The long arm of GARM
As time goes on, it is becoming increasingly obvious that governments, corporations, academic institutions and even cultural institutions are taking it upon themselves to arbitrate speech in our communities. The trouble is, not only is there a growing disagreement over what constitutes hate speech, there appears to be a troubling determination to limit freedom of belief and the sharing of the gospel. Because of this, many are outwardly proclaiming that the Bible contains “hate speech” and therefore demanding that limitations be placed on what we may say in the public square.
Throughout Western democratic nations, freedom of opinion, expression and religion have been the cornerstone of human rights for centuries. However, with the advent of social media has come the burgeoning problem of how to deal with content which is discriminatory, hateful and abusive. This is a veritable minefield of political, legal and cultural ramifications since many nations have enshrined freedom of speech in legislation. Secondarily, the term “hate speech” is somewhat subjective. Certain phrases may not be offensive in some cultures or countries but may be in others. But if those issues didn’t cause enough headaches, now we have governments and institutions decrying the supposed problem of misinformation which, as evidenced during the COVID-era, simply meant any information not approved by government.
At this point, it would be helpful for me to introduce you to GARM – Global Alliance for Responsible Media. According to its website, GARM is “a cross-industry initiative established by the World Federation of Advertisers to address the challenge of harmful content on digital media platforms and its monetization via advertising. GARM was launched at Cannes in the summer of 2019 and has been working hard to highlight the changes needed for advertisers to feel more confident about advertising on social media. As of November 2019, GARM is a flagship project of the World Economic Forum Platform for Shaping the Future of Media, Entertainment and Culture.” Although this goal may appear to be benevolent, what we have come to know over the last few years is that whenever the World Economic Forum is involved in a project, it pays to be wary.
According to the World Economic Forum, the initiative seeks to collaborate with “publishers and platforms to do more to address harmful and misleading media environments; and to develop and deliver against a concrete set of actions, processes and protocols for protecting brands.” This includes focusing on challenges such as hate speech, bullying, disinformation, use of personal data and child exploitation. According to their categorization of risk factors in advertising, the following is considered high risk when it comes to hate speech and acts of aggression: “Depiction or portrayal of hateful, denigrating, or inciting content focused on race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, ability, nationality, religion, caste, victims and survivors of violent acts and their kin, immigration status or serious disease sufferers, in a noneducational, informational, or scientific context.
Far from being some fringe program that attracts far-left organizations, many of the world’s colossal companies have bowed to this woke agenda. It is a veritable Tower of Babel in ideological and cultural form luring many to aid in the building of its foundations from all across the world. As George Orwell chillingly warned in his dystopian masterpiece 1984, “Don’t you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? The outcome of this globally enforced advertising standard means that all social media platforms will have to write pages of reports on how they intend to run their platforms to appease the standards now set by GARM. This is not going to be an issue which is confined to the boardrooms of these companies. There is a trickle-down effect which will filter into churches who rely on these platforms in order to share content. Far be it from the World Economic Forum to regret this outcome – they will be wishing for it to happen in order to curb the influence that Christians hold throughout their communities.
Like most Western nations, Australia is coming to grips with the free speech, hate speech and censorship debate as governing institutions grapple with the community’s desire to regulate online and in-person content. Australians are seen throughout the world as a somewhat easygoing group of people, but that is proving to be largely myth because Australia has a long – and controversial – relationship with censorship. In fact, within ten years of Federation (which occurred in 1901) Australia was one of the most censorship-heavy nations in the world. Until the 1970s, that censorship focused on morally impure language and themes in order to protect the decency of Australians. However, in step with most Western nations today, censorship is now being directed at Christians and the Scriptures, which are seen as hateful.
For example, in 2021, the Australian state of Victoria introduced the Change or Suppression (Conversion) Practices Prohibition Act 2021. Under the legislation, practices that seek to change or hide someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity are declared harmful and unlawful. According to the government, those practices can include teachings, counselling, spiritual care activities or other psychological or medical interventions based on the ideology that there is something wrong or broken about people with diverse sexualities or gender identities. In the words of the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission, “These practices can involve people receiving subtle and repeated messages, that with faith and effort, they can change or hide their sexual orientation or gender identity. The legislation even prohibits a Christian from praying, declaring it to be an unlawful practice within the context of the legislation. So, if you are a pastor or Christian in Victoria and you offer to pray or counsel somebody who is struggling with gender identity, you may be jailed for 10 years or fined $10,000. At the time the legislation was being debated, Martyn Iles, then managing director of the Australian Christian Lobby said that the bill “basically criminalizes the truth. It takes those truths about marriage, about gender, about sex, about family….things that Christians hold dear, which are part of Creation itself, and it says that those ideas, the expression of them, the living out of them can become criminal acts.
Where governments have been unsuccessful in modifying our behavior, it is now allowing corporations and the media free reign in order to manipulate and divide us. The media is all too willing to comply with this scheme, knowing that this makes them all the more powerful. The trouble is that once the media has captured the minds of its unsuspecting victims, it is able to regulate, control, manipulate and censor all who operate within its murky waters. Edward Bernays, the nephew of Sigmund Freud, used to refer to propaganda as “invisible government”. He said: “The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, and our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of….It is they who pull the wires that control the public mind.
This gives you plenty to think about. There are many people and organizations vying for your mind, not with the intent of improving you, but with the intent of manipulating and controlling you. How much better it is to rely on the command in Romans 12:2: And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.