The theory of Alarmist Gatekeeping, developed in the context of abortion discourse in Australia  for my doctoral degree is currently proving its worth in framing other ideological and controversial topics.  It describes a process within which exists a single acceptable perspective on  an issue, how this domination occurs and is perpetuated, and more importantly the very real and very negative consequences for society.

AG colour jpeg

 Alarmist Gatekeeping is a complexly interwoven process of recruitment of people to the 'cause',  silencing dissenters, and maintaining dominance through subsequent self-censorship.  The process developed over time with abortion discourse, however seems to be very effective much more quickly today on issues of gender ideology, domestic violence, climate change and others.

Recruitment entails ensuring an agreeable general cause, often accompanied by alarmist statements which are either greatly exaggerated or even fabricated.  In abortion discourse people are recruited on the basis of human rights or women's freedom and bodily autonomy.  Alarmist disinformation is used to discourage dissent.  "Do you want women to die because they can't get an abortion?"

Few people are prepared to say 'no' to the recruitment statements and many simply believe the alarmist disinformation, particularly when it is repeated so often across many different platforms.

The most significant effect of Alarmist Gatekeeping is the self-censorship it generates among the general population as well as those charged with the provision of information or education to stakeholders; in this research, practitioners interacting with women on the issue of abortion. Ideological awareness or positioning only changes the reason people self-censor, not the fact they almost invariably all do so.

Alarmist gatekeeping tightrope

A range of factors ensure easy recruitment of people:

  • ensuring public perception is that MOST people think and believe in the cause (we all want to belong)
  • discrediting of evidence that may threaten the cause (most people aren't really supportive of late term abortion for less than the most serious reasons and information that late term abortion occurs for non-serious reasons is often denied, even when evidence is provided)
  • discrediting of people who dissent
  • legislation that prevents dissent

My upcoming book describes the process of Alarmist Gatekeeping and provides examples of the process at work in Australian discourse raising important questions about how it is that we allow such domination to grow in such power and generate so much harm.   After twenty years of challenging abortion discourse, I thought I understood it. I had no idea how pervasive and powerful it is nor how much it was controlling all of us.

Perhaps once the majority are more aware of what is happening, there may be power in a collective dissent.  My hope is that this explanation of how the dominant discourse controls and manipulates not just the thinking of people but also their actions, that more might stop and think about what it is that is really true and what consequences they are prepared to sit by and watch.