Virtually everyone agrees (other than the psychopaths who populate its sewers) — Twitter has led to a coarsening of debate and a new nastiness in our politics.
Much of its ugliness is compounded by cowardice, the tendency of its many ranters and rages to hide behind pseudonyms.
However, such is the malice of the medium is that reasonableness and responsibility go out the window for other users in their bids to grab attention. Lies, irrationalities and defamation are entirely normal — and are spreading from Twitter elsewhere.
So it comes as a relief to hear this past week that members of the Morrison Government are holding Twits to account.
Peter Dutton, one of the bigger Twitter targets, has extracted an apology from Green goody-goody Larissa Waters for vile smears:
Note the normalising of Twitter trash talk in Waters’ apology? Her comments appeared in a media release and were repeated at a press conference, not just online.
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has successfully snared the snide former “independent”, Tony Windsor, a font of bile, over one his Tweets.
Some public figures and parliamentarians have made it a point of honour not to sue. John Howard is the prime example.
Others, like Bob Hawke, have relished litigation — and the dividends a win can bring.
Howard and Hawke, however, both governed in a different world where social media was either non-existant or taking toddler steps.
Dutton made his position crystal clear talking to 2GB last week. “They’re out there putting all these … statements and Tweets that frankly, are defamatory. I’m going to start to pick out some of them to sue, because we need to have … a respectful public debate.
“A lot of lazy journalists pick up these tweets and believe that they’re representative of the larger community view, when they’re not.”
And that’s the rub. Australia’s defamation laws shut down free speech, but defamation is not debate.
Twitter is a global smear machine. Good journalists know that it’s as representative of public opinion as, say, speaking only to members of homing pigeon clubs. But the big names are there … and so.
Frankly, the big names should think about the company they’re keeping — and in the meantime we should welcome the news that Morrison ministers appear to be going after the Twits and their lunatic lies.
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