Julia Gillard abuse on Facebook: Free speech and responsibility

Julia Gillard: Come at me bro! | Kim Wilkins
Julia Gillard: Come at me bro! | Kim Wilkins

I commented in Ad News about the abuse of Julia Gillard in her Facebook ‘town hall meeting’. The article takes the angle that despite a string of recent social media scandals, including attacks against Prime Minister Julia Gillard on Facebook, experts have argued this is the “price of free speech” and that government regulation is not the answer.

AdNewsExcerpt: University of Queensland social media expert Dr Sean Rintel argued regulation should not be brought into play within the social media space.

“The comments might be misogynistic, they might be racist or sexist, but this is a very public forum. Do we want to regulated [sic] that? Even if we could it is not the answer. I think education is the answer. People should be educated about how to act in such a space.”

Extra comment: I stand by my position that regulation of Facebook comments is dangerous because of the chilling effect that it might have on legitimate protest. That being said, of course I also believe that speech comes with responsibility, especially when it is misogynistic, racist etc. Those ideologies of foolish inequality are wrong, plain and simple. They need to be addressed, not through censorship but through displayed community censure and, potentially, other forms of responsibility.

Sometimes responsibility may take the form of punishment after the fact, from community or authoritative warnings through fines, jail, loss of employment etc. The Alan Jones incident showed a version of standards leading to what was effectively a community/market solution. The effectiveness of that may be debatable (Todd Sampson on the Gruen Report believes that it will only enlarge his audience), but it’s better than having all speech moderated.

Patrick Stokes makes an interesting point in his article for The Conversation “No, you are not entitled to your opinion.” He argues that, when there are two sides to a debate and one side claims to be entitled to their opinion no matter what, that there is a blurring of what it means to have an opinion:

If “Everyone’s entitled to their opinion” just means no-one has the right to stop people thinking and saying whatever they want, then the statement is true, but fairly trivial. No one can stop you saying that vaccines cause autism, no matter how many times that claim has been disproven.

But if ‘entitled to an opinion’ means ‘entitled to have your views treated as serious candidates for the truth’ then it’s pretty clearly false.

This response confuses not having your views taken seriously with not being allowed to hold or express those views at all – or to borrow a phrase from Andrew Brown, it “confuses losing an argument with losing the right to argue.” Again, two senses of “entitlement” to an opinion are being conflated here.

Better than after-the-fact responses to foolish opinions, through, are better-educated citizens, especially in terms of what it means to be part of a democratic society. Civics education should now involve danah boyd’s notion of networked publics and responsible social media management as fundamental to our concept of civil society.

Read more at:

Blight, D. (2012, October 10). Gillard Facebook attacks ‘unfortunate’ cost of free speech: ExpertsAd News (Online).