There’s a depressing cycle repeating itself in the Australian news. Something nasty happens. The media report the outcry about how nasty it is. Then comes the depressing bit; the politicians, wanting to be seen to respond to the confected crisis, propose some sort of ill-thought-out, knee-jerk regulation to mitigate it.
A good example is Senator Nick Xenophon’s reaction to the tragic murder of Carly Ryan. Apparently, her killer lied about his age online to entice her into a meeting. The Senator’s proposal, therefore, was to outlaw lying about your age to minors online. Can anything be said in defence of such a proposal? Never mind that the crime is vanishingly rare. Isn’t it enough that rape and murder are already illegal? How many murderers would balk at a little lie, legal or not, in pursuit of a victim?
The trend is worse when it comes to the internet. Recently we’ve had flaps about racist speech, and do you remember the furore over a stupid web game called “Muslim Massacre”? If there is a politician who can resist the temptation to forcefully condemn something so obviously tasteless, I’ve yet to see one.
This shows why we can’t allow the pollies to get their hands on the filter. What greater temptation for an independent senator or election-year Prime Minister to add [insert nasty web thing of the day here] to the mandatory blacklist?
The latest such outcry is over some defaced Facebook tribute pages. The politicians are even going so far as to suggest an “internet ombudsman” to deal with offensive material. Discouraging – but can we blame them? Isn’t it the Australian people that go crying for them to do something?
That’s the argument I made in today’s Crikey (paywalled). The piece is mirrored here on the EFA web site. Rather than looking to the PM to save us from a nasty web page, can’t we just get a sense of proportion?