Australian government considering disturbing new ‘misinformation’ bill

This kind of thing is why Americans ought to be thankful we have a First Amendment.

The Australian government is considering passing a misinformation bill requiring social media platforms to keep records tracking the amount of “misinformation” and “disinformation” on their sites and turn these records over to the government when requested. The bill also allows the Australian Communications and Media Authority to set regulations for the companies, which, if violated, could result in multi-million-dollar fines.

The new rules would reportedly apply to “social media platforms, news-aggregators, and even podcasts.” This bill is an undeniable violation of free speech. By forcing companies to comply with what the government deems correct procedure, it violates both their property rights as private business owners to determine their own moderation policies and the rights of their users to share beliefs, ideas, and knowledge because of the inevitable censorship-inducing effect these regulations would have. 

Thankfully, this kind of legislation could never survive here in the US because we have the First Amendment protecting the freedom to express our thoughts, as long as we are not violating other people’s rights. (For example, libel, fraud, death threats, etc., are not free speech protected by the First Amendment). However, unfortunately, Australia doesn’t have such protection enshrined in government.

This leads to an important question: Why does the US have a First Amendment, and why should governments protect citizens’ rights to speak their minds?

The answer is simple: Life is full of decisions. To live your life and navigate these decisions, you need to be able to use your mind to determine the best course of action in any situation. The only way to do this is by gathering the necessary knowledge to make the most informed choice. 

To collect information, you need to be able to exchange ideas—whether they are right or wrong. We learn from each other, which includes examining each other’s mistakes and understanding why they may lead to less-than-ideal outcomes. 

We cannot learn when we cannot do the research necessary to determine what is true and false, which is the inevitable result of information being forcefully withheld from us through censorship. 

We cannot grow as individuals or a society when we cannot push back against ideas—even ideas widely accepted as accurate. No progress in human knowledge has ever come from mindlessly accepting the status quo.

In fact, blindly accepting statements made by the government is just as detrimental as blindly accepting ideas shared by private citizens online. For example, during the COVID pandemic, President Joe Biden made multiple comments that those vaccinated against COVID could not spread the disease. Many accepted this as true until scientists partnered with the media to clarify that the COVID vaccine did not prevent transmission, only decreased the chances of giving it to someone else. 

In this situation, the government was actively “misinforming,” and pushback from the private sector was needed to correct their error.

Don’t get me wrong. While the First Amendment protects our ability to share ideas without government force, it does not mean anyone has the right to a microphone. Private companies should be able to determine their own policies regarding whether they want to platform and promote someone’s ideas. As long as the government does not intervene, the private sector can and will develop places to exchange them. 

Now, what about those like Australian Member of Parliament Hon Michelle Rowland, who are concerned about those who might believe false information they see online and take actions that threaten their “health and safety?”

The private sector has a solution for this too. Twitter, for example, has a fantastic feature, Community Notes, which allows its users to add context or correct inaccuracies on the site while not removing the posts. The Community Notes feature has shown that the private sector can provide people with the tools to inform themselves without government force or threats. 

This is the only effective way to battle the spread of incorrect information and protect people.

Censorship, by contrast, does not do anything but push bad ideas and lies underground. The government can’t force anyone to change their minds or to believe a particular thing. Instead, censorship, even in the name of keeping people “safe,” does the opposite of what it sets out to do by preventing individuals from openly discussing and hearing criticism of their bad ideas.

If the Australian government wants informed citizens, it should allow them exposure to all sorts of information. Instead, passing this “misinformation” bill would inhibit Australians’ ability to think critically, which is far more dangerous than any misleading meme or “fake” news story.

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Kiyah Willis
Kiyah Willis
Kiyah Willis is a fellow at BASEDPolitics.