The Davos War Against Free Speech Intensifies

Written by:
29 January 2024
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In this article, Director of Law and Policy John Storey contextualises and disseminates the IPA’s research on misinformation laws and how it affects the political freedom of mainstream Australians.


If you sit around the kitchen table with the average Australian and ask what their biggest concerns are, they are likely to answer: mortgages, inflation, unaffordable housing, rising energy costs, or the decline in their kids’ education outcomes. That is because the average Australian does not breathe the rarefied air of Davos, Switzerland, where last week the private jets were plentiful, the caviar was generous, and champagne was flowing freely where the World Economic Forum was in town for its annual gabfest…

According to these self-appointed elites, the greatest global risk we face is not the cost of living. It’s not the alarming spate of new wars that have erupted in the last few years. It’s not even the usual bogeyman, climate change. No, number one of the top 10 risks on the WEF’s Global Risk Report 2024 is ‘misinformation and disinformation’.

EU President Ursula von der Leyen, who addressed the WEF conference, certainly agreed: ‘Like in all democracies, our freedom comes with risks,’ she said.

‘There will always be those who try to exploit our openness, both from inside and out. There will always be attempts to put us off track. For example, with disinformation and misinformation.’

And just like the American soldier in Vietnam who claimed ‘we had to destroy the village to save it’, or Democrats in the United States protecting democracy by seeking to imprison their key political opponent in Donald Trump –  von der Leyen’s solution to protecting democracy from misinformation is government-imposed censorship. She then proudly spruiked Europe’s Digital Services Act which seeks to control what the big tech companies ‘promote and propagate’.

Even before the edicts from Davos were announced, our government in Canberra was already on the case.

Last year, the government released draft internet censorship legislation that would give a government agency – the Australian Communications and Media Authority – the power to punish social media platforms if they failed to censor ‘disinformation and misinformation’ to the satisfaction of the government. There could scarcely be a more egregious breach of freedom of speech than a government agency deciding what is true and false and censoring unfavoured opinions, and it’s happening across the world.

The newly imagined threat of for business, cultural elites, and the political left (a tautology nowadays) is ‘disinformation and misinformation’. This is strange, given it was the political left that championed free speech during the civil rights movements of the 1960s, and who railed against George W. Bush’s draconian Patriot Act in the early 2000s.

Understanding why elites and the left have embraced censorship is not difficult. The ideas the modern left is selling simply do not hold up well to scrutiny. If your ideas are bad, censorship will always be more attractive than open debate.

None of the ideas pushed by the Davos brigade, like action on climate change, ‘stakeholder capitalism’, ESG (environmental, social and governance) investing, promoting racial ‘equity’ (that is equality of outcomes), and transgender theory age well when exposed to sunlight. Wind farms and solar panels sound great, but the reality of clearing forests and farmland to install them is less appealing. Electric vehicles that make zero emissions may sound desirable, but any scrutiny of how they are made, charged, and disposed of quickly takes the gloss off their environmental credentials.

‘Equity’ is a great feel-good buzzword, but in reality it means dividing society into different groups, labelling them as victims or villains based on the actions of their ancestors, and providing preferential treatment to some groups based on their DNA and skin colour. It’s a hard sell convincing people that the solution to past racism is to treat different races differently today. Australians rejected the idea comprehensively at last year’s Voice to Parliament referendum. It is much easier to denounce critics as racist and ban them from the internet.

Activists for gender theory have elevated this to an art form. Social media companies will ban anyone who ‘misgenders’ someone, with the predictable result being the immediate silencing of debate around this divisive and controversial issue. The reality is that the popular causes of the modern left often sound nice when you do not look too hard or pry too deeply, but when exposed to open debate, support for them diminishes. That is why these causes are pushed on kids at school where no debate is allowed, and why there is such a concerted effort to demonise the critics of the left as sceptics, racists, bigots, or liars. The social media censors will do the rest.

Of course, many of those who gathered in Davos will not admit this is the reason they are so pro-censorship. The reason given for the WEF ranking disinformation and misinformation as the number one global threat was because it is, they claim, the root cause of so many other problems, such as international conflict and lack of action on climate change, because it undermines confidence in our institutions.

‘This is not a time for conflict or polarisation,’ said Ursula von der Leyen, ‘but a time to build trust.’ And we all know nothing builds trust in government quite like censoring what we can say and deciding what viewpoints we are allowed to hear.

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