Everyone knows that celebrities and journalists are a fragile sort of species addicted to public adoration while remaining hyper-sensitive about criticism. On social media, they use the ‘block’ function to maintain padded safe spaces, quarantining their accounts (and emotions) from detractors.
This is fine.
Individuals are under no obligation to endure the opinion of the unwashed internet masses. Facebook, Instagram and Twitter are like house parties and if the host doesn’t like you, for any reason, they can have you turned away at the door. It is one of the few places remaining where people have some measure of control regarding who they interact with.
Social media ‘blocking’ becomes a bit of a moral quandary when we start talking about politicians.
Their social media accounts are not private house parties – they are government property figuratively (though not literally) owned by the people. All sides of politics are guilty, with politicians right across the ideological spectrum blocking members of the public who respond unkindly to their posts.
In a random sampling, Twitter users reported that they had been blocked by: Matt Kean, Kristina Keneally, Michael O’Brien, Anthony Albanese, John Prescott, Diane Abbott, Matthew Guy, Tim Smith, Sarah Hanson-Young, Brett Sutton, Trevor Mallard, Helen Clark, Bob Brown, Larissa Waters, Penny Wong, Angela Rayner, Greg Hunt, Anastasia Palaszczuk, Tony Burke, Zali Steggall, Jenny Mikakos, Sally Capp, Lisa Neville, Craig Emerson, Julia Gillard, Brad Hazzard, Ben Wyatt, Adam Bandt, Mehreen Faruqi, Martin Pakula, Fiona Patton, Bill Shorten, Sam Dastyari, Jordon Steele-John, Scott Morrison, Joe Hockey, Tim Watts, Brendon O’Connor, Richard Di Natale, David Shoebridge, Malcolm Roberts, Steven Marshall, Jacqui Lambie, Wayne Swan, John Podesta, Shaun Leane, Jill Hennessey, John Carey, Julie Bishop, Lidia Thorpe, Clive Palmer, and – in perhaps the ultimate act of irony – Paul Fletcher (The Minister for Communication).
It is fair to say that this is not a partisan problem, it’s a politician problem.
The first politician to block me was Independent Rob Oakeshott. He won my local seat in the Division of Lyne in 2008 by using his past persona as a member of the Nationals Party to woo the conservative rural area. Naturally, his electorate were furious when he, alongside another independent, held the balance of power at the 2010 election and used their votes to bring in a Labor government. When the 2016 State election rolled around, Oakeshott ran for the Division of Cowper and did not take kindly to the bombardment of social media anger directed at him by his constituents.
‘Blocking’ protected Oakeshott’s campaign tweets, but what right do politicians have to silence the people they intend to represent?
Our system of government rests on thousands of years of convention where politicians offer themselves up to the un-moderated scrutiny of the public and in exchange, they are paid to hold a position of extreme privilege. The two cannot be separated without democracy taking on shades of a dictatorship. The entire premise of our political system is the open discussion of the people. If politicians get in the habit of editing out members of the public, what is to stop them from shunning them entirely?
Though Australians see fit to punish politicians who censor the public at the polls, it is quite another thing for the Chief Health Officer of Victoria to block members of the public from a government health information account at the height of a pandemic.
Brett Sutton inhabits this public Twitter account as if it were his personal soapbox. He has forgotten that the service does not belong to him, but rather he is the caretaker of a bureaucratic title. Far from offering a professional, stately front, Sutton frequently uses it to express his feelings.
I think I've been pretty calm over the last 16 months and I hope I've always been respectful. But I *will* get fired up when contact tracers are attacked. They do extraordinary work and do it brilliantly. 10,000 contacts found! The false narrative hurts real people, mentally. (1)— Chief Health Officer, Victoria (@VictorianCHO) May 27, 2021
Which is an easy thing to say when you are occupying a highly (over?) paid position that is guaranteed no matter how long Victoria’s lockdowns go on for. He is the perfect example of what happens when the people making critical decisions are shielded from consequence. As Chief Health Officer of Victoria, he can and has destroyed people’s lives with a single tweet. This is a precarious reality that makes it even more important for him to learn how to listen.
Sutton did not take kindly to anyone who responded to his empty platitudes.
You know what hurts people mentally? Losing their family business, home, life savings and watching their children lose nearly two years of their education. After this, the government demands to stalk citizens before threatening them unless they take the jab. #Vicpol is a tyranny. https://t.co/VYPhv5fTn4— Alexandra Marshall (@ellymelly) May 27, 2021
This reply went viral and naturally, Sutton took it upon himself to block me. I publicised his actions with another tweet, pointing out that it was not moral for the Chief Health Officer of Victoria to block members of the Australian public during a pandemic. After all, how is anyone supposed to obey their orders if no one can hear them?
This sparked an enormous response from hundreds of other people who had been blocked. There was a prevailing sense of anger that Sutton felt entitled to silence others while maintaining his public position.
As a nation, we have never sat down and discussed how social media is meant to fit into the boundaries of our democracy. When politicians and public servants took it upon themselves to make social media their primary form of contact with the public they essentially incorporated it into Australia’s existing conventions. In other words, there is an expectation from the public that politicians and public servants are not permitted to block or censor conversation. If they do, it is perceived as a subversion of democracy.
While people have allowed politicians to get away with it, it is another matter entirely when it comes to Brett Sutton. He is an unelected official with a level of power Victorians have never seen before. Worse, he can never be voted out of power. When he censors, he does so from a position of absolute authority.
Sutton is proof that there are no constitutional safeguards in the Covid Age. Politicians and medical tyrants – sorry – officials, are able to impose sweeping mandates without notice. Their arbitrary and contradictory ramblings become law within hours.
Imagine having the power to shut every businesses in the state, cancel all contracts, and lock everyone in their homes? Now imagine that no one is allowed to speak out against these decisions.
Brett Sutton is the man who wields the economic sword in Victoria. His whims decide the fate of millions who have no legal recourse to his decisions. The most that a member of the public can do is reply to his tweets, voicing their anger and heartache.
At some point, Sutton and the Victorian Labor Party have forgotten that they are public servants, operating as wardens of the State. It is their job to serve, not rule, and part of their privileged position means listening to the repercussions of their decisions. How will they know if they are making a terrible mistake if they block out the screams coming from the people of Victoria?
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Alexandra Marshall (@ellymelly on social media) is The Good Sauce's Editor-At-Large, as well as the host of "Curtain Call", a Good Sauce show exploring the leading personalities in the culture war. She writes on liberty, philosophy and geopolitics. You can find her on Twitter or read her articles over at her blog.
Elly is also an AI database designer for the retail industry, contributor to multiple online journals and a Young Ambassador with Australians for Constitutional Monarchy.
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