Dane Giraud: It’s time to “hound” beagle into doing his job

Dane Giraud: It’s time to “hound” beagle into doing his job

In a recent interview with RNZ (14th of January), NZ Council of Civil Liberties Chair Thomas Beagle, in response to Simon Bridges condemnation of the post-Trump Twitter purge of local far Right and other accounts, said the following:

“Cos the thing about freedom of expression is that it’s not just about what people say – it’s also about the ability to go and participate in those discussions.”

“What we have seen in the last few years [is that] there is actually concerted efforts driven by bots and the rest to actually stop certain sorts of people having certain points of view just by harassing them into silence.”

The argument is a common one within the anti-speech movement: speech isn’t currently free because voices broadly representing the majority are using their free speech rights to silence others. But what exactly does “harassing them into silence” mean? How does Beagle know for certain this is the case? And why is an advocate for Civil Liberties, the Chair of our local organisation no less, repeating tropes frequently shared by those supportive of the government shutting down speech?

Our Human Rights Commission may have fielded plenty of complaints from people feeling “harassed into silence”: we’re in an age so self-obsessed and narcissistic that hopelessly losing an online debate can serve to gild a victim status. I recall a debate I had with a woman a few years back where I tabled a few facts in response to what I considered her wild claims and she bit back by telling me I was using my “intellect to oppress her”. What the world was witnessing wasn’t my dismantling of her poor argument, but male power brutally crushing a female voice. I’m a comedy writer so this tickled me. But for her the genre of our exchange was closer to grand tragedy. The HRC would no doubt give this person an ear. Yet who was silencing who  in this exchange? Once smeared as a sexist, what profit would I find remaining on the thread?

Anyone can be sent packing if they are stupid enough to engage in political discussions online. The ideological movements the HRC closely align with can be complete and utter tyrants in this space. But you’ll never hear me complain to the HRC about them because I can always use the block feature and continue more productive conversations elsewhere. Why would a spokesperson for Civil Liberties Council support the removal of accounts when people who feel uncomfortable with certain handles can simply block them?

There is a troubling subtext to this trope that I feel especially sensitive to being a member of a minority group. It’s clear that those who promote this idea aren’t thinking of crusty old panel beaters fleeing online platforms rather than being publicly smeared as sexists. The people who need new special protections are members of minority groups. The insinuation is always that minority groups (and women) just aren’t as hardy and robust enough to give as good as they get in online exchanges so demand the state’s intervention. This is white saviour stuff. Individual members of minority groups can be as resilient as the next person: in fact, a far better argument could be made that many of us are more resilient than the majority. Beagle’s position relies on an ungenerous assessment of a minority members’ ability to engage with their world.

“…. there is actually concerted efforts driven by bots and the rest to actually stop certain sorts of people having certain points of view just by harassing them into silence.”

This is a conspiracy theory that fits into the “who benefits” sub-category. Beagle has no idea if this is the motivation behind dissenting parties on Twitter. He’s assuming the most contemptible motive after walking backwards from what was ultimately an individual’s personal decision to leave a discussion. He could never possibly provide compelling proof of this. And short of compelling proof, how could you even dream of letting it undermine the core mission of a Civil Liberties Council?

A lot of good work has been, and indeed continues to be done at the NZ Civil Liberties Council, but for some confounding reason, they seem to want a dollar each way on freedom of expression. A first step to addressing their confusion could be to stop promoting the propaganda authored by those stridently opposed to what is arguably our most fundamental freedom.


Dane Giraud is a screenwriter, commentator, active member of the Jewish community, and a member of the Free Speech Coalition (@DaneGiraud)