Flat White

Collective Shout or mass hysteria?

7 December 2018

1:40 PM

7 December 2018

1:40 PM

One of the less edifying features of the American Revolution was the tyranny unleashed by the revolutionaries on those who did not support their brave new world. These so-called “patriots” used moral and physical terror to coerce others to join their cause when “reason” failed to work.

Loyalist officials faced the prospect of tarring and feathering – being stripped naked, and having hot tar poured over them before being covered in feathers. Loyalists also found themselves on the receiving end of the “Test Acts” which compelled individuals to swear allegiance to the revolution. Those who did not, faced the confiscation of their property, banishment, or even lynching.

Less than twenty years later, the Jacobins in France exceeded their American cousins in revolutionary zeal on the way to executing a monarch his queen, and a large part of the population.

Revolutionaries of all sorts have learned the lesson in the years that have followed. Intimidation is a good way of achieving your goals, especially if you are self-appointed guardians of other peoples’ souls.

Contemporary pressure groups in Australia are no different, and there are many. Perhaps the most absurd, however, are the almost faceless people behind the vigilante group who call themselves Collective Shout. As the name suggests, they do a lot of shouting, even if reason is not one of their strong suits.

The claim to fame of these champions of the people is ranting about “the increasing pornification of culture and the way its messages have become entrenched in mainstream society, presenting distorted and dishonest ideas about women and girls, sexuality and relationships.”

While they describe themselves as a “grassroots campaigns movement”, the reality is somewhat different. In fact, they are a company limited by guarantee. As such, grassroots membership is not merely discouraged, it is simply impossible.

In its place they have substituted the judgment of their directors, who are the self-appointed arbiters of what is good for us.

The result has been a series of shrill but absurd campaigns to protect us from the objectification of women.

One involved complaining that lingerie chain Honey Birdette was overtly sexual. Forgive my ignorance, but I thought the very purpose of lingerie, as opposed to underwear, was to be overtly sexual. In any event, even feminists support the right for women to be as sexual as they damn well please.

Then there was an absurd campaign decrying sexist advertisements for motoring accessories company, Ultra Tune. This campaign garnered all of 243 signatures on an online petition, before being shut down.

Recently, however, their campaigning has taken a new and sinister direction. This week they attacked one of Australia’s foremost portrait photographers because photos he had taken of teenage models had supposedly appeared on child pornography websites.

It didn’t matter that the models were fully dressed in everyday clothing, nor that he demands parents be present at photo shoots, and that parents approve all of the final photos. Neither did it matter that he had complained numerous times to Instagram that people were hijacking his photos and using them without his permission, nor that of his subjects.

The result was as vile a piece of character assassination as I have seen for many a year. It was morally disgraceful, entirely unjustified, and simply illogical. It was like blaming a carjacking victim because their car was used by a criminal in an armed robbery.

Surprisingly, Collective Shout claims charitable status for this behaviour, which means it does not have to pay tax on its profits. As at the end of the 2017 Financial Year, these accumulated profits stood at almost a quarter of a million dollars.

The company claims to the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission that it’s charitable activity is that it: “names, shames and exposes corporations, advertisers, marketers and media engaging in practices which are offensive and harmful, especially to women and girls, and also to men and boys.”

Even the most cursory reading of this statement should set alarm bells ringing.

Naming and shaming people who don’t agree with your point of view is nothing more than the social media equivalent of tarring and feathering. Like tarring and feathering, naming and shaming relies on violence and intimidation to achieve its objects. The only difference is that in one the violence is physical, and in the other, the violence is psychological or economic.

This sort of behaviour can never be acceptable. It is contemptuous of the rights of others, and injurious to our democratic values. It is one thing to argue your point with someone who doesn’t agree with you. It is entirely different to defame them or threaten their livelihoods unless they do as you demand.

Frankly, I find it hard to understand how an organisation that behaves this way can maintain its charitable privilege.

My scepticism is supported by the provisions of the Charities Act that govern which organisations can be registered as charities. A relevant factor is whether achieving the organisation’s purpose would entail “any possible, identifiable detriment… [to] the general public; or, a section of the general public.” Surely this includes those who are intimidated or defamed along the way.

The Act also provides that an organisation is disqualified from being a charity if its purpose involves “engaging in, or promoting, activities that are unlawful or contrary to public policy.” Public policy includes the rule of law, the constitutional system of government of the Commonwealth, the safety of the general public and national security.

On this basis, the intimidation and defamation of people who are engaged in entirely lawful activities is surely contrary to the public policy and the rule of law.

Having charitable status should not, and cannot, mean that an organisation has carte blanche to behave as it wishes, especially when its supposed charitable purpose involves causing harm to others. Charities should be paragons of virtue in our community, and how they achieve their objectives is just as important as their objectives themselves.

Hopefully, the ACNC will turn its attention to this organisation, and whether it should be allowed to continue calling itself a charity.

Even if it is allowed to continue operating, decent Australians should think once, twice, three times before considering giving Collective Shout any money. Not only do they not need the coin, we don’t need their particular brand of moral tyranny.

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