Saturday 23rd of October 2021

a smelly dunny...


Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce says the time has come to regulate social media giants, after watching an ex-Facebook employee highlight the dangers of the platform before the US Senate.

Key points:
  • Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce says the government is prepared to regulate social media

  • He says his desire to regulate the sector is linked to his experience as a parent

  • The comments come after the Prime Minister labelled social media a "coward's palace"

The company has been under scrutiny this week after whistleblower Frances Haugen leaked tens of thousands of documents showing it withheld research into the harms of its products.

In Australia, the government is preparing to regulate social media, according to Mr Joyce.

"The motivation is now there at the federal level in Australia, at the highest level in the United States, in other corners of the globe, to say: 'we've had enough, you can't treat us like fools. You think we're joking, we're not'," Mr Joyce told the ABC's PM program.

"This time, something's going to happen,"

Mr Joyce said legislation to curtail the power of social media giants would be put on the table "soon."

"It's rare when a prime minister and a deputy prime minister in basically an unscripted way both have the same messages on virtually the same day and so the impetus is there," he said.

On Thursday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison flagged changes to social media laws in Australia.

"Social media has become a coward's palace where people can go on there, not say who they are, and destroy people's lives," he said.


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the streisand effect...

The government that tacitly endorses its backbenchers’ online ramblings, and happily encourages a news channel that was temporarily banned by YouTube over COVID-19 misinformation, is now up in arms about social media giants’ “lack of accountability”.


Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce kicked things off on RN Breakfast yesterday, telling the ABC that he would be looking to crack down on tech giants for their poor handling of misinformation, in the wake of malicious rumours involving his daughter circulating online. But he was closely followed by Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who backed his deputy in an afternoon press conference that appeared to be about nothing in particular (but plenty of “hope” and “freedom”).


“Social media has become a coward’s palace,” the PM said. “People can just go on there, not say who they are, destroy people’s lives and say the most foul and offensive things to people, and do so with impunity.” The crusade continued today with an op-ed from Joyce in the Nine papers, demanding the “unaccountable” tech giants be held… accountable. “The public has to stop falling for the fable that it should just keep lending the car to people who run over pedestrians, while screaming obscenities and medical advice from the window,” he wrote, in a typically puzzling Joycean manner.


It’s great that the Coalition is suddenly concerned about online disinformation, which many have been particularly worried about in the lead-up to the federal election. Labor wrote to Google about it last month. But where was the outrage in February, when people were begging the government to call out then Liberal MP Craig Kelly for his online COVID conspiracies? Or in August, when the government had to be dragged into censuring outgoing LNP MP George Christensen over his anti-mask tirades? Or indeed in the wake of the disinformation-fuelled protests that rocked Melbourne last month?


Some have linked this latest round of social media bluster to the attorney-general’s plans to reform defamation laws in the wake of the Dylan Voller case. Michaelia Cash yesterday wrote to her state and territory counterparts urging a national approach to reduce liability for publishers, and there are suggestions that the government may try to make platforms liable instead. Morrison himself is no stranger to rants against social media, telling a Christian conference earlier this year that the “evil one” resides there. But evidently a great deal of this current push is driven by Joyce’s deep outrage over the rumours about his daughter, which he chose to air and deny on ABC Radio yesterday, making him the first to bring the story into the mainstream media. (Hasn’t he ever of the Streisand effect?)


In his op-ed, the deputy PM made his stance clear, saying that when lies hit your family, “the time of any person to act has arrived”. Joyce’s anger is understandable, although no doubt additionally embarrassing for his daughter, while Morrison’s echoes appear designed to appease his deputy on an issue they can both agree on. If only the time to act on this issue had arrived before it was affecting Joyce personally.


Misinformation has been hurting families throughout the pandemic, with conspiracies and lies sending people down dark rabbit holes. (We only have to look to Four Corner’s infamous QAnon episode to be reminded of the ways such conspiracies can damage relationships.) Some of the most prominent and dangerous voices in this space have come from within the government’s own ranks. Figures such as Kelly and Christensen have essentially built their popularity off the back of misinformation.


But, time and again, the government has failed to pull them into line, or to publicly censure them until forced to do so. Despite Joyce’s newfound desire to see tech companies take accountability for what people say on their platforms, he’s repeatedly refused to take any accountability for what his MPs say on them. This is the man who told reporters that he couldn’t possibly control Christensen, alternatively a “free individual” or a “bear” that should not be prodded. (Joyce, of course, has his own interesting history when it comes to posting.)


The nation (and indeed the world) has a huge problem when it comes to social media misinformation, and that’s especially the case during a crisis like the pandemic. But it’s something that should have been properly addressed by the government long ago – ideally before its own backbenchers started using their very large platforms to peddle lies. Most of the population wouldn’t have seen the fringe rumours about Joyce’s daughter if it were not for Joyce himself giving them a platform. The government is far too worried about what anonymous trolls are posting this week, and not nearly worried enough about what public figures have been inciting for months.


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The worst problem is that religions are disinformation/misinformation and they try to rule the world — especially the Western world and the Taliban, the Saudis, etc... A few dudes who object to masks do not make a cult...



the PM social media...


If Prime Minister Scott Morrison wants to weed out anonymous trolls on social media, he might want to start with his own government, writes Andrew P Street.


YOU MIGHT BE AWARE that the current Federal Government are terribly worried about people using anonymous social media accounts to spread vicious lies and insidious falsehoods. Specifically, about themselves.

This has all come up because Deputy PM Barnaby Joyce has been furious – simply furious, you understand – about (reportedly) false claims that his daughter is the person with whom recently-resigned NSW National Party leader John Barilaro is alleged to have had an affair, thereby ending his marriage.

And the problem isn’t apparently the suggestion that Barilaro, like Barnaby himself, had potentially been sleeping with his taxpayer-funded staff, or even that Joyce’s daughter has gotten a sweet political job thanks to daddy’s Party connections. No, the issue is that people on social media are mean.

Incensed, he wrote a characteristically cogent piece for the Nine papers in which he fumed:

‘Twitter, it is not the trolls that inspire the devastating mental health issues. The trolls don’t have a voice unless you give them one, and you do! You make money from their noise, their ambit scratchings on the back of a lavatory door. They post their character assassinations from the back of the door at the servo and you illuminate it in on a city billboard for all to see.’

Morrison has also weighed in on the scourge of anonymous accounts, declaring that:

"Social media has become a coward’s palace where people can just go on there, not say who they are, destroy people’s lives, and say the most foul and offensive things to people. And do so with impunity.”

And sure, it’s fun to see Morrison tut about people spreading scurrilous falsehoods on social media after spending the last two years defending the free speech of his own MPs such as MPs George Christensen and (until recently) Craig Kelly to publish so much horrifically wrong COVID-19 misinformation that Facebook and YouTube were forced to intervene. The exciting anonymity of Christian Porter’s million-dollar legal fund donors is apparently nothing to worry about either — but to be fair, the relationship between the Coalition and integrity on social media has always been one of but when I do it, it’s cute.

There are, of course, many entirely legitimate reasons why people might choose to be anonymous on social media. Perhaps a person has experienced domestic violence and is trying to keep in contact with friends and family while avoiding being located by their ex. Perhaps they’re transitioning and don’t want to be deadnamed. Perhaps they’re in one of hundreds of public-facing professions where they’d rather not be cyber-stalked by their students, patients, clients, fans or customers — or, for that matter, constituents.

Of course, there are those who use fake social media accounts to send abuse and spread scurrilous lies about people. All sides of politics do it because it's a high-impact, low-risk thing to do and frustratingly hard to definitively prove.

But the problem with the Coalition declaring war on such people is that plenty of them are in the Coalition.

For example:

Angus Taylor

Honestly, how many times does this name turn up in rounds ups of questionable government behaviour? And like so many of our Energy Minister's other exploits, what's most baffling about it is how inept he was and how there were apparently no consequences as a result.

Ahead of the 2019 Election, Taylor decided to celebrate his success at having a new car park built in an electorate that wasn't even his, which was a bit of a long bow to draw from the outset.

But when making the announcement on his Facebook page, he neglected to change from his official account to one of his sock puppet fake supporters, meaning that he congratulated himself with ‘Fantastic. Great move. Well done Angus’.

Of course, that was before the “car park rorts” broke — and as it happens, that car park which “Well Done Angus” congratulated himself for almost three years ago, like so many of those barrels of election-pork, is yet to eventuate. That's in part because there's nowhere obvious to build it, which is why a state Coalition Government election promise in 2015 to extend the existing car park was also quietly abandoned once the votes were cast.

Supposedly it's going to happen by adding new levels to the current car park just as soon as they work out where the hundreds of commuters will park in the meantime. So, you know: great move, well done, Angus.

Andrew Laming

The litigation-happy retiring Member for Bowman was the subject of a Guardian investigation back in April which reported that he:

‘...operates more than 30 Facebook pages and profiles under the guise of community groups, including at least three masquerading as news pages and another posing as an educational institute.’

What a guy.

Mind you, he needed all that helpful content since his official account vanished following allegations that he stalked two women online.

It's weird that Morrison didn't mention this in his tirade about the Coward's Castle, since at the time he described Laming's social media behaviour as “disgraceful”. Maybe he doesn’t want to interfere with Laming’s busy schedule of sending out defamation threats.

Amanda Stoker

Now, it's worth making crystal clear that Senator Amanda Stoker having an alternative private Facebook account under a different name is entirely reasonable for the reasons mentioned earlier in this compelling and beautifully written article.

As a woman in the public eye, she's an easy target for online abuse, even without taking into account her regularly provocative statements as a conservative firebrand in the Morrison Government.

Where things get muddy is how often her alternate persona, Mandy Jane, would turn up on the official Amanda Stoker Facebook page to defend the Senator and speak about Stoker in the third person (‘few senators reject identity politics more consistently than she does’) as though the two were distinct and separate human beings.

Stoker’s facing a challenging road to re-election since the LNP plonked her in the historically unwinnable third spot on the Queensland senate ballot, but at least she knows her good pal Mandy will be a real spirit-raiser on the campaign trail.

Martine Haley

Back in 2018, the chief advisor to former Tasmanian Liberal Premier Will Hodgman took on the alias Alice Wood-Jones to attack Labor on Facebook and, rather more concerningly, troll a woman by sending screenshots of her views on abortion to her employer for reasons unlikely to be related to securing a promotion.

She resigned after the scandal but her work evidently did Hodgman no harm, since he's still Premier of his island sub-nation.


Jaimie Abbott

The Newcastle based PR expert was a Liberal candidate fighting to win the NSW state seat of Port Stephens following a failed tilt at the Federal seat of Newcastle in 2019 when suddenly her Facebook account and that of Liberal staffer Tasman Brown were suspended.

It turned out that they'd been linked to fake accounts denigrating sitting Labor MP Kate Washington, which Abbott claimed to have been completely unaware of and put all the responsibility for the social trickery on Brown.

It evidently didn't do the trick, since Ms Washington is still the sitting MP. But Brown was severely punished by... um, absolutely keeping his job working as an advisor to Liberal MLC Catherine Cusack. That'll learn him.

Honourable mention: Mark Latham

The former Labor leader and current One Nation troll-master has a long and distinguished history of making up using the socials to attack his many, many, many, many foes. You know, like [checks notes] domestic violence campaigner and Australian of the Year Rosie Batty.

Latham's vendetta against Batty and Catherine McGregor led to his resignation from a sweet columnist gig at the Australian Financial Review after Buzzfeed confirmed that the account used to attack Batty, McGregor, Leigh SalesTara Moss and, for a bit of a change of pace, Adam Goodes was not a parody account but that of the man himself.

To be fair, that's a distinction without a difference.



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