While the cloud of scandal grows over Canberra, Scott Morrison took the opportunity to pin the ills of women in Australian society on social media.
On Monday, the Prime Minister shared his second cabinet shuffle in three months against the backdrop of allegations of rape, stalking, online abuse and misogynistic language by government MPs.
During the press conference he highlighted what he called the “strongest” female representation that cabinet has ever had and announced a raft of new women-specific ministerial roles.
At one point, Morrison was asked whether social media was one of the major issues facing women — to which he vehemently agreed.
“But it has to draw out of a well of respect in society which I fear is sadly depleting… and one of the key degraders of respect in our country is social media. It has some positives… but it can be a very dangerous tool in disrespectful hands. We have seen that in the trolling particularly of women,” he said, according to the Guardian Australia.
This effort to blame technology for social issues doesn’t seem to be a throwaway line, but rather a conscious strategy by the government to answer how they’re addressing the way women are treated in Australia.
Morrison made a similar remark on on Friday, appearing to link social media to “the most awful of violence acts [against women]”.
Earlier that day, senior minister Peter Dutton linked Grand Theft Auto and TikTok to a toxic culture, something that felt like a redux of the old ‘video games cause violence’ myth.
Morrison isn’t wrong that social media can be damaging. In fact, platforms undeniably shape behaviour. Our current major social networks are designed to encourage emotion and conflict, so it’s no wonder online abuse is rife.
But the government isn’t proposing a nuanced conversation about platform design and how best to encourage civic discourse. What they’re doing is making social media the scapegoat for issues caused by broader societal trends.
Implicit in this is the suggestion that if we can somehow do something about social media we can fix the problems that are facing the nation (and, conveniently, Scott Morrison).
And it just so happens there’s already a political solution that the government has up its sleeve: the yet-to-pass, controversial Online Safety Act that deals with online abuse.
But the question is: with anger rising at the government for the perceived failure to address issues within its own ranks and society at large, will a political solution be enough?