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UK Parliament wants more state censorship and it wants it now

Apparently people sometimes say things online that UK politicians don’t like, so they want to be able to punish social media companies that allow it.

The politicians in question comprise the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, which was partly responsible for publishing the Online Harms White Paper last year. Among its aims was to stamp out ‘illegal and unacceptable content’. Since illegal content is already, erm, illegal, the clear aim of the paper was to propose censorship of the internet on a sub-legal level, with the state becoming the arbiter of what is acceptable speech.

Having been ignored by the new government, which has had a few more pressing matters to attend to in the intervening year, the DCMS has published another document titled Misinformation in the COVID-19 Infodemic. Unsurprisingly it draws its Orwellian inspiration from the WHO, which apparently coined the term ‘infodemic’ to see if it could somehow combine the coronavirus pandemic with a bit of good, old-fashioned thought policing.

“In February, the World Health Organisation warned that, alongside the outbreak of COVID-19, the world faced an ‘infodemic’, an unprecedented overabundance of information—both accurate and false—that prevented people from accessing authoritative, reliable guidance about the virus,” commences the summary of the new report.

“The infodemic has allowed for harmful misinformation, disinformation, scams and cybercrime to spread. False narratives have resulted in people harming themselves by resorting to dangerous hoax cures or forgoing medical treatment altogether. There have been attacks on frontline workers and critical national infrastructure as a result of alarmist conspiracy theories.”

The use of the phrase ‘overabundance of information’ implies the committee thinks information should be restricted above whatever arbitrary ceiling the state determines. All the talk of ‘people harming themselves’ is a fairly standard way of sugar-coating censorship and other authoritarian acts, on the grounds that ‘it’s for your own good’. The clear inference is that people are incapable of making rational decisions for themselves, so the state needs to do it for them.

“We are calling on the government to name the regulator now and get on with the ‘world-leading’ legislation on social media that we’ve long been promised,” said Julian Knight MP, Chair of the DCMS Committee and former Journalist, who should therefore know better. “The proliferation of dangerous claims about Covid-19 has been unstoppable.

“The leaders of social media companies have failed to tackle the infodemic of misinformation. Evidence that tech companies were able to benefit from the monetisation of false information and allowed others to do so is shocking. We need robust regulation to hold these companies to account. The coronavirus crisis has demonstrated that without due weight of the law, social media companies have no incentive to consider a duty of care to those who use their services.”

Knight’s claim to be shocked that tech companies profit from false information is totally disingenuous. Firms like Facebook, Google and Twitter profit from all content, good and bad. In his zeal to protect the UK population from itself, Knight also seems to have forgotten that communications watchdog Ofcom was recently given internet censorship powers anyway.

Extra-legal censorship is always about power, not harm reduction, although it frequently uses the latter as a smokescreen. The government that wants to protect us from false information about COVID-19 is the same one that had previously insisted face masks shouldn’t be worn, only to now make it a crime not to wear them. Now they’re claiming their judgment should supersede our own when it comes to access to information. Not only are they ill-qualified for the task, such a law would set back civil liberties in the UK by centuries.


2 comments

  1. Avatar James Lange 23/07/2020 @ 9:53 am

    Presumably, lies like “the UK sends 350 million pounds per week to the European Union. This money would go back to the NHS.” would have to be suppressed. Statement like “migrant are stealing British jobs” would be banned as would the Lisbon Treaty Conspiracy Theory.

    • Avatar Steven Jacks 28/08/2020 @ 3:37 am

      The vast array of limitations in freedom of speech and expression, namely the communist style law of hate speech, a.k.a. politcally correct speech has chilled conversation to a incredible degree where people fear their jobs and their freedom for merely telling the truth about the diabolical state our country is in.
      The UK government is beyond a shadow of a doubt the enemy of our country. We need to stop voting for mainstream parties or our country will die. When will we wake up?

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