The danger of misinformation laws
Will Australians soon have a Ministry of Truth? If so, who gets to define misinformation? The Australian federal government, if new laws make it through parliament later this year. Here’s why that’s terrible news for all of us.
The Age recently reported the federal government’s plans to introduce new laws 'to help reduce the spread of harmful content on social media'. The legislation will be brought to parliament by Communications Minister Paul Fletcher, and its aim will be to assist Big Tech to combat the deluge of online misinformation and disinformation about the Covid-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine.
Under the current voluntary Australian Code of Practice on Disinformation and Misinformation, misinformation is described as false or misleading information that is likely to cause harm, while disinformation is described as false or misleading information that is distributed by users via spam and bots. For those unfamiliar with the latter term, a bot – short for robot – is a software programme that performs automated, repetitive, pre-defined tasks. Bots typically imitate or replace human user behaviour, and because they are automated, they operate much faster than human users.
We might be generous and assume that the Australian government has the public’s best interests at heart in proposing these laws. Even so, the problem with any plan to legislate on what is true and what is false are the people who are chosen to define these terms and apply them to breaking news stories. This is especially so when causing 'harm' is the slippery criteria by which such judgements will be made, but what is 'harm' and who defines it at any given moment? The Ministry of Truth featured in George Orwell's dystopian classic novel 1984 highlighted to readers the very real dangers posed by governments given the power to decide truth from error. Therefore, should this be a warning for us to also be wary of such a law? We could perhaps look to history, philosophy and other disciplines to consider the risks when powerful bodies outlaw ‘misinformation’, but instead let’s consider three news stories from recent times that, if released under the federal government’s proposed laws, would most likely be censored.
1. Hunter Biden’s Laptop:
The New York Times finally admitted that an abandoned laptop that resurfaced in 2020 – one which revealed high-level corruption in President Joe Biden’s family – did indeed belong to Biden’s son Hunter Biden. The New York Post released the laptop report on the eve of the 2020 election, but because a well-funded cabal of very powerful people wanted Donald Trump out of the White House the bombshell story was squashed by both news and social media alike. Twitter locked the New York Post’s account. Twitter and Facebook suspended users who dared share the story. More than fifty former US intelligence officials claimed the laptop was fake and the work of 'Russian disinformation' and every big newspaper and TV channel in the country laundered their hollow accusations for weeks on end.
With even The Times now acknowledging the laptop’s authenticity, we have every reason to believe that Hunter Biden secured lucrative contracts in Ukraine, China and other corrupt countries because of the Biden surname. According to the emails, Joe Biden made a 10% profit from deals that gave foreign oligarchs exclusive White House access while he was Barack Obama’s vice president: access that made their corrupt businesses more profitable back home. The laptop also revealed that Hunter’s lifestyle consisted of a cocktail of booze, drugs and prostitutes funded by a $50,000 per month salary from a Ukrainian energy company and a $3.5 million wire transfer from the wife of a former Moscow mayor, among other shady revenue streams. If the same damning information had surfaced in relation to Donald Trump and his son just before the election, the media would have rained fire and brimstone on the family. The Bidens, by contrast, were given a free pass – all because the evidence of their wrong-doing was defined as 'disinformation' during the weeks it mattered most.
One might object that this was an American drama, not relevant in Australia. Yet Australian news outlets were just as guilty as the US media of repeating the Russian disinformation fraud. Check out the ABC’s offering as just one example! And Australians shouldn’t need reminding that US elections have major geopolitical implications for our country, especially with the rapid rise of communist China to our north.
2. The Covid-19 Lab Leak Theory:
from 2020 to early 2021, in an eerie parallel to the Hunter Biden laptop saga, Facebook and Twitter moved to censor anyone who insisted that Covid-19 did not arise naturally in bats and was instead leaked from the Wuhan Institute of Virology. This war on misinformation also had its group of 'experts' curating public opinion, in this case 27 scientists who published an open letter in The Lancet. They wrote: “We stand together to strongly condemn conspiracy theories suggesting that Covid-19 does not have a natural origin… Conspiracy theories do nothing but create fear, rumours, and prejudice that jeopardise our global collaboration in the fight against this virus.” Once again, news and social media laundered these 'expert' claims and effectively silenced dissent – including, once again, Australian outlets like the ABC. A year later, however, it emerged that 26 of those scientists had ties to the Wuhan Institute of Virology. One of them was Dr Peter Daszak, a British scientist who was funnelling money into gain-of-function Covid-19 research at the lab. The Lancet was eventually forced to add an addendum to the letter declaring previously-concealed conflicts of interest.
Thanks to fierce investigative reporting by journalists like Australia’s Sharri Markson, we now have extremely robust evidence that, intended or not, Covid-19 did indeed come from the Wuhan lab. Today the lab leak theory is the leading one for the pandemic. A lot of harm has been caused by Covid-19, yet telling the truth about its true origin was considered 'misinformation' for over a year.
3. Lia Thomas, Rachel Levine and Transgenderism:
Twitter has been on a censor-fest recently, suspending the accounts of influential figures who fail to acknowledge Lia Thomas and Rachel Levine as women.
Lia – formerly William – Thomas is a swimmer for the University of Pennsylvania who recently won the 500-metre freestyle national championship over a field of female athletes. 'Lia' Thomas ranked number 462 while formerly competing in the men’s event, but beat two Tokyo silver medallists to take home first place at the final.
Twitter suspended BlazeTV reporter Savannah Hernandez following interviews she conducted with swimmers impacted by the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) decision to include male-born athletes in the women’s category. Twitter has also censored satirical news site The Babylon Bee for alleged 'hateful conduct' after naming US assistant secretary for health 'Rachel' Levine its Man of the Year. The article was clearly referring to the USA Today’s recent decision to decorate Levine with a Woman of the Year award, while another conservative writer had his account suspended by Twitter for a post he wrote about Levine, even though every word happened to be factually correct. Richard Levine spent 54 years of his life as a man. He had a wife and family, but he decided to 'transition' to a woman in 2011. President Biden has now appointed Levine a 4-Star Admiral: where are the feminists?
Thomas and Levine are, of course, free to identify as they wish given that they have the free will available to all people. But even with new clothing, long hair and various medical treatments every cell in each of their bodies testifies that they are men. This would also be the conclusion drawn by any archaeologist who discovered their bones centuries into the future. Despite this obvious truth, Big Tech is censoring people who express sincerely-held thoughts about the facts they see and hear in the real world. Under the Australian government’s proposed misinformation laws, such censorship is only likely to worsen. In short, prepare to be persecuted for telling the truth.