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The future looks bleak

18 March 2019

Today's column was going to be about the tragedy of the Christchurch mosque attacks which happened on Friday of last week.

I wrote that column on Sunday, with a focus on the evil violence that had unfolded in the places of worship that should have been a safe sanctuary from the worst elements of our modern world. However, by the time this morning rolled around I realised that this attack has highlighted another issue which, although far more insidious in nature, should be of grave concern to everyone.

Naturally the sympathies of the nation are with those who have lost friends and loved ones in the shootings but every single one of us, not just the families of those who died in the shootings, has lost something else.

This realisation came as I read through the myriad of news stories and tried to use some of the social media sites on which billions of people around the world now rely for staying in touch with friends, families, colleague and acquaintances. It is a grave realisation which should send shivers down everybody's spine.

But first, let's look at how the media handled the reporting of this story because that in and of itself, is a shocking tragedy.

I have to say that I am just as horrified by the way the media has handled themselves in the wake of this event.

Our usually abysmal standards of journalistic integrity and fact-gathering have been shown to reach an all-time low and the news industry ought to be a shamed of itself.

Firstly, I see countless stories calling this a "racist" attack.

Excuse me?

Since when have Muslims or those of the Islamic faith been a race? A race is a grouping of people based on genetic similarities -- not just beliefs. You would think that even the most novice junior reporter would be aware of this small, but incredibly cogent fact.

Then there was the gun-man's live-streamed video which quickly started doing the rounds on mainstream and social media.

According to the new mantra for most news organisations "profit above all", excerpts or entire copies of the video were soon being shown on broadcast TV stations such as Sky in Australia and on news websites such as The MailOnline.

I doubt that *any* censor would pass this footage for general consumption, yet websites and broadcasters were throwing it out there where even young children could access it without restriction.

Where were the principles of The Fourth Estate???

Further evidence that news publishers were desperate to turn this event into a click-bait-fest come in the form of stories like this one Christchurch mosque shootings: Kardashians praise New Zealand's gun law changes. I mean, seriously, who gives a shite about what some self-important "famous for being famous" celebrities half a world away think about yet-to-be decided changes to the NZ gun laws? This was nothing more than an opportunity for the celebrity to get extra exposure and for the media to leverage that piece of trivia to get more website hits.

I can't help but cynically think that in a lot of newsrooms around the globe we have nasty little men rubbing their hands in glee and thinking "Great... another mass shooting, this should get eyeballs on ads!". Tragic, utterly tragic!

To make things even worse, I noted that Stuff was heavily criticising other news outlets for clickbaiting readers by promising to show frames or excepts from the gunman's live video". Oh dear, does Stuff not realise just how much clickbait it indulges in each and every day? Let he who is without clickbait cast the first stone?

Now while some prudence in deciding what should be aired or published is in order, we find that many of the social media sites went totally overboard with there attempts to censor anything to do with this attack -- and that is a huge concern for anyone who values freedom of speech.

YouTube, in its infinite stupidity, decided that one of the best ways to deal with the situation where people were uploading copies of the video, was to disable the search filters that can normally be applied to results. This meant that selecting temporal filters, such as "last hour", "last day", "last week" or whatever simply did nothing.

Of course, in true YouTube stuff-up style, all that was required to find the newest video uploads was to search via Google rather than via YouTube directly, and THEN use the "Tools" to then perform a type (video) and time(1hr, 24hrs, etc) refinement.

It also seems that any mention of the incident was enough to get your video demonetized at the very least and I have heard from several people that their videos, with mention of the event in the title or description, were unceremoniously removed by some sort of automated system. Strangely (or perhaps predictably) enough however, those videos posted by the mainstream media were left untouched and remained monetized.

In the case of Facebook, instant messaging and posts containing almost any link to coverage of the story were automatically removed from the site and as you can see from this twitter feed, NZ ISPs have been busy blocking websites and services in order to ensure nobody gets access to the livestreamed video -- but in the process, also censoring the flow of open discussion.

I am sorry but this is unacceptable.

One can only wonder if this is a very clear glimpse of a future where censorship becomes endemic because "the powers that be" can't possibly allow people the risky privilege of free speech. We berate China and other dictatorial powers for restricting the internet freedoms of their peoples -- but it would appear that we are no better at all. Our only source of mind-shaping information should be the mainstream media, a media that has clearly demonstrated that it cares for nothing more than clicks and revenues???

Now as I said, it is important that publishers use commonsense when making the decision as to what is suitable for publication (especially in light of the inability to control the age of those exposed to this content) -- but issues involving the freedom of speech and information ought not be raised in the process. I get gravely concerned when the opinions and right to public free speech are effectively disabled, whilst the proven-bad mainstream media have their rights to shout loudly at the entire world from their own platforms unrestricted. This is exactly what has happened over the past few days.

There are more than a few people out there who believe there are conspiracies between media and governments to deceive the public and shape their perception of reality in ways that best serve those in power. Of course this has always been true.. but perhaps never more-so than today.

We thought that the internet would give us the ultimate freedom of speech but, now that Google, Facebook and a small number of other "names" effectively have the ability to censor and filter that speech, we are perhaps worse-off than ever.

And (of course), they even managed to get the obligatory drone-vilification story out of this incident when someone was reported to have flown a drone in a park in the city after the attack.

Then there is the question as to whether this was really a "terrorist attack" or simply someone with a severe mental-health issue run-amok with guns? By calling it a terrorist attack, it adds a level of cachet and importance to the act which I personally would rather not see it given. This guy killed these people to gain public attention and notoriety -- hence the livestreamed video. Imagine how pissed off he'd be if, instead of holding him up as a successful terrorist, we simply labeled him a crazy nut-job. Let's not give him undeserved glory... let's admit that no sane human being would engage in this type of behaviour so clearly the guy is a fruit-cake of the highest order.

What do readers think?

Can free speech ever really be "free", so long as people rely on Google, Facebook, YouTube and the other conduits that have shown themselves willing to filter out anything that does not fit their own agendas?

And why is it that the mainstream media continue to demonstrate just how their money-lust has totally destroyed the very principles on which The Fourth Estate was built -- without any form of sanction? Perhaps it is because the powers that be realise the need to curry favour with an industry which remains unique in its ability to misinform the public en-masse and can thus be a powerful ally when it comes to herding the sheeple?

From where I stand, we lost a lot more than 50 innocent souls on Friday... we also lost our belief that somehow, the Western world was not just like China and similar oppressive countries in respect to the way it treats its citizens' rights to information and expression.

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