Albanese Seeks to Silence Social Media and Thereby Dictate the Agenda and Control the Narrative

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Albanese Seeks to Silence Social Media and Thereby Dictate the Agenda and Control the Narrative

Since the mid-April stabbings in Sydney’s Bondi Junction and Wakeley, the federal government has heightened the campaign around yet-to-be-introduced laws designed to crackdown on online mis- and disinformation that’s not linked to government, mainstream media or the education sector.

A surprising aspect to this was that NSW premier Chris Minns launched the campaign afresh, when he who told 7.30 on 16 April, the day after the stabbing in a Wakeley church that’s now considered a terrorist act, that his state would be working with the federal government to temper social media.

Federal Labor’s proposal to progress these laws, however, came well before the recent stabbings, and were first spruiked by the Liberals when that party was last in office.

And while these laws are being urgently pushed, the government has never clearly stipulated who it is cracking down upon, nor why the government and mainstream are excluded from their reach.

This attempt to silence online nongovernment entities telling inconvenient truths was meant to avert the fracture that’s now underway in the Global North, which has been caused by the online exposure of the Gaza genocide that’s also shown official channels do fib on a massive scale.

Indeed, the domestic situation has developed to the point where the national broadcaster is now posing the question of what would happen if social media was banned in Australia.

And a clear answer is that if the freedom of information on the web hadn’t existed prior to last October, right now, seven months into a colonial genocide on a military scale never seen before, the public would be much more inclined to buy the official line that Israel is defending itself.

Through a glass darkly

The exposure draft of the Communications Legislation Amendment (Combatting Misinformation and Disinformation) Bill 2023 was published in June last year.

The legislation contains new media monitoring powers gifted to the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA), which aim to curb the threat that mis- and disinformation poses to Australians, as well as with our “democracy, society and economy”, via industry standards.

“The draft framework focuses on systemic issues which pose a risk of harm on digital platforms,” communications minister Michelle Rowland said at the time the draft was published. “It does not empower the ACMA to determine what is true or false or to remove individual content or posts.”

“The code and standard-making powers will not apply to professional news content or authorised electoral content,” the minister continued in a 25 July 2023 press release.

However, the clear questions at that point in time, which have only become more urgent as the globe has borne witness to a seven-month-long and continuing genocide in the Gaza Strip, are which internet players are caught up in this and what kind of content are the authorities trying to silence?

A concerted effort

The Albanese government is presenting an unfolding incident involving Elon Musk as reason to silence nongovernment-approved sources of information. And this involves footage of the Wakeley stabbing posted by users on the X social media platform, with Musk refusing to remove the content.

This squabble really poses no threat to our “democracy, society and economy”, as the incident was being livestreamed across the globe as it happened, and it only shows a foreign source of information located in an allied nation refusing to remove content that’s politically embarrassing.

Meanwhile, X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, has been one of the greatest sources of information in regard to the Gaza genocide for Australians, as it’s allowed for footage directly taken on the ground in Gaza to be shared, along with Al Jazeera and alternate news reporting on the crisis.

Chinese-run social media platform TikTok has ruffled many feathers during the genocide as well, due to the fact that young people globally have been accessing the truths about Gaza from direct footage disseminated via the app. And the US government is now attempting to completely ban TikTok.

The other key source from the site of the genocide – which, including those under rubble, has killed over 40,000 Palestinian civilians, with journalists and medics illegally targeted and hospitals becoming the sites of military assaults with the mass killing of those inside – has been Al Jazeera.

The thousands of people making up the Free Palestine movement on this continent have often cited Al Jazeera online as their source of information on Gaza, instead of the local mainstream media.

Yet, Israel shutdown the Qatar-based network from broadcasting out of the Gaza Strip last week.

Chinks in the fortress

The issue for western authorities attempting to clamp down on internet freedoms is that in early October, as the Gaza genocide commenced, a global grassroots Palestinian freedom movement spontaneously erupted on the streets and despite a concerted effort to suppress it, it remains.

So, while those witnessing the wanton killing of children and civilians, along with the undermining of the entire system of international law, weren’t so surprised that Sky News framed the operation as a justified war, the fact that the ABC and the PM joined in was, frankly, jarring for many.

And the contrast between Anthony Albanese and foreign minister Penny Wong’s pro-Palestinian posturing prior to taking office and their complicit championing of Israel’s “right to defend itself” since October, has clearly exposed the duplicity that’s operating regardless of Al Jazeera reporting.

So, while the focus of the laws Albanese is hoping to pass here, which can result in fines of hundreds of thousands of dollars for those who break them, have never been clearly identified, it’s plain to see with Musk and TikTok, that silencing nonofficial narratives on social media is at least one target.

And to counter this cat that’s already out of the bag, federal and state authorities have been playing the antisemitism card, which has been bolstered by the efforts of key local Zionist institutions. And while this began in October, it’s currently hitting new heights with a former treasurer’s instalment.

Josh Frydenberg’s Sky News special Never Again is set to air later this month, and early clips from the show involve former PMs crying foul over the surge in antisemitism in this country, which in this instance conflates opposition to a genocide against Palestinians as constituting Jewish prejudice.

The never again in the title of the Frydenberg documentary refers to the Holocaust, a genocide against European Jews, and this atrocity is now being used by the local political class as a means to silence criticism of Israel right now as it commits genocide upon occupied Palestinian people.

To charge the pro-Palestinian movement as antisemitic is ridiculous as Palestinians are a Semitic people. To label criticism of Israel as antisemitic also lets the true Jewish hate of the far-right fester. And to hide an open genocide using another mass killing of a group of people is completely debased.

The truth of the matter is that the government and the mainstream media have been propagating disinformation about what’s transpiring in the Gaza Strip in order to facilitate a genocidal landgrab by another settler colonial nation, which provides cover for all.

And as the activists within the Australian pro-Palestinian community have shown, they hardly need the mainstream media to get their message out, as these activists have all been running their own do-it-yourself media programming on Instagram, and its messaging is currently ubiquitous.

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Paul Gregoire

Paul Gregoire is a Sydney-based journalist and writer. He's the winner of the 2021 NSW Council for Civil Liberties Award For Excellence In Civil Liberties Journalism. Prior to Sydney Criminal Lawyers®, Paul wrote for VICE and was the news editor at Sydney’s City Hub.

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