I've joined -- or rather I've been joined against my will -- an exclusive club of tweeps blocked by Senator Malcolm Roberts.
He seems to be blocking so many twitterers that this club is becoming a lot less exclusive, though. Here's what some of my fellow blockees have said:
@michaelhallida4: "What has Malcolm Roberts been dribbling on about? Anyone? I can't see his tripe. He ran away & blocked me."
@Winetosser: "I shall wear being blocked by that crackpot Malcolm Roberts as a badge of honour!"
@wxmoore: "Malcolm Roberts has blocked me on twitter and Facebook and I am unable to argue with his followers and this is very upsetting."
I think it was the Larsen C ice shelf breaking off Antarctica that was the last straw, at least for him. During Senate Estimates hearings earlier this month, in questioning the Chief Scientist of the Australian Antarctic Division, Dr Gwen Fenton, Roberts gleefully cherry-picked Fenton's comment that there is "no indication that Larsen C [breaking off] is directly attributed to climate change".
Dr Gwen Fenton:— Sen. Malcolm Roberts (@SenatorMRoberts) February 27, 2017
Australian Antarctic Division Chief Scientist.
"No indication that Larsen C is directly attributed to climate change"
I tweeted back at Roberts that he forgot to mention Fenton's comments in the same breath that "this region has experienced one of the highest temperature rises on the planet". I also tweeted a previous comment by Fenton about the impacts of climate change on the Southern Ocean.
A day later, I was blocked. I can only assume this was because the information I provided undermined Senator Roberts' misinformation campaign.
Roberts' blocking is, it turns out, widespread. I've counted at least 50 people who have been blocked by Roberts from his Twitter account. A Federal politician doing this isn't nothing. Being blocked by Senator Roberts matters. Here's why.
If you've been polite and simply argued with him on some of the wacky things he claims, disagreement should be no reason to be blocked. (If you've been potty-mouthed, sorry, you're on your own.) But if you've genuinely sought to engage and been blocked, that's a poor show for an elected representative -- even if they only scraped in by 77 votes.
I deliberately engaged with Roberts on his arguments. Yes, this was with a view of discrediting them because I believe his claims -- especially with regard to sustainability and global warming -- are, without exception, incorrect. Engaging with and discrediting his tin-foil arguments is valuable. It's an effective tactic with climate flakes and racist politicians: flay their arguments to demonstrate how rubbish they are. I consider it a public service. (You're welcome!)
That's what public debate is all about. It's a contest of ideas and argument is the weaponry, and you want your arguments to win. (Just make sure you fight with love not hate, or you end up being as bad as the haters). Whether it's on Twitter or not, elected representatives shouldn't shy away from the cut and thrust of public debate, as long as it's respectful. Senator Roberts is running away from arguments he doesn't like. This is despite me and many others being respectful, and playing the ball not the player. Review my tweets to him and judge for yourself.
As well as ducking public debate, Senator Roberts blocking people for simply engaging with his arguments also means that he prefers an echo-chamber of views that reflect his own to that of truly public debate. Why wouldn't you want yourself challenged by other people's ideas and arguments, even if only to sharpen your own?
Roberts' censorship is also hypocritical. Why? Because he has aligned himself with the far-right campaign for the repeal of Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, the part which criminalises hate speech.
There's a gaping contradiction between Malcolm the Free-Speech Warrior and Malcolm the Tweet-Blocking Worrier.
His unwittingly ironic lack of self-awareness about his free-speech double standard is almost amusing. Watch him claiming, wrongly, that 18C blocks free speech. Well, Malcolm, blocking reasonable people from your Twitter account blocks free speech far more literally. (Those who want to do away with 18C always fail to say what it is that they want to say that Section 18C prevents them from saying -- presumably the right to be racist without legal repercussions.)
Here is Roberts claiming that the "real" issue about global warming is "freedom of speech". And here he is claiming that "when we have free speech curbed, we don't talk about the real issues -- tax, Islam, terrorism, the economy". Not to mention global warming, species decline and too many other symptoms of environmental degradation that constitute the Anthropocene. Talk about Malcolm in the free-speech muddle.
So there's a gaping contradiction between Malcolm the Free-Speech Warrior and Malcolm the Tweet-Blocking Worrier. But while Senator Roberts may be unique, his hypocrisy is widespread on the Right.
This free-speech hypocrisy is actually common among many conservatives, right-wingers and racist One Nationers. Here's why. People who identify with these political values typically wrap themselves tightly in the Australian flag and talk passionately about their love of Freedom. Yes, with a capital F!
But what they usually mean is individual freedom to make money, rather than full-spectrum freedom. When real freedom rears its head -- freedom for people to express themselves, to be different, to worship a non-Christian God, to unionise, to marry who they wish, to be unconventional or radical or awkward -- such people are quickly categorised as social undesirables obscuring the otherwise bright red, white and blue of 'Australia the Fair', and dismissed.
One Nation's campaign against Muslims is a case in point. Australia allows for freedom of religion despite attempts to pretend otherwise.
But of course, freedom is either freedom or it's no freedom at all. What supposed flag-waving freedom lovers never, ever, point out is Section 116 of the Australian constitution, which establishes Australia not as a Christian country, as they often claim, but as a secular one, putting all religions on an equal footing. Section 116 prevents the Commonwealth from "prohibiting the free exercise of any religion".
Australia allows for freedom of religion despite attempts to pretend otherwise.
Few are the leaders talking up the precious freedom of Australians to practice any religion. Why are so many conservatives ashamed of Section 116? It should be a matter of patriotic pride and defended from the likes of One Nation. But it never sees the light of day.
Senator Roberts probably hasn't seen legendary 1969 counter-culture film Easy Rider, it being full of dirty bikers on drugs. The alcoholic drop-out lawyer, George Hanson (played by Jack Nicholson), delivers arguably the film's most important lines:
"It's real hard to be free when you are bought and sold in the marketplace. Of course, don't ever tell anybody that they're not free, 'cause then they're gonna get real busy killin' and maimin' to prove to you that they are. Oh, yeah, they're gonna talk to you, and talk to you, and talk to you about individual freedom. But they see a free individual, it's gonna scare 'em."
The club that really matters isn't that of Malcolm Roberts' Twitter rejects, it's the number of people who think they stand for freedom but who, in reality, stand for conformity, homogeneity and censorship. Real freedom scares conservatives. And given his attempts to censor public debate, real freedom scares tin-foil hatted paleoconservatives like Senator Roberts even more.