A Melbourne businessman, Phillip Mobbs, who is opposed to the Voice, decided to launch his own Facebook and web pages, which he called Constitutional Equality. Mr Mobbs was spending substantial amounts, up to $2,000 a week, “boosting” his Facebook posts to attract as many eyes as possible, as is his lawful and legitimate right.
There was trouble ahead however. Mr Mobbs was thrust into prominence overnight thanks to John Paul Janke’s claim, made on the ABCs Insiders on August 6, that the No campaign was “using AI with black, Indigenous characters to try and look like it’s an indigenous person supporting the No campaign”. Mr Janke, host of NITV’s The Point, claimed the No campaign had “multiple social media pages” built around the AI ads. This wasn’t and isn’t true. Gerard Henderson’s Media Watch Dog gives a succinct account of the Insiders conversation:
John Paul Janke: You know, online, the No campaign have multiple social media pages. Some of them now are using AI, with a black Indigenous character to try and look like it’s an Indigenous person supporting the No campaign.
David Speers: Crikey!
John Paul Janke: Yeah.
David Speers: Sorry, did you say that was from the No campaign or from some random?
John Paul Janke: No. From the No campaign. And they’re supporting, obviously, different voices. And they’re under the guise of moderate voices against the Voice. Like, it’s Australians for Unity. But they’re using AI of a black character that is supporting the No case.
David Speers: OK.
Immediately after Janke’s allegations, the ‘official’ No campaign, when challenged about its purported involvement with Mr Mobbs, emphatically disavowed any knowledge or involvement in his activities. This was no lie — there was no connection with him at all, other than a mutual opposition to the Voice. As Henderson notes, the ABC issued a correction:
Insiders: On the program broadcast on Sunday, August 6, panellist John Paul Janke described the use of AI generated videos by some opponents of the Indigenous Voice to Parliament. The ABC wishes to clarify that the campaign coordinated by Warren Mundine and Jacinta Nampijinpa Price – Australians for Unity – is not affiliated with the videos being referred to.”
A good try don’t you think? But those watching the program would have got the impression that Mr Janke was referring to the most prominent No advocates – the Australians for Unity group. In fact, he was railing against a little-known Melbourne businessman named Phillip Mobbs running an organisation that virtually no one would have heard of if the SBS journalist had not raised the issue on Insiders.
Even Prime Minister Albanese chipped in, saying Constitutional Equality content was “misinformation”. It appears that anything the No campaign presents is immediately thus labelled by those who don’t like to hear it.
One might imagine the use of the scary term ‘AI’ (Artificial Intelligence) was perhaps intended to instil fear and disgust in voters whose minds were not yet made up, whereas in actual fact the ads are not ‘AI’ at all. They’re simply animated ‘talking head’ PowerPoint creations, a program readily available to anyone with a few dollars to give Microsoft. You can watch a Constitutional Equality clip below.
In disputing claims that he was engaging in deception, racism or both, Mr Mobbs explained that the PowerPoint creations are cheap, require no actors, lights or cameras, the script can easily be edited to respond to day-to-day developments, and clips can be translated into many languages to better communicate in a multicultural society. “The Avatar has a tanned skin colour, but what’s so unusual about that”, said Mr Mobbs, “Clearly this ‘person’ is not Aboriginal, but what colour is an Aboriginal today anyway? They can be any colour!”
The ensuing media storm as presented by The Guardian, The Australian and ABC resulted in 8,500 views of the Constitutional Equality video in 24 hours. However, Mr Mobbs instantly became a target with a big red bullseye on his back. What happened next is something out of Orwell and should send a chill down the spine of all Australians.
On the night of August 7, the day after the ABC aired Janke’s spurious claim, Facebook limited the advertising spend of Constitutional Equality’s homepage, reducing it from almost $300 a day to just $39.00, a decrease of 87 per cent. Facebook also limited the functionality of the page to stop Constitutional Equality appearing in other Facebook users’ feeds, severely curtailing users sharing those posts and further spreading the message. The result was that Constitutional Equality saw an immediate 91 per cent reduction in engagement. How is this not misusing the power of Big Tech by serving as a de facto arm of the State to silence an alternative voice to that of the government?
What had Constitutional Equality said or done to warrant such action by Facebook? No explanation was provided to Mr Mobbs. Facebook did not identify a specific post that “breached policy”, how to fix the issue, or when it would be fixed if ever. Mr Mobbs challenged Facebook about their actions and for an intensely frustrating 33 days argued the toss with them. As of September 8, Constitutional Equality’s spend limit and a fully operational share function were restored, but the damage was done. How was this not political interference?
AUSTRALIANS should be further concerned about the Albanese Government’s proposed Communications Legislation Amendment (Combating Misinformation and Disinformation) Bill 2023 seeking to criminalise certain forms and content of speech. Even the Australian Human Rights Commission has grave concerns about the proposal, as Human Rights Commissioner Lorraine Finlay explains. The first issue she notes is how broad and vague are the terms ‘misinformation’, ‘disinformation’ and ‘harm’. Laws targeting misinformation and disinformation require clear and precise definitions, she wrote, which the Bill does not have.
Secondly, Finlay notes the “harm threshold categories” whereby misinformation and disinformation is “reasonably likely to cause or contribute to serious harm” are also extremely broad. Indeed, “content can be labelled as misinformation even if it does not actually cause harm – it only has to be ‘reasonably likely to do so’.”
And Commissioner Finlay’s third concern, the most worrying, is how the proposed law defines ‘excluded content’, which is to be protected from being labelled mis- or disinformation. In essence, this means (emphasis added)
any content that is authorised by the government as being excluded content … cannot, by definition, be misinformation or disinformation under the law
Clearly, any ‘anti-disinformation’ law will have a keen interest in monitoring and screening all communications, which today’s advancing technology makes more possible by the day. Welcome to Brave New World and 1984 — two works intended as warnings, not as how-to guide books
“Constitutional Equality started as a one person’s desire to participate in democracy and express an opinion,” Mr Mobbs notes. “My idea developed into a place where other individual citizens could contribute in the democratic process”. But for how much longer, he wonders, will such participation be permitted? As Facebook’s conduct demonstrates, it has already been fettered by Big Tech.
Is a Misinformation Act even required when Big Tech’s gatekeepers can simply shape or shut down your account, my account, anyone’s account for daring to promote views and material that goes against the authorised narrative?
If you care about free speech, be worried. Very worried.