Freedom. Such a harmless word. Yet billions of people have died to defend those bloodstained syllables over the centuries. In the wake of the horrifying Christchurch shootings in New Zealand, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison implored the G20 to discuss ‘crackdowns’ on the ‘ungoverned internet’. And Jacinda Ardern agreed.
Is it just me or does this feel like Gab all over again?
We Must Be Very Careful Before Taking People’s Voices Away
I never knew my Grandfather. He died before I was born but he spent several excruciating years fighting the Germans in North Africa. When his tank was hit by a shell instantly killing his 18-year-old colleague, whose entrails were spattered over my Grandfather’s face, it wasn’t live-streamed on Facebook.
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As the sole survivor of that harrowing incident, he would be the only person to replay the images over in his mind before taking them with him to his grave.
If social media wasn’t to blame for the Second World War that drew out the worst in humanity, then what was?
Without analyzing the causes or drawing parallels from one white supremacist to another, one common thread is human nature.
In the United States, freedom of speech is the First Amendment to the Constitution. But the problem is, humankind isn’t fit to say what it truly thinks. Start wielding around the wrong kind of words over there and you’ll be silenced pretty quick.
Whatever your ethnic, political, social, or economic background, most people agree that there are social codes and norms that don’t need to be written into law.
Most decent people aren’t going to load themselves up with firearms and rain down bullets on innocent people. They’ll probably just go on a rant after a couple of beers.
But, if we are a free society, is it right that they are silenced?
In France, a country famous for free expression where the Charlie Hebdo cartoonist team was gunned down by radical Muslims, one asks, should they have stopped drawing their caricatures?
Who gets to say who plays, judge, jury, and executioner here?
Even if it makes us squirm in our private places, shouldn’t people be allowed to say what they think, whether it leads to a massacre or not?
In New Zealand, He Shall Be Nameless
New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern delivered an emotional speech about the Christchurch shootings in parliament on Tuesday.
She claimed that the terrorist sought notoriety for what he did but when she spoke of him, he will be nameless.
I’m fairly new to this PM, I have to be honest. She got on my radar simply for being young, feisty, and female. But beyond that, I can’t say with any certainty what her reactions are to “regular” terrorist attacks. You know, the ones that don’t happen in nice places like New Zealand by people who aren’t radical Jihadists.
Whether New Zealand’s Prime Minister doesn’t speak their names or not has little impact internationally. Yet, these people certainly don’t remain nameless.
In fact, their names are often released before the authorities are even sure whether they committed a crime or not.
Sometimes, innocent people are blamed, their reputations tarnished, families threatened, and lives ruined. All because they wear a headscarf or spicy aromas fill the air around their apartments at dinnertime.
Because they aren’t suspected white supremacists, they are suspected Jihadists. That’s different. And they are certainly not nameless.
If we can’t put a name to the face, it’s probably because it turns our stomach. And it hits a lot closer to home.
No one asked New Zealand’s Prime Minister to comment on the latest terror attacks in Afghanistan, Tunisia or Syria. No one asks the New Zealand Prime Minister to comment on anything very much really.
I’d like to hope that she extends the same nameless policy to Muslim perpetrators, but I’d bet all my bitcoin she doesn’t.
Finding a Scapegoat for the Christchurch Shootings
Nameless or not, what’s now inevitably starting to happen is that white people racked with guilt and frustration are looking for a scapegoat.
After all, white people (especially nice Australian and New Zealand white people) don’t commit mass murders. That sort of thing happens in the U.S., where they give people free firearms at their local banking branch. What else do you expect?
But they don’t happen in the land of sheep and Hobbiton.
Ardern implored social media platforms to “do more” to combat terrorism after the gunman (who shall remain nameless) live-streamed his horrific rampage on Facebook to 4,000 viewers before it was removed.
We cannot simply sit back and accept that these platforms just exist and that what is said on them is not the responsibility of the place where they are published… They are the publisher. Not just the postman.
Australian PM Calls for ‘Crackdowns’ on the Internet
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison wasted no time in joining the social media lynch mob. It makes sense. The killer was Australian after all, he probably felt some semblance of responsibility.
He wrote a letter to the G20 imploring that world leaders discuss crackdowns on social media at the next summit:
It is unacceptable to treat the internet as an ungoverned space… It is imperative that the global community works together to ensure that technology firms meet their moral obligation to protect the communities which they serve and from which they profit.
Is It Just Me or Is This Gab All Over Again?
Let’s cut through the BS, hypocrisy, and guilt by racial association. This is Gab all over again.
The repugnant platform in which the low-ranking echelons of society gather together to voice their hatred. Everyone knew that Gab was a breeding ground of racial hate. But they were happy taking the money until the culprit of the Pittsburg synagogue killings turned out to be a platform user.
Listen very carefully because I shall say this only once. If you are going to support freedom of speech, it’s too late to ask people to be quiet once the ground is stained with blood.
You either believe in free speech or you don’t. You are either a propagator of a free country or you aren’t.
Politicians, if you’re going to use platforms like Facebook to push and promote your political agenda, you can’t suddenly sever their vocal cords because you don’t like how other people use them.
There are plenty of New Zealanders (I expect) who didn’t watch Ardern’s electoral campaign gather traction in the media. And plenty of Australians who sidestepped Morrison’s claims as he came to power.
No one asked them to watch a live stream of a mass shooting either.
We Are Not Responsible for Horrific Human Beings
What do you do after such an incident as the Christchurch shootings? Inaction is the worst and most impotent feeling of all, particularly when you’re at the helm of a nation.
But calling on social media platforms and asking them to monitor their content, ban what they see as inappropriate, and censor what a handful of deplorable people can’t handle is hypocritical and dangerous. It’s also highly temporary.
Scottie, just a heads up if no one told you, your country’s getting right behind blockchain–a decentralized technology that you can’t shut down or censor whether you like it or not.
By calling for more regulation on the internet you are crossing a tightrope over a 100-foot drop. It’s a dangerous path fraught with infringed civil liberties and fine lines.
After all, who decides what’s fit for the public to see and what isn’t? Should we set up some kind of internet police? That’s too much responsibility to place on Zuckerberg’s shoulders alone.
Remember Life Before Social Media?
Maybe some of you don’t recall, but there was a time when social media didn’t exist. When I went to school every day, the villains of the show were violent movies and video games. That’s what provoked the unsociable children into carrying out abhorrent acts or beating on each other in class.
They would write a handwritten note with a pen and paper and pass it around to meet in the playground and attack a certain kid for being different. They didn’t need WhatsApp, YouTube or Facebook.
I think back to my Grandfather and so many others who fought for us so we could be free.
They didn’t die so that we could curtail our own civil liberties. They died to let us live. And the fact of the matter is that social media is no more of an enabler of evil than the spoken word and the humans behind it.
Let’s just let Gab, Facebook, and Twitter show us angles on the world the way it really is and decide what we want to see.
Yes. Nameless white supremacists and Jihadists might end up being radicalized by Facebook or YouTube. But long before that, it was the Hitler Youth.
I would like to wrap this up by quoting some wise words, except I don’t know who actually wrote them. It was an episode of The Simpsons in which the intellectual young Lisa grew desperate over her father’s vigilante neighborhood watch group. She questioned:
If you are the police, who will police the police?
Let’s think very carefully before we start even planting the seeds of censorship in the internet. These things have a habit of growing out of our control.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article are solely those of the author and do not represent those of, nor should they be attributed to, CCN.