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The Boomerang of Free Speech Erosion in Australia
Across the globe, governments, even those masquerading as champions of free speech, harbor sinister intentions to stifle dissenting voices.
In the United States, a dark underbelly lurks beneath the surface of the First Amendment. Cunningly, governments manipulate the system by financially backing and manipulating research groups and third-party entities, all dancing to their tune, ensuring that their oppressive agendas remain unchecked.
Meanwhile, in the United Kingdom, a looming storm threatens the very essence of free expression. The malevolent government seeks to unveil the ominous “online safety bill,” a draconian masterpiece aimed at deceiving the populace with its facade of protection, but in reality, it shackles and shatters the freedom of speech, leaving people subdued and voiceless. The sinister shadows cast by these oppressive measures aim to crush any semblance of individuality and diversity of thought, all in the name of safeguarding the public.
In the European Union (EU), the concept of free speech has often been given limited importance, and now lawmakers are taking steps to control online platforms with the upcoming Digital Services Act. Their objective appears to be coercing these platforms into censoring citizens under the guise of combating harm or disinformation.
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A similar trend can be observed in Australia, where authorities are also considering regulations to exert control over digital platforms. Unlike some other countries that may make attempts to appear supportive of free speech, even if they do so superficially, Australia seems less concerned about maintaining this illusion. They appear to be openly and unapologetically pursuing measures to restrict free expression without giving significant consideration to constitutional or human freedom ideals.
Australia, like several other countries, is also considering implementing certain measures. However, unlike some other nations that may appear to adopt a more diplomatic stance, even if only superficially, in support of free speech and constitutional rights, Australia seems to have no pretense. Its approach, perhaps influenced by its historical background as a former penal colony, is quite forthright. The country openly urges social media platforms to stifle voices and advocates for the erosion of online privacy.
The way Australia tackles civil liberties, particularly freedom of expression, can be characterized as tyrannical or authoritarian if the same actions were observed in a non-Western leader. One prominent figure involved in these endeavors is Julie Inman Grant, the Australian e-safety commissioner, exemplifying the interconnectedness between private and public realms of control. The lack of distinction between the two raises concerns about undue influence and potential conflicts of interest.
Indeed, Inman Grant's involvement in these matters is quite extensive, as she previously served as the director of public policy for Australia and Southeast Asia at Twitter. During her tenure, her responsibilities revolved around public policy and corporate social responsibility until 2016. Subsequently, she has managed to secure a position within the Australian government, where she now focuses on e-safety matters.
However, the term “safety” in this context seems to be employed rather loosely, as her actions seem to lean towards undermining privacy and suppressing individuals' voices. Such measures are purportedly justified as being for the greater good, although their true implications and consequences remain subjects of concern.
In a remarkable display of coercion masked as safety concerns, the Australian authorities have launched an aggressive campaign against freedom of speech in June.
Their most recent target in this Orwellian crusade is none other than Twitter, which is now under the leadership of Elon Musk. Since Musk's acquisition of the platform in October, the e-safety commission of Australia claims that complaints related to Twitter have surged dramatically.
They want you to believe that nearly a third of all online hate reports are now linked to Twitter, a significant increase compared to less than 10% before Musk assumed control.
It becomes evident that this is a deliberate effort to suppress the potential resurgence of free expression under Musk's stewardship. The move is concerning and raises questions about the genuine intentions behind the authorities' actions.
Commissioner Julie Inman Grant, who has been closely monitoring Musk's actions since he assumed control, leads the campaign and expresses her concerns over the reactivation of banned accounts and possible algorithm adjustments that may amplify specific content.
She laments the platform's transformation into what she perceives as a "cesspool of pestilence." However, let's approach this issue with a dose of realism. What truly seems to be unfolding here is a government bureaucrat troubled by the newfound freedom of expression and the potential loss of control over the prevailing narrative.
Inman Grant puts it this way: “A third of all reports into our office of online hate are coming from Twitter. It's been a huge surge since October 22 when Elon Musk took over. And of course, there have been a confluence of factors that have added to this. You know, Twitter's always been fiery in terms of discourse, but it's turned into an absolute bin fire. It's very, very hard to be permanently banned from Twitter.”
Did you notice that? It's very hard to be permanently banned from Twitter. A government official appears to express frustration over the difficulty of silencing people permanently. To be banned, individuals must be the most severe and persistent offenders, repeatedly violating Twitter's rules with hateful content.
But there's more. The unelected official then expresses a desire to discover the identities of these individuals, especially among Twitter's blue subscribers.
Interestingly, Elon Musk has apparently positioned himself as a strong advocate of free speech. According to him, his decision to grant amnesty to 62,000 previously restricted accounts, which he views as a symbol of his dedication to freedom, has given new life to these voices that Commissioner Inman Grant dismissively referred to as “tweeters on death row.”
This move has revitalized the social media landscape, allowing diverse viewpoints, including those deemed inconvenient and targeted by governments like Australia, to flourish.
What is particularly alarming is Australia's open threat to exploit its draconian online safety act, potentially subjecting Twitter to colossal fines of up to $687,000 daily. This act's true purpose is laid bare, aiming to stifle and control the online sphere.
Australia's audacious endeavor to enforce its version of thought policing on a global platform is highly disconcerting, yet regrettably, not an uncommon occurrence in today's world. It is crucial to expose the disingenuous rhetoric employed.
Despite Inman Grant's purported concern for marginalized communities, it appears to be nothing more than a diversionary tactic. True free speech serves as the ultimate equalizer, providing the most significant benefits to the marginalized and oppressed, as their voices can be heard without the looming fear of government retaliation. Musk's response on Twitter to Australia's press inquiries regarding this matter was a display of poetic justice, with an automated reply featuring a poop emoji.
Commissioner Inman Grant's efforts to control Twitter didn't end there. She went even further, insisting that Twitter employees should face fines if they fail to comply with her demand letter.
Inman Grant threatened that if Twitter disregards these fines and continues to resist speech censorship, the commission would escalate the matter through the court system and, if feasible, involve international partners. Furthermore, she declared that anyone from Twitter entering Australia would be fined at the border. And the scope of her actions doesn't halt with Twitter alone.
The set of regulations encompasses the designated internet services code, which addresses apps, websites, and file and photo storage services like Apple iCloud, Google Drive, and Microsoft OneDrive. Additionally, it includes the relevant electronic services code, which pertains to dating sites, online games, direct and instant messaging services, including encrypted ones.
However, these two codes have faced rejection due to their inadequacy in providing sufficient safeguards. They lack a comprehensive commitment to proactively detect and remove known child abuse material and content related to terrorism. We are well aware that file and photo storage services such as iCloud, Google Drive, and OneDrive have been exploited by individuals involved in child sexual abuse, using them to store and exchange illegal content. Moreover, email services and partially encrypted messaging platforms are extensively utilized by these predators to share illicit material. Consequently, eSafety will be formulating mandatory and enforceable standards to address these specific sections of the online industry.
Inman Grant is advocating an alarming proposition—the notion that, just because some individuals with malicious intent might exploit video games and cloud storage for transmitting abusive material, the solution should be to eradicate online privacy for everyone. This approach could even extend to encrypted communication providers, who may be subjected to censorship laws and content scanning.
Once again, the pretext of protecting children is used as a means to undermine the privacy of all individuals and grant the government convenient access to their personal and confidential data.
It's not the first time Inman Grant has demonstrated an inclination towards curtailing privacy. In May, she went to great lengths to justify such actions, although her reasoning seemed utterly disconnected from reality-an inversion of logic, one might say.
The eSafety commissioner has made peculiar remarks regarding end-to-end encryption, likening companies that refuse to remove this vital security feature, which protects communications from spying, to someone quote, leaving their home open to intruders.
The essence of strong encryption lies in keeping all parties, both malicious and innocent, away from invading private communications—the online home of individuals. However, Commissioner Inman Grant appears to suggest in a statement to Politico that, unless encryption is tainted with software backdoors, bad actors will inevitably gain access.
In her view, it seems that open doors, rather than closed ones, serve as a deterrent against uninvited guests. Here's her exact, albeit perplexing, quote to Politico:
“This is not only companies really taking a blind eye to live crime scenes happening on their platforms, but they're also failing to properly harden their systems and storage against abuse. It's akin to leaving a home open to an intruder. Once that bad actor is inside the house, good luck getting them out. But what if that bad actor is an authoritarian government?”
Grant, while addressing companies like Apple and Microsoft that incorporate encryption features in their products, equated their stance to quote, turning a blind eye to live crime scenes occurring on their platforms and quote, failing to adequately secure their systems and storage against abuse.
However, the threats to freedom in Australia extend beyond technologically illiterate commissioners. The Australian government, driven by an insatiable hunger for control, has devised a concerning legislation titled the Communications Legislation Amendment, combating misinformation and disinformation bill. Disguised as a protective measure against misinformation, this Orwellian crusade is another cunning tactic aimed at stifling dissent and restricting the free flow of information.
The Minister for Communications, Michelle Rowland, leads this endeavor, using lofty words such as quote, “protecting Australians from misinformation that sows division within the community, undermines trust, and poses threats to public health and safety.”
Is the minister implying that Australians lack the ability to differentiate between fact and fiction, thus requiring Big Brother to act as their guardian angel?
The Australian Communications and Media Authority’s (ACMA), self-appointed arbiters of truth, have been granted unprecedented powers. This includes the authority to demand documents from digital platforms regarding misinformation, a term so loosely defined that it can encompass anything that doesn't align with the government's preferences.
The fact that ACMA has been given the role of determining what constitutes fact or fiction is deeply concerning. One cannot help but wonder, will we soon witness thought police patrolling the Australian internet?
The core problem lies in the vast and concentrated power vested in a government entity with minimal oversight. The subjective nature of terms like “misinformation” and “disinformation” makes them susceptible to potential abuse. This sets a worrisome precedent, leading digital platforms to self-censor to avoid ACMA's wrath, resulting in Australians being kept in the dark.
And the imposition of astronomical fines for violations amounts to placing a financial gun to the head of digital platforms. Bow down to the government's narrative or face annihilation. Digital platforms may choose to eliminate anything even remotely controversial or critical to evade these exorbitant penalties.
This move only stifles free expression and the exchange of ideas, fundamental pillars of a democratic society. Under the guise of protecting citizens, the government's insatiable hunger for control is cunningly concealed. In reality, it undermines the intellect of the people, questioning their ability for critical thinking.
This is not protection; it's tyranny cleverly wrapped in benevolence. Although public consultation is open until August 6th, one can't help but question the government's genuine interest in listening to the people. If it were indeed sincere, it wouldn't attempt to censor them in the first place.
Australians and the global community must rise against this blatant assault on free speech. Today, it's Australia displaying open brazenness, but this sets a perilous precedent that could reverberate across international borders.
The true power to shape this world has always lain in your hands. Choose well!
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