The decision by Twitter and Facebook to banish US President Donald Trump has sent shockwaves through Australia’s Coalition Government, as local regulators weigh up new powers over social media platforms and their ability to swing the ban hammer.
The ABC today reported that Coalition MPs have spoken out about the widespread decision to permanently boot Trump from online platforms, after Twitter and Facebook ruled his recent posts were likely to stoke violence in the wake of the US Capitol siege.
That decision fanned the flames of a long-running debate over what social media should allow, and what it should forbid – and who gets to make that call.
First up, there’s acting Prime Minister (and acting Communications Minister) Michael McCormack, who stood against the decision to boot Trump from his favourite apps.
“I don’t believe in that sort of censorship,” McCormack said, claiming that other people have published similarly brazen statements on Twitter without being silenced. Not everyone who implicitly calls for violence has the authority of being the President of the United States, but hey.
Per the Sydney Morning Herald, MP Tim Wilson is also pretty staunchly against the idea of banning folks from social media.
However, his concerns focus more squarely on recent rumblings from Australian Competition and Consumer Commission leadership about enhanced governmental supervision of social media platforms, and the criteria they use when deciding who to ban.
Wilson said it would be “preferable” for users to lodge serious complaints in court using existing laws, instead of enshrining government powers “to silence and censor.”
On the far end of the spectrum, LNP MP George Christensen – who openly echoed Trump’s favourite US election conspiracy theories last week – has kicked off a new petition calling for laws to remove the ability of social media platforms to ban or fact-check anything, really.
The scene is similar in NSW, with MP Craig Kelly, whose ascension to Facebook Boomer royalty was built on sketchy claims about COVID-19 treatments, yesterday railing against what he called Facebook’s censorship of “scientific debate and freedom of speech.”
There’s a pretty wide variety of views on offer here. Some, like McCormack, are presenting their concerns as a high-minded fight for traditional free speech. Other MPs are showing off their grubby desire to treat social media as a giant, misleading chain letter.
Yes, some Coalition MPs, like Nationals stalwart Barnaby Joyce, say the platforms “should be regulated” lest they become a “cesspool” replacing the traditional media.
There are calls for new rules to determine when social media companies can ban users after President Donald Trump was suspended from Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.— Sunrise (@sunriseon7) January 10, 2021
Federal MPs @Barnaby_Joyce and @Fitzhunter joined us with their thoughts on the controversy. pic.twitter.com/Azg6ObHakB
But, broadly speaking, it seems the decision made by Twitter and Facebook has rattled Australia’s lawmakers, who must now contend with the idea that posting rank, inciteful gear may just sever them from their digital constituencies.
All of this is backdropped by the fact that social media platforms are routinely hounded for not having the guts to delete truly offensive gear. But hey, if you’re a right-wing politician watching the most notable right-winger on Earth rightfully lose his megaphone, you might be worried about your own, too.