Who gets to define ‘misinformation’? The Australian Government, that’s who — if new laws make it through parliament later this year. Here’s why that’s terrible news for all of us.
Earlier this week, The Age 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. Its aim will be to assist Big Tech to “combat the deluge of misinformation and disinformation about the coronavirus pandemic and the war in Ukraine online”.
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 “false or misleading information that is distributed by users via spam and bots”.
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 false is who gets 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 judgments will be made. Not to belabour the point, but what is “harm” — and who defines it at any given moment?
For good reason has the notion of a ‘Ministry of Truth’ featured in dystopian classics like George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, which warned of the dangers posed by governments given the power to decide truth from error.
We could look to philosophy, epistemology, history and other disciplines to consider the risks when powerful bodies outlaw ‘misinformation’. But let’s do something much simpler. Consider three news stories from recent times that, if released under the federal government’s proposed laws, would likely be censored.
1. Hunter Biden’s Laptop
Last week, the New York Times finally admitted that an abandoned laptop that resurfaced in 2020 — which revealed high-level corruption in Joe Biden’s family — did indeed belong to Joe’s son Hunter Biden.
The New York Post broke the laptop report on the eve of the 2020 election. But because “a well-funded cabal of powerful people” (in the words of Time Magazine) wanted Donald Trump out of the White House, the bombshell story was squashed by news and social media alike.
Twitter locked the New York Post’s account. Twitter and Facebook suspended users who dared share the story. Over 50 former US intelligence officials claimed the laptop was fake and the work of “Russian disinformation” — and every big newspaper and cable 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 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 Joe was Obama’s vice president — access that made their corrupt businesses more profitable back home.
The laptop also revealed that Hunter’s lifestyle featured a cocktail of booze, drugs and prostitutes — funded by a $50,000-a-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 about Donald Trump and his son two weeks 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 wrongdoing was defined as “disinformation” during the weeks it mattered most.
One might object that this was an American drama, not relevant Down Under. Yet Australian news outlets were just as guilty of repeating the “Russian disinformation” fraud as the US media. Check out the ABC’s offering as just one example — funded by taxpayers, of course.
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
In an eerie parallel to the Hunter Biden laptop saga, from 2020 to early 2021, 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 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 coronavirus 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 came from the Wuhan lab. Today the lab leak theory is the leading origins story for the pandemic.
A lot of harm has been caused by this pandemic, yet telling the truth about its true origins was considered “misinformation” for over a year.
3. Lia Thomas, Rachel Levine and Transgenderism
Twitter has been on a censor-fest the last week, 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. Thomas ranked number 462 while formerly competing in the men’s event, but beat two Tokyo silver medalists to take home first place at last week’s final.
Twitter has suspended BlazeTV reporter Savanah Hernandez, following interviews she conducted with swimmers impacted by NCAA’s 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 ‘The Babylon Bee’s Man of the Year’. The article was clearly riffing the USA Today’s recent decision to decorate Levine with a ‘Woman of the Year’ award.
Conservative pundit Charlie Kirk also had his account suspended by Twitter for a post he wrote about Levine, whose every word happened to be factually correct:
Richard Levine spent 54 years of his life as a man. He had a wife and a family. He “transitioned” to being a women in 2011, Joe Biden appointed Levine to be a 4-Star Admiral and now USA Today has named “Rachel” Levine as a “Woman of the Year”. Where are the feminists?
Thomas and Levine are of course free to identify as they wish. 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.
It may be years before Western societies once again sober up to the irrevocable biological reality of male and female. In the case of Hunter Biden’s laptop and the Wuhan lab leak, it took public consensus over a year to align with the available evidence.
In words often attributed to Winston Churchill, “A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.” If the federal government proceeds with its plans to legislate “misinformation” on social media, they may get it right some of the time or even most of the time, but we can look forward to much more proof of Churchill’s parable.
Originally published at the Daily Declaration.