The 5 great myths of the Censor SA debate

This is a blog about South Australia’s new internet commentary laws. For background, you might want to read this article on AdelaideNow .

Myth 1:If you’ve got something to say, you should be brave enough to put your name to it

Guess what. We’re not all brave, chest-beating types prepared for the wrath of family, friends and colleagues based on what we’re written.

There are legitimate reasons for people to want to blog anonymously. Take these scenarios:

· Government is proposing new laws on child abuse. A woman has been abused as a child; she wants to take part in the debate but doesn’t want to let her partner know of her past just yet. She writes an anonymous blog. Outlawed under SA censorship law.

· Government proposes new immigration laws. Man wants to support them, but is afraid to share his name and address because of the ethnicity of the community he lives in, where there is high sensitivity to the issue. He outlines his well-thought out comments in a blog without using his real address. Outlawed under SA censorship law.

· Married couple decides to write a story (let’s face it, that’s what forms many blogs) about their experience living in the same street as a bikie gang, also debating anti-bikie laws. They decide not to publish their name and address because they don’t want a Molotov cocktail thrown onto their front lawn or Harley Davison’s riding past at all hours. Outlawed.

· A man’s employer has made it clear where he stands on the subject of a new local development. The employer is overbearing and petty. The man feels differently – he wants to protect his local park. He writes a blog to share with other community members, but doesn’t sign his name in case his employer can identify him … outlawed.

It’s okay for journalists to use confidential sources. And anonymous columns (particularly political) have been a media stalwart for centuries. How so? We need to recall the reasons for this, to understand what is so wrong with the new SA censorship laws.

Journalists use confidential sources so that source can speak without fear. Anonymous columns are published for great debate to be shared rather than hidden. Which brings me to my next myth …

Myth 2:Bloggers only want to share outrageous, defamatory comments

Mr Atkinson has said he wants people to stop calling him outrageous names. In an email to me, he said it’d be nice if people refrained from calling him a ‘kiddy-fiddler, paedophile, douche bag ..’
I can’t begin to outline how paranoid and self centred the laws are.

I’m a blogger. I’m not interested in calling Mr Atkinson any names. And yet the new laws would have affected me.

Many bloggers are eloquent, cautious people who take time to think through debate. They may or may not like to use curious pseudonyms. They have their own readers and followers. They usually allow comment on their blogs, and are ready to debate on their blogs. They are also governed by the same defamation laws as the rest of the public.

Believe it or not, there are bloggers who like to write about issues; their world doesn’t revolve around anonymously defaming politicians.

Myth 3: “I’m not interested in what you have to say unless you put your name to it”

Really? Content is king – and for my money, I reckon you’ll read great content whether it’s signed or not. It’s human nature.

‘Anonymous’ is one of the most prolific, funny, sarcastic, witty and pertinent writers of our time.
If we didn’t like to read comments unless they had the name and address of the author, the many ‘Diary of a …’ publications would never be read.

In election periods, I would have thought the veracity of the debate, the genius behind the ideas, were always more compelling than whether or not it’s signed.

The most boring pieces you’ll ever read? Those signed by a politician, with their profile picture published alongside. And why is that? They’ve got their name attached, so they’re scared to say anything of substance …

Myth 4: Bloggers are the 17-year-old ‘net generation’

Attorney General Michael Atkinson – and some mainstream media commentators – has contributed to the myth that the censorship laws were overturned to meet the needs of the ‘blogger generation’. Mr Atkinson even went so far as to say he consulted his own children, who helped attune him to the expectations of ‘young bloggers’.

Young people aren’t bloggers. They aren’t even microbloggers (that is Twitter by the way).
By and large, they focus on Facebook, SMS and email. They want to talk to their friends, not debate policy with strangers. This has been backed up by published research this week.

The people up in arms about the censorship laws and most active are 30+ and, dare I say 40+.
Anyone with a real interest in public debate should hook into Twitter, the ultimate debating forum. In my Twitter stream over the past week, it’s been people in the 30+ age bracket who have been up in arms over Michael Atkinson’s actions.

I’m 39. I have ethical standards. I am sensitive to others. People opposing the censorship laws were most decidedly not young ‘net gens who imagine they can get away with anything online, in some abstract new brutal netiquette age.

Myth 5: The new laws are all about honesty

The new laws are all about protecting politicians.

If they were about honesty, they’d exist outside the election period.

The laws are completely politician-centric. Mr Atkinson’s comments about the names he’s been called confirm this. Some people want to debate policy and social change and guess what –sometimes this can be achieved without mentioning a single politician’s name!

The new laws are about making it more difficult for party stooges to enter debate anonymously. But in trying to protect pollies and make political hacks more accountable, they’re reducing safety for the general public. We need to err on the side of safety for the rest of us; politicians have entered the political fray, they’re protected by defamation laws, and need to ‘take their lumps’ as Mr Atkinson would say.

Why do I blog?
Please don’t debate about blogs or social media if you don’t understand them.

Why did I choose to write this as a blog?
· This text wouldn’t fit in a Letter to the Editor
· I can publish my own blog – maybe other publishers wouldn’t consider it fit to print
· I can share my views with my connections
· It helps me think through my views – and indeed, debate myself

As always, I’d be glad to read your comments.

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