Ardern wants to control what you see on social media

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By Richard Prebble [abridged]

Jacinda Ardern’s Harvard University commencement address is a good speech, delivered well. It is the content that is concerning.

Jacinda’s claimed this is the “era of disinformation”. “Fragile” democracy is under threat from social media platforms algorithms that “before we even know” take us to sites where “facts are turned into fiction, and fiction turned into fact”.

“The foundation of a strong democracy includes trust in institutions, experts and government”. We must, she says “act to firm up their foundations”.

She then uses the finding that the Christchurch terrorist was radicalized on-line to claim we are “at a precipice”

Her solution is “a shared approach to responsible algorithms”.

Richard Prebble CBE is a former member of the New Zealand Parliament.

Let us be clear where Jacinda is at. Her “shared approach” is having government control social media algorithms to control what we can see.

It is Jacinda who is talking fiction and claiming it is fact.

Citing Pakistan does not prove democracy is fragile. It is because democracy is such a powerful idea that authoritarian regimes want to censure what we can see. Regimes that seek to crush democracy always start by curtailing free speech.

The Internet did not invent terrorism. Long before the Internet, fanatics were being radicalized and running amok.

Countries can have “trust in institutions, experts and government” and be a dictatorship but no country can be a democracy without free speech.

This is the information age. There may be more misinformation but I doubt it. What is true is that never in human history has the public had access to so much scientific and factual information. Never before have we been able to fact check our rulers.

It is the fact checking by “keyboard warriors’ who Jacinda dismisses as misfits dressed in super hero outfits that Jacinda finds challenging.

The ability to access information the authorities know to be false is essential. As Mark Twain famously observed: “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”

Fact checking reveals that much of what our government knows to be true just ain’t so.

There is nothing unusual about this.

Through most of human history most of what governments thought to be true has been false.

We only have freedom when we are able to view and decide for ourselves.

President Putin could not invade Ukraine if he did not first censor what Russians can see, hear and say. The world’s authoritarian regimes must love Jacinda’s Christchurch call.

Democracy and freedom would have been safer if Jacinda had stayed at home

Richard Prebble CBE is a former member of the New Zealand Parliament. Initially a member of the Labour Party, he joined the newly formed ACT New Zealand party under Roger Douglas in 1996, becoming its leader from 1996 to 2004.

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