The only thing politicians fear is the media. If they own the media, they have nothing to fear.
This is the political staple for those who seek high office, whether they inhabit peaceful backwaters at the fringes of the world, or battle it out on the fractious European continent. The degree of control these politicians are able to exert over the press varies wildly.
Australia’s ex-useless prime minister Kevin Rudd had to work his butt off for a headline, flirting with a mixture of competing state and private media outlets for tepid support. It was a brief affair that ended in tears when he was usurped by a younger, prettier model from within his own party. Rudd took the breakup badly and turned into a clingy stalker, seeking a restraining order against the object of his affection. #MurdochRoyalCommission? More like #PleaseLoveMe.
Malcolm Turnbull engaged in a similar liaison, but his cold and distant mannerisms left his media coverage looking more like a series of messy one night stands than a meaningful relationship. When he announced his ‘ban on bonking’ in the workplace, it ended any hopes of him wooing a positive Newspoll. He was ditched shortly after.
Both of these men have learned their lesson about the press. A well-funded ego cannot buy love. If you want the newspapers to print friendly stories, you have to take the Stalinist approach.
In the old Soviet Union, the state controlled the press. Directives were issued on approved content while opinions had to be carefully guarded. Language was castrated by lists of banned words, leaving authors lurching around subjects in fits of silent agony. Independent outlets found themselves investigated or dismantled by the state. Any journalist who survived the first culling was eventually erased the old fashioned way.
Which is pretty much what the ‘Social Justice’ ‘Politically Correct’ online mafia have recreated with ‘Cancel Culture’.
While Rudd and Turnbull set their aspirations relatively low with delusions of destroying the Murdoch empire (presumably to stop their presidential quest being hindered by a mocking press), the Democrats in America decided to own the global narrative. They enticed social media into bondage where its collection of wealthy oligarchs were more than happy to oblige, already blind-folded and begging for it.
These online platforms used to be an extraordinary tool of social influence that had politicians weak-kneed and doe-eyed. Reaching voters during an election campaign is difficult, but social media had electorates laid out with their private details indexed. A social media company could sell a political party the innermost desires of their voters. ‘Politics’ became a marketing product. Even authoritarian leaders from insular nations felt the allure – if only to deceive the international press about their latest plots.
Unlike traditional propaganda, social media is in possession of a strange sort of power that weakens with every attempt to seize it. Its danger lies in its authenticity between peers – not as a heavily regulated news bulletin. Social media’s raging success against legacy media was its lack of editorial oversight in an industry plagued by a suspicious public. Every time a terrorist attack was censored by a news outlet, people rushed to Twitter for the ‘real story’ circulating between eyewitnesses on the street. As social media became an authoritative source, people stopped trusting it because, by definition, it was no longer ‘social’ media derived from the people.
Silicon Valley politicised their platforms anyway, regardless of the negative impact on their business model. In a few short years, these entities transformed from a collection of platforms hosting international chatter to a weapon meddling in elections, hiding stories about political favourites, and aiding the spread of false information about rivals. To protect the vandalisation of information, Big Tech hunted down their market competition in full view of antitrust legislation, proving speculation that they are indeed a monopoly.
With Joe Biden in power, who will drag these ideological vandals in front of the courts?
No one, appears to be the answer. As our ancestors learned, laws count for nothing if the political framework is corrupt. The problem is rarely that legislation is missing or wrong – it is that no one has the stomach to drag influential people who support their world view in front of a hearing.
If Silicon Valley can erase the President of the United States in forty-eight hours, they can disappear anyone. Twitter refuses to publish numbers, but estimates put the online Conservative cull at around one-hundred thousand, leaving remaining users waiting for a metaphorical knock on the door. The Democrats have cheered the power of Silicon Valley, but plenty of political leaders around the world have taken a second, cautious look at foreign businessmen acting as kingmakers. Could they remove politicians in other nations outside America? Probably…
In the past, politicians shrugged a lot of shoulders when opinion bloggers had their livelihoods destroyed. They turned their backs when journalists were banned for reporting uncomfortable topics. It was not only Youtube, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and book publishing accounts being cancelled – payment gateways were also suspending what were meant to be protected services. Workplace laws forbid this type of behaviour, but when your employer is social media, you live your life on an unregulated knife edge. In the end, it took the removal of a president for anyone to pay attention.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel considered the removal of Trump from Twitter as ‘problematic’. Her spokesman went on to add that, ‘The right to freedom of opinion is of fundamental importance. This fundamental right can be intervened in, but according to the law and within the framework defined by legislators – not according to a decision by the management of social media platforms.’
Translated, this means that Merkel’s problem with the Trump ban is not the act of censoring political opposition –- it is the fact that it was done by a company rather than the government. Which is no surprise, considering Merkel’s government has one of the worst track records in the West for attempting to censor user-generated content on social media.
With Germany at the head of the European Union, they sought to expand their suffocation of speech by introducing Articles 11 and 13 (which formed part of the European Union Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market). Article 11 was referred to as the ‘link tax’ which not only tried to restrict quotations on articles, but to tax the re-posting of links except for the government’s favourite media outlets –- all but killing the independent press. Article 13 or the ‘meme ban’ attempted to enforce copyright over content that previously fell within Fair Use.
The whole nightmare eventually made it into law despite countries in the union objecting. At its heart, the directive was about the government exerting maximum control over social media and its users who had been utilising platforms to share information criticising European governments. In a separate matter, the EU Court of Justice advocate general Maciej Szpunar went so far as to argue that the EU should be allowed to suppress free speech on a global scale, removing information originating from any country. This arose due to a complaint made by a politician in the Austrian Green Party who did not like the content of a critical Facebook post.
While Germany has always had a shoddy record regarding internet liberty, politicians all over the world are aligning themselves with digital censorship.
Australia has had several goes at trying to legislate social media, the most recent being in 2019 when Scott Morrison came under pressure from mainstream media companies to negotiate the terms of their arranged marriage with Silicon Valley. What the government realised when it asked the ACCC to draw up a media bargaining code to drain profits out of Silicon Valley, is that these local rules are unenforceable. They are bluffs on behalf of the Australian government, just like the EU issued its meaningless censorial threats. The only way to control social media is to block it outright, as China does. Western leaders cannot do this without stoking fury among their people. This leaves us with America, the home of Silicon Valley, as the only nation with the legal ability to properly regulate them.
Conservative leaders have been the most vocal about Silicon Valley’s decision to erase Trump (and oddly silent on the purge of his supporters) because they are frightened of facing the digital abyss via the keystroke of an anonymous Millennial.
Wentworth MP Dave Sharma made the same mistake as Germany, insisting that it was ‘deeply uncomfortable’ that Big Tech were making decisions about ‘whose speech, and which remarks, are censored and suppressed. Such decisions,’ Sharma went on to say in his Tweet, ‘should be taken by a publicly accountable body.’
Which misses the point being screamed by the citizenry. Government should be seeking to protect speech from censorship, not trying to control it.
History tells us that only unpopular, deeply insecure governments fear the voice of their people.
Politicians have decided to witch hunt free speech on social media as an easy way to account for problems within their leadership. The solution to terrorism, civil unrest, digital monopolies, collapsing economies, medical tyranny, climate fascism, inconvenient historical fact, and political dissatisfaction – is to introduce heavy-handed censorial legislation. These laws don’t solve the moral problems of a nation or the stranglehold of Silicon Valley. Instead, it essentially leaves the people stuck between two powerful censors, Government and Big Tech.
Politicians should be warned. The only thing that censorship achieves is the acceleration of social problems. I wonder, have the politicians who desire to control speech in order to obtain ‘tolerance’ ever asked themselves why countries with the toughest blasphemy laws are also the least tolerant of religious freedom?
The West learned long ago that the best way to keep the peace within the melting pot of civilisation is to have the incontrovertible freedom to insult each other.
The freedom to speak is the freedom to think. Without free speech, our civilisation is worth nothing.
Alexandra Marshall is an independent writer. If you would like to support her work, shout her a coffee over at Ko-Fi.
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