By Dr Stewart Hase
“In a time of deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act.” – George Orwell
The storming of America’s Bastille, the Capitol Building has, finally, forced the debate that we needed to have had years ago. Propaganda, lies, and misinformation have been with us for thousands of years – they are part of the human condition. Print media has long traded on the propensity for humans to need simple solutions to complex issues, to accept whatever reinforces their biases, to be influenced by the influential, to respond to emotions rather than facts or science. Murdoch and others have made the trade in misinformation and artform. The communication tech giants just did what they thought was their job, being vehicles, platforms, for people to communicate. They never gave the consequences a thought.
January the 6th and the threat of major protests across the USA up to the inauguration have created the perfect storm for a sudden gnashing of teeth. Finally, the lines are being drawn, pretty well in accord with the right and left of politics, about what constitutes freedom of speech. Are their conditions in which it is fine to lie, to spread misinformation, distort or ignore the facts, quote questionable ‘science’, to spread hate, and slur others? To create the conditions to overthrow democracy?
Well, Scott Morrison seems to think so by refusing to censor Craig Kelly over his Trumpian behaviour, using the ‘freedom of speech’ argument. Not a whisper from anyone on the right about his mate, George Christensen who, among other things and blind to the irony of it, wants to censor the tech giants for fact checking. Freedom of speech, then, means anything goes-say what you want. The real tragedy is that Facebook have let Kelly and Christensen get away with campaign of disinformation for so long.
Kelly has now used the platform to discredit the wearing of masks by children, calling it child abuse, has prompted the use of hydroxychloroquine in the past and now thinks that Betadine (a topical antiseptic) is the miracle cure. All based on unsubstantiated and even spurious research. What they fully realise is that they are coming from a position of power, and, wanting hope and miracle cures to reduce their anxiety, many will believe what they say. And even act on it.
No doubt that such power massages the politicians’ fragile egos.
The best that even the health Minister, Greg Hunt, can manage is to say that we should listen to the health experts. No censorship of his compatriots or recognition of the misinformation. Just a beige response.
Now we have the acting PM, Michael McCormack legitimising MPs who want to spread lies and disinformation, claiming that facts are contentious, and gracing us with the profound logic that the sky can be grey and blue at the same time because facts are subjective. Presumably he’s a fan of Kellyanne Conway’s thesis on alternate facts.
Not content with that, McCormack has now fuelled a storm by making an astounding comparison between the riots in Washington and the BLM protests.
We have seen the result of the ‘say what you want’ version of free speech in America and how democracy is being tragically undermined. The question is, when will we follow suit? We already saw an inkling of this with Tony Abbot’s unconscionable dismantling of Julia Gillard that went unchecked, and was fuelled by the media of the print and the social kind.
Australia is good at lying to itself. It’s done it for years over racism and misogyny. Are we going to kid ourselves that we are a fair, progressive, intelligent nation while allowing the manipulation of truth, as identified by George Orwell, to run rampant?
How far are we willing to go? Perhaps fostering hate to the point that people feel that it is OK to kill? Allowing the entitled to destroy our democracy, as nearly happened in America over recent weeks?
How far Australia, how far?
Stewart is a psychologist with a special interest in how people adapt and also learn. He’s written widely in these areas. He continues to consult, and annoy people who misuse power. Twitter: @stewarthase
This article was originally published on No Place For Sheep.
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