We Must Resist The Urge To Censor

Written by:
23 May 2024
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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.

We have seen far too often how this ‘do something, anything’ mentality operates in practice.

The knife attack earlier this month in Perth, in which the assailant was subsequently shot and killed by police, is the second seemingly religiously motivated knife attack within a month.

In both cases, the alleged attackers were young males, only 16 years old, and some of the blame is already being attributed to “online radicalisation.”

The reaction to these events is now an all too familiar one—a demand for greater censorship of the internet. Even some on the political right are beating this drum.

That would be a mistake.

We have seen far too often how this “do something, anything” mentality operates in practice.

The core problems causing such religiously motivated intercommunal violence will not be touched upon at all, but the rights of everyone else will be greatly eroded.

It will play out something like this.

The federal parliament will grant sweeping new powers to tackle “online hate” or “online radicalisation” or some other amorphous concept. These powers will be given to a new government agency, or the powers of an existing agency will be greatly expanded to take on this “anti-hate” role.

The person tasked to head this new or expanded agency will be an academic, lawyer, consultant, or public servant who has all the fashionable opinions on cultural issues that are demanded by our modern elites and will staff this agency with like-minded people.

And it will be these people who decide what gets censored or not from the internet, under new laws passed in a rush by parliament with the support of so-called conservatives.

As night follows day, the outsized powers of this new department will overwhelmingly target centre-right viewpoints.

Online hate preachers will continue plying their trade, hatred of “zionists” will continue to be freely expressed, and genocidal chants like “from the river to the sea” will continue to be rationalised, as it was recently by federal Education Minister Jason Clare.

But if a conservative fails to comply with the latest edicts about how transgender people are meant to be referred to, or demands action to reduce immigration in a slightly blunt manner, or makes a colourful joke or cartoon, then the censors will be working hard to ban their social media accounts.

There was perhaps a time when Australians could have had confidence, however naively, that new powers to tackle “online hate” might have been exercised neutrally for the purposes for which they were granted. But the time for naivety is over.

Universities no longer teach critical thinking or viewpoint diversity, the sorts of skills that equip graduates to be objective and potentially neutral arbiters of how rules should be applied.

Core Problem Left Untouched

Universities now teach political activism.

Those that survive the classroom indoctrination with sane, mainstream views are not the sort of graduates that are attracted to, or wanted by, academia, the public service, the Big Tech companies, or the other careers that form the pool from which internet censors are likely to be recruited.

This is what happened with the introduction of the anti-racial vilification rules in section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act.

It has done nothing to silence hate preachers, or the vitriolic and bigoted views one can hear expressed on a daily basis at any university student protest, but has been used to target prominent conservatives like Andrew Bolt, Bill Leak, and Pauline Hanson.

Likewise with Australia’s online safety regime.

That Julie Inman Grant, Australia’s eSafety commissioner, has done nothing to reduce community tensions since the outbreak of the war in Gaza, other than to try and censor the consequences by demanding the removal of footage of an alleged terrorist knife attack on a bishop in his church.

But Ms. Inman Grant, has seen fit to attack a critic of gender theory like “Billboard” Chris Eston and picked a fight with the only social media company with a commitment to free speech, X.

The political bias of regulatory agencies is a global problem.

Consider how BLM rioters, pro-Palestinian protesters, or radical climate change protestors are treated; they rarely if ever are imprisoned or suffer any serious consequences.

Compare that with critics of the COVID-19 lockdowns or someone silently praying in front of an abortion clinic (both examples where people have been imprisoned and had their lives destroyed).

There is a problem with the ideological bias of far too many of our key institutions, including our universities and public service.

There is also a problem with online radicalisation. Whether or not censorship has any useful role in helping the latter problem, it should not even be considered until the former problem is solved. Certainly not by conservatives.

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