? Many revolutions – socialist and bourgeois alike – attracted support as their propagators released tracts, pamphlets, letters under pseudonyms to protect themselves as they advanced their causes.
The Morrison government has made it a habit to decry the supposed “atrocities” of the People’s Republic of China, pound the war drum over its “censorship,” and lack of bourgeois rights. With this in view, it is incredible to see how this government speaks out of both sides of its mouth. Morrison and his lackeys do not think what is good for the goose is good for the gander. Australia should be able to be as illiberal and hawkish as it wants, but if it hears a peep from China – whether that be shedding light on human rights crises in Australia or America or warn against interfering with its sovereignty – it’s marked as a bully and a threat.
We all should have a watchful eye on the Morrison government’s actions in this manner as it could change the playing field on how we dissent.