As Online Content Fuels the Free Palestine Movement, Government Attempts to Suppress It

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The Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN), an armed libertarian socialist group of Indigenous peasants from the southern Mexican state of Chiapas, seized urban centres to establish autonomous decentralised zones on 1 January 1994: the day the North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement kicked in.

Three decades on and the once impoverished peasants now control large tracts of Chiapas under a system of radical egalitarianism. And as to why Mexico didn’t suppress the rebellion early on, it was due to the global attention it garnered, with activists worldwide connecting with the EZLN online.

This example is considered the first time that internet connectivity served to empower a grassroots movement and contribute to its success, as with “all eyes on” Chiapas, Mexico couldn’t crush it, as it could no longer control the narrative regarding such a move, as it would have in the past.

And a similar set of circumstances has played out over the last eight months, as again activists globally have been monitoring the situation on the ground in Gaza as Israel perpetuates a genocide, and while this hasn’t prevented the carnage, it has sparked a global movement to free Palestine.

So, despite News Corp, Nine and even the ABC having been providing a sanitised version of Israel’s wholesale massacre upon the Palestinian civilians of Gaza, the genocide that is taking place is evidenced all over the web and western leaders have been shown parading in all their hypocrisy.

No one’s buying the lie

Global North leaders lined up to support Tel Aviv last October, as it launched an all-out assault on Gaza, following a violent Hamas ground incursion into Israel. And according to Tel Aviv and its allies, Israel has been acting in self-defence, even as the death toll soared into the tens of thousands.

But it was clear in global centres that the official lines being trotted out by the Bidens and Albaneses of the western political class weren’t ringing true, as for the first time in history, a genocide and a massive disregard for international humanitarian law were being livestreamed to the entire planet.

That the official line wasn’t being dutifully lapped up within western constituencies has been evidenced by the gargantuan outpouring of support on the streets for the beleaguered Palestinians of Gaza.

Indeed, regardless of the dehumanising rhetoric of Israeli officials, it’s clear to all that the kids being killed online are people just like us.

Yet, prior to the internet, the Australian public was reliant on a handful of television networks, papers and radio stations for news regarding the globe, and these are the same mainstream sources that are now being condemned for the sanitised version of the Gaza genocide they’re conveying.

And while the free Palestine movement is all-ages, it has certainly been its younger members that have found themselves most confronted by the duplicity of what’s portrayed in the mainstream and the rhetoric of their leaders, compared to the actual footage live streamed on their phones.

The parochial commissioner

Australian governments have been attempting to crack down on the internet since its inception. But its most recent attempt is the yet-to-be introduced Communications Legislation Amendment (Combatting Misinformation and Disinformation) Bill 2023 that appeared in draft form last June.

This legislation is designed to crack down on online nongovernment, nonmainstream media, and noneducational sources of information.

So, while the Albanese government’s Israel defending itself rhetoric, coupled with its genocide denial, is obviously disinformation, it won’t be captured by these laws.

But a fresh dispute has cropped up between social media platform X chief executive Elon Musk and Australia’s eSafety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant regarding the former’s refusal to remove footage of a nonfatal 15 April stabbing that occurred in western Sydney at the request of the latter.

The eSafety Commissioner ordered both Meta and X Corp to remove footage of the stabbing, which was livestreamed globally on their platforms. And Meta complied. However, Musk refused to take down 65 posts containing the footage, but rather chose to hide the content from Australian users.

So, Grant launched a case seeking an injunction to force the billionaire to remove the content globally. And on 10 May, Musk’s lawyers argued that the orders to remove the content entirely were invalid, as the Australian government can’t control the world wide web. And the case is ongoing.

The reasons for the eSafety Commissioner’s continuing concern about months-old footage circulating on the social media platform is unclear.

But what is certain is X has been a key disseminator of information that counters the official narrative regarding the Gaza genocide our government is complicit in and having the ability to curb the platform’s content or to shut it down, would solve this issue.

The future appears progressive

The university Gaza solidarity encampments that began in the US, and spread globally, have become a key issue in Australia. And their message has been clear, students and young people in general are aware that Israel is exterminating people to usurp land and their leaders are lying about it.

In the US, the Biden administration has targeted the Chinese-owned TikTok app as the main culprit in making American youth aware of the atrocities taking place in Gaza, as they’re viewing footage captured by Gazans on the ground, showing civilians, women and children slaughtered en masse.

This led to US congress passing a law in April banning TikTok unless its China-based owner ByteDance sells it to a company that is not controlled by a “foreign adversary”. And while this is framed around national security, the app’s Gaza content is widely understood to be the real issue.

And now the Albanese government has turned its attention to young people accessing social media, as the prime minister is backing News Corp’s Let Them Be Kids campaign, which aims to see a law established that would prevent children 15 and under from accessing social media.

Currently, such platforms require that those who sign up for an account are at least 13 years old. And according to the Telegraph, accessing Facebook or Instagram is leading to high school rapes, teenagers being choked during sex, as well as some teens blackmailing classmates over nude photos.

But given Albanese’s ongoing attacks on internet freedoms, while his government is losing the information war, and that Murdoch and whichever major is in power work hand-in-hand, this campaign appears a late attempt to reel in the Gaza truths that are already out of the closet.

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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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