UNMASK THEM ALL! Scott Morrison, News Corp & the mythical hordes of anonymous trolls

ANALYSIS: In yet another grandiose brainfart, Prime Minister Scott Morrison wants to force social media companies to identify anonymous trolls but don’t be surprised if this proposed law becomes yet another tool to allow the wealthy and powerful to silence the poor and weak, writes Irfan Yusuf.

Have you heard the news? Again? Soon we won’t be able to engage in online trolling. We won’t be able to use fake accounts or pseudonyms or whatever to say nasty things about people. Moreover, social media companies like Twitter and Facebook will be forced to fess up and provide info on exactly who the trolls are.

The tabloids of the Republic of Murdochistan across the country have been celebrating the news. The Melbourne Herald Sun announced that “Social media cowards to be exposed by law”. I’m a bit confused. Are the cowards the social media folk? Or are they the trolls themselves? Brisbane’s Courier Mail spoke of “anonymous cowards”. The Sunday Telegraph’s editorial here in Sydney meanwhile acknowledged that “unmasking trolls” was “a legal minefield” but worth it. And on and on it went.

As we all know, the tabloids don’t entertain trolls and never have. No one has ever been able to go on the blog of a Murdochistani tabloid columnist or website and leave nasty and/or defamatory and/or racist and/or offensive remarks. And if they do leave such remarks, they will be edited or deleted and the account from where the comments were made are immediately blocked. Because the online editors of the Daily Telegraph or other American-owned publications would never allow what Scott Morrison describes as “these faceless attacks”.

MP’s, of course, can still defame all they like in hallowed houses of Parliament. This is their privilege as MP’s. Parliamentary privilege. Just ask Bronwyn Bishop, former Federal MP for the plush northern beaches Sydney electorate Mackellar, who in 2005 used her privilege to declare:

“It has come to my attention today that an opinion piece has been authored and distributed by a Muslim activist, known for his offensive behaviour to women, by the name of Mr Irfan Yousef (sic.) … I totally refute his statements but, as he has not resorted to bomb throwing, I guess we can handle his accusations”.  

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Bronnie calling me a sexist terrorist in the House of Representatives worked a treat. Within a few days of her diatribe, I received a call from the Australian branch of UNIFEM asking me to become a male White Ribbon Day Ambassador to combat violence against women.

Murdochistani tabloids make a living defaming people. One columnist for the Daily Telegraph, a chap named Tim Blair, described me in a blog post dated 23 June 2017 as a “substantial Sydney lawyer”. He went on to write: “The Karachi Kolossus has gotten his size XXXXXXXXLs in a bunch”.

At the time of writing this piece, the defamatory comments of anonymous trolls made by Blair’s readers were still available to be savoured. One “Devlin” described me as “The Mr Potato-Head of the Islamic-apologist set”. Another chap named “Warren” wrote: “Irf is a prime example of undesirables in this country”. Someone named “greg” wrote “What an Ifran idiot!”. “davina” wrote: “He must live in so many dopamine deficient frontal lobes”. Then “Wade” described me as a “loud-mouthed Johnny come lately trying to intimidate us into silence”.

Writer Irfan Yusuf with Bronwyn Bishop at the 1996 Liberal Party campaign launch (Image: Supplied)

Seriously, why should I care if some anonymous freak spends his time leaving remarks about my being an idiot, an undesirable and/or mentally ill, all while spelling my name incorrectly? Why should I worry if a columnist pokes fun of my physique? While the post is online, I can decide to commence legal proceedings at my leisure.

Who knows how many anonymous trolls have managed to get their crazed and often violent rants about indigenous, South Sudanese, Chinese, asylum seekers and other minorities. Though it does make you wonder how these comments survive the moderation stage? One Daily Telegraph editor told ABC Media Watch back in 2007 that such views made the cut of the paper’s blogs because they “are held by many Australians, especially in Sydney. They are not the kind of things you’d say at an ABC dinner party or at your ALP preselection but they are commonly held views”.

But don’t expect the Morrison government to worry about the malicious online bullying and trolling of people from minority backgrounds. After all, his current Defence Minister had no hesitation in talking about people in Melbourne being too afraid to eat out at restaurants because of so-called African gangs.

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Minorities are fair game for our media and political elite. But if a politician feels he or his family are being attacked by anonymous trolls, suddenly the law must be changed. Suddenly we all must behave like we’re at an ABC dinner party or an ALP preselection.

Substantial law reform is almost always a game of the powerful. Don’t be surprised if this law requires a person defamed or abused to make an expensive court application for which they cannot be eligible for legal aid if they can’t afford legal fees. Don’t be surprised if the remedy is out of the reach of your average punter. Don’t be surprised if this law becomes yet another tool to allow the wealthy and powerful to silence the poor and weak.

And once people start suing the Murdochistani tabloids, don’t be surprised if the law is made even harder to access.

About Irfan Yusuf 26 Articles
Irfan Yusuf grew up in Sydney and has worked as a lawyer in NSW, QLD, Victoria, Tasmania and WA. He is an award-winning author and has written for the Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, Canberra Times, NZ Herald, Crikey and ABC The Drum.

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