With the BBC currently in disarray over its handling of child abuse scandals and the press still trying to wriggle off the hook over phone-hacking, it’s only a matter of time before the powers that be, attempting to ‘restore order’, turn their attentions to Twitter, which has, as usual in recent times, done the running on spreading the story.
As part of last night’s Newsnight apology for its story on the unnamed senior Tory abuser, presenter Eddie Mair stated: “the internet, where the standard of proof is zero”, and it would only be natural for the Beeb, in trying to save itself, to push the blame onto the internet, perhaps yearning for the ‘good, old days’ when the BBC could act as gate-keeper.
Libertarian commentators are taking different lines with regard to the unfolding scandals. Claire Fox and the Spiked gang are urging caution against the moral panic, Paedogeddon aspect (this latter term, for those who don’t know, refers to the controversial Brass Eye satire from a few years back), others are using it as a stick to beat the BBC, seeing this as an opportunity to advance the cause of abolishing the mandatory television tax. Others still are simply hoping that crimes are exposed and justly punished. Libertarians are perhaps more focused on the institutional aspects of this, i.e., that many of the allegations involve state-run children’s homes, and alleged abusers in positions of authority in the police, local government etc. With the proviso that due process must, of course, be followed, which is never easy in cases where many years have passed, no libertarian should object to the guilty facing the consequences of their wicked acts, however long ago they took place.
The naming of a certain political figure on Twitter, after the Newsnight report studiously did not name him, is another example where Twitter has gone where no legacy media would dare, for fear of litigation. Seeing their former position of influence, along with their former business models eroded by the tide of technology, it is no surprise with big media companies champion the cause of new restrictions on the freedom to communicate. “It’s not fair,” they cry, that “we (i.e., the legacy media) must ‘play by the rules’, but our competitors (i.e., the heterogeneous mass online) can do whatever they want, sans consequences.”
I see history as centrally a race and conflict between “social power” — the productive consequence of voluntary interactions among men — and state power. In those eras of history when liberty — social power — has managed to race ahead of state power and control, the country and even mankind have flourished. In those eras when state power has managed to catch up with or surpass social power, mankind suffers and declines.
From Conceived in Liberty, by Murry N. Rothbard, Volume II, pg. 9
Internet freedom is, from the statist, authoritarian point of view, a constant thorn in the side, and, to use Rothbard’s words, it has enabled social power to ‘race ahead’ of state power, a situation the statists will seek to reverse. We must not allow these scandals to be used to reassert control over the free circulation of information. With this in mind, I would urge libertarians to reflect upon the libel laws, because these latter will provide the lamb-skin clothing for the statist wolf.