eKaren’s Magic Trick

Written by:
27 June 2024
eKaren’s Magic Trick - Featured image
Originally Appeared In

In this article, Director of Law and Policy John Storey contextualises and disseminates the IPA’s research on Australia’s internet censorship and misinformation laws.

The eSafety Commissioner’s mission to re-wokify Twitter

Every good magician has mastered the art of misdirection. Get the audience looking elsewhere so they don’t notice the trick being performed right in front of them.

Politicians have their own versions of this. Take President Joe Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act, a piece of legislation that has nothing to do with reducing inflation, but instead pumps subsidies into green energy boondoggles.

Australia’s eSafety Commissioner, Julie Inman Grant (aka eKaren in popular slang), tried her own version of this trick recently when she introduced a new mandatory industry standard – the Online Safety (Designated Internet Services – Class 1A and 1B Material) Industry Standard 2024 (the Standard) that will apply to social media and other tech companies. Inman Grant wrote in a newspaper opinion piece promoting the Standard that it was focused on ‘abuse of children and pro-terror material’, and was necessary due to ‘resistance from industry’.

Who could object to preventing abuse of children or blocking pro-terror material?

Indeed, the need to protect children from abuse and the need to prevent pro-terror material are absolutely paramount and are not contested propositions within the community or the current political debate. In fact, far more should be done to remove exploitative and unlawful content, and to protect children.

Of course, the Standard announced by Inman Grant does not have a limited focus but this is not the reason for ‘resistance from industry’. The Standard does have provisions requiring social media companies to undertake risk assessments to prevent the dissemination of child abuse and pro-terror material. These are undeniably positive goals. But the Standard goes much further than these two matters.

The Standard covers the full range of ‘Class 1A and 1B’ material, which includes all sorts of content that has nothing to do with protecting children or prohibiting pro-terrorist material. It includes material that depicts crime that ‘offends against standards of morality, decency and propriety’. This vague standard was the very same one that Inman Grant applied to force social media companies to take down the footage of the attack on Bishop Mar Mari Emmanuel in his church in Sydney in April, a ban she wanted applied across the globe.

This attempt was a dramatic, ideologically driven act of overreach by the eSafety Commissioner that led to international embarrassment and a costly failed Federal Court case. However, under her latest Standard, Inman Grant would have further means at her disposal for attacking social media companies if the same thing happens again.

The decision to censor the alleged Sydney terror attack had nothing to do with protecting children or preventing the spread of pro-terrorist material. It was to try and avoid an awkward conversation in Australia about immigration and social cohesion, a conversation Inman Grant and her fellow elites, especially the Albanese government, would rather avoid.

And this is the central problem with the entirety of Australia’s eSafety regime. While the ostensible goals, like protecting children, are noble, the actual rules are so broad they allow censorship to be imposed for purely political reasons. The same rules used to help prevent vile sexual material that exploits children (an undeniably good measure) also get you banned from social media for using the wrong pronouns (an entirely contested and politically charged issue).

Section 19 of the new Standard will also require social media companies to properly resource their ‘trust and safety functions’ with ‘sufficient personnel’ to ensure they ‘comply with the requirements of this industry standard at all times’.

It is widely acknowledged that the trust and safety teams at social media companies are staffed with activists, and that they are a huge reason why these companies push a woke social agenda, censor political viewpoints, and have become the mouthpiece of modern progressive politics. This was revealed most starkly during the ‘Twitter Files’ investigation.

After Elon Musk took over Twitter (now X) and opened its email archives to investigative journalists, it was revealed that the trust and safety staff at Twitter were on close terms with government officials and would censor content at their behest.

Musk identified that too many at Twitter were hostile to his vision of creating a free speech platform and dismissed 80 per cent of the staff. Inman Grant is herself an ex-Twitter employee. She and other elites are likely irked by the fact that X is now the closest thing we have to a free-speech platform and the absence of activist employees means they no longer control it.

This new Standard Inman Grant has introduced will go a long way to rectifying that.

It would allow Inman Grant to force social media companies, like X, to recruit more trust and safety staff or face huge fines for breaching the Standard. And no doubt she is confident that it would be activist fellow travellers who would fill these roles.

The eSafety Commissioner has proven to be a law unto herself, with no meaningful democratic accountability. And the new Standard, not to mention all the proposed new censorship rules coming our way, like hate speech and misinformation laws, will only serve to amplify this pattern of behaviour.

Australians have deep concerns that proposed misinformation laws will be used by government to censor opinion for political purposes. A recent poll conducted by the Institute of Public Affairs found 68 per cent of respondents were concerned that proposed misinformation laws would be used for political purposes, compared to just 14 per cent who were not.

The behaviour of Julie Inman Grant has highlighted why Australia’s ineffective and dangerous internet censorship regime must be overhauled. For starters, there must be a presumption of free speech in any laws that seek to regulate the internet, and the protection of children should be the paramount focus of any online regulation.

Like any good magician’s trick, Inman Grant and the media are drawing attention elsewhere, suggesting these new rules are solely about child abuse and terrorism. But it is misdirection. Like the very name ‘eSafety’, which has cuddly connotations of protecting the public whilst giving an unelected bureaucrat enormous power to censor the internet.

Support the IPA

If you liked what you read, consider supporting the IPA. We are entirely funded by individual supporters like you. You can become an IPA member and/or make a tax-deductible donation.