Imagine this: A group of young conservatives, outraged by the public funding of a library story time featuring drag queens reading to children decide to disrupt the event. They surround the readers chanting ‘drag queens are not for kids.’
Children are traumatised, the drag queens are forced to defend themselves and parents who gave permission for their kids to be there are outraged. The whole thing is caught on film and picked up by the media, quickly becoming viral.
The next morning, the protest leader takes his own life by jumping in front of a train at a suburban station. The reason given in the media is the backlash on social media.
This isn’t a fictional event. It happened in Australia two weeks ago.
Gavin Wilson, the young man who took his life also happened to be gay. He chose to align himself with a party that campaigned against gay marriage and whipped up hysteria over the Safe Schools program, which was specifically designed to foster acceptance, and reduce the high suicide rate among the LGBTIQ community.
What a terrible irony that this 21 year-old man took his life over a fight against a program meant to help gay and transgender people.
Is Social Media to Blame?
The conservative media would have people believe the hysterical left-wing and LGBTIQ lynch mob drove this young man to his death with their hateful comments.
Craig Johnstone in The Australian wrote:
His suicide followed a barrage of social media abuse over his role in the protest at a Brisbane council library on Sunday.
His role in disrupting the drag performer event at the weekend attracted similarly savage criticism and abuse from those purporting to represent the LGBTI community and others on social media, with some LNP politicians quick to say their party had no link with the group.
Chad Felix Greene from The Federalist wrote:
A young man ends his own life, and hundreds of people cheer and laugh, confident in their assessment that he was a bad person and therefore, the world is better without him.
It is difficult to imagine the weight Gavin carried, with nowhere to turn while the full force of the LGBT media raged against him.
Cruelty as social justice? The leaders of the left stay silent.
As expected, many people were highly critical of the protest on social media. Some of those comments were personal and hateful, but many were exercising their right to free speech by disagreeing with his actions.
What the right-wing media in particular refuse to acknowledge is that attacks on marriage equality, the Safe Schools program and story time with drag queens are deeply hateful to the LGBTIQ community because they represent an attack on their very right to exist. I can’t even imagine what it would be like to be told you’re an abomination in the eyes of God and you don’t deserve the same basic rights as everyone else. If that’s not hate-speech, then what is?
The conservative government in Australia likes to dismiss all dissenting voices as ‘Twitter crazies,’ as if the views of people who disagree with them on social media are somehow illegitimate. It’s a ploy to dismiss a significant portion of the population and build a base of ‘us’ against ‘them,’ which the right-wing media are more than happy to perpetuate.
Media shock jocks and pundits have collective amnesia when it comes to their own campaigns of hate, most memorably against Yassmin Abdel-Mageid who stated on Facebook on Anzac Day in 2017 “Lest We Forget (Manus, Nauru, Syria, Palestine …),” and was subsequently driven from the country.
When it came to the vile death and rape threats she received for this innocuous comment asking people to think of asylum seekers and victims of war on this day of remembrance, they were silent.
In sheeting the blame for Gavin Wilson’s death to those who criticised him, sections of the media are attempting to ignore the legitimate anger and hurt of people who feel personally targeted by attacks on the LGBTIQ rights.
The religious right like to play the victim card, and claim they are being gagged by political correctness, but it is LGBTIQ people who have been denied the right to marry until recently, who are subjected to constant bigotry and face the real possibility of losing their job or being harassed in the workplace if proposed religious discrimination laws are passed.
I support freedom of speech for everyone, but the right’s idea of ‘freedom’ is very one-sided. They want to impose their worldview and deny others the right to speak out against it. When others vehemently disagree, they claim discrimination and bullying. That’s the beauty of social media though, it gives everyone a platform, and it’s why the political establishment find it so frightening.
Is Censorship Ever Acceptable?
Disagreeing with someone is not hateful. Having a different point of view is not a personal attack. Expressing anger and outrage over an attack on LGBTIQ rights is every person’s right, but the reality is that free speech can get ugly.
The government’s attempts to dismiss ‘Twitter crazies’ is part of a wider effort to censor the internet by classifying social media tech companies as publishers, so they are subject to defamation laws. This means tech companies would have the legal right to remove anything they class as ‘defamatory,’ setting an extremely dangerous precedent.
Censorship is not the solution, but cultural change is needed. When a lot of people are piling on one person it can no doubt be very painful and personal. The pressure is enormous, and some tragically bow under it.
Any personal attacks, or comments encouraging a person to self-harm are not OK and should never be tolerated. We can each play a part in keeping online debate civil by taking a moment to think about the person behind the account before we post, and by calling out bullying when we see it.
If you know someone who is experiencing a social media pile-on, encourage them to step away for a while until the storm dies down. Young people in particular lack the perspective and experience to handle the intense scrutiny and judgement that comes from a viral media story.
I don’t agree with Wilson Gavin’s views, but I deeply regret his death and I hope something can be learned from it.