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Australia's Creepy Covid Cops
On the heels of an expose down under, new documents show how America's Five Eyes partner cast a broad net over pandemic-related speech
Monday morning, New South Wales time — Sunday night to Americans like me living on the east coast — the Australian published an exposé titled, “Antic reveals Canberra silenced Covid posts.”
Through a freedom of information request, a conservative Australian senator named Alex Antic revealed that the country’s Department of Home Affairs between 2017 and 2022 made “13,636 referrals to digital platforms to review content against their own terms of service.” Of those, 9000 were terrorism-related, but a full 4,213 were listed as “Covid-19 related” referrals.
“On what basis is the department qualified to determine the truth in Covid-19 related matters?” Antic asked. “Are we seeing an Australian #TwitterFiles?”
Ironically, Racket’s house Australian, Andrew Lowenthal, had already been preparing a story about DHA-related documents found in remaining #TwitterFiles material. Andrew found 18 emails to Twitter containing 223 total takedown requests from the Department of Home Affairs. This government body correlates roughly to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security but has a broader remit, overseeing among other things national security, border control, and management of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO).
The DHA emails — you can read Andrew’s full report here — show a stricter, more nakedly dystopian approach to speech control than we found in communications from American intelligence agencies in earlier Twitter Files reports. The pucker factor will be high when you read that content-zapping requests down under came from something called the “Social Cohesion Division” of the DHA’s “Extremism Insights and Communication” office. In another letter, DHA staff thanked Twitter’s Global Escalations Team in advance for handling a “hefty request” of 44 takedowns:
Australian authorities in these emails are seen trying to cast a wider net over potential speech violations than we’re used to seeing, targeting hyperbolic language (e.g. a claim that PCR tests are “shoved up into your brain”), jokes, tweets from people with literal handfuls of followers, and medical recommendations that were either merely controversial or later proved correct. Perhaps most ominously, the DHA sought removal of content from non-Australians “circulating a claim in Australia’s digital information environment.”
In the months since the Twitter Files reports started to come out, we’re seeing more efforts around the globe to use public records searches and other methods to at least begin to drag out into the open the various state and quasi-state bureaucracies dedicated to policing the Internet. If we can encourage these efforts by helping confirm and flesh out reporting in places like Australia with TF documents, it’ll be worth it, especially as more and more “anti-disinformation” operations are birthed every day (Monday’s launch of “BBC Verify,” which boasts of using “undercover” accounts and blames “alternative media” for conspiracy theories, was another unsettling moment). Thanks to the Australian for covering the story, and to Andrew for digging out confirmation.