On Monday the government published this Orwellian document entitled “Online Harms”:
Straight away in the description we get the first hint that this is an attempt to censor beyond what is currently deemed to be against the law:
…ranging from illegal activity and content to behaviours which are harmful but not necessarily illegal.
The most disturbing aspect of this white paper is the stated intention to tackle so-called “fake news” and “disinformation”. See the section titled:
Threats to our way of life
…1.24 Disinformation threatens these values and principles, and can threaten public safety, undermine national security, fracture community cohesion and reduce trust.
7.18 MHCLG and the Home Office also support and engage with third party organisations such as the Community Security Trust, Tell MAMA and Stop Hate UK, who have Trusted Flagger status with social media platforms to provide greater support to users to report experiences of hate crime online. We support the continued close cooperation of these organisations with government and social media platforms
So it seems that, far from actually “tackling” fake news and disinformation online, the government’s true intention is actually to ENCOURAGE it!
The mainstream media has been involved in a relentless push to discredit both the EU referendum result and also Donald Trump’s election to the US presidency. The recent vindication of Donald Trump’s campaign by the Mueller report does not appear to have done much at all to dampen this anti-democratic campaign. The language used in this campaign is noticeable in the executive summary of the Online Harms White Paper:
4. There is also a real danger that hostile actors use online disinformation to undermine our democratic values and principles. Social media platforms use algorithms which can lead to echo chambers or filter bubbles, where a user is presented with only one type of content instead of seeing a range of voices and opinions. This can promote disinformation by ensuring that users do not see rebuttals or other sources that may disagree and can also mean that users perceive a story to be far more widely believed than it really is.
Obviously, bias in the media has always existed, people reading the Guardian or watching BBC News programs have long been subjected to it for example. Far from endangering our “democratic values and principles”, the arrival of the internet and social media has enabled mainstream narratives to be challenged like never before, this is, in reality, a very healthy development for our democracy. Those with a vested interest in the status quo are now hastily trying to put a stop to the flowering of independent thought that the internet and social media has enabled. The greatest irony here is that the biggest echo chamber of the lot is the very parliament that has produced this “Online Harms” document!
The Orwellian language of the document is again seen in this point from the executive summary:
9. Many of our international partners are also developing new regulatory approaches to tackle online harms, but none has yet established a regulatory framework that tackles this range of online harms. The UK will be the first to do this, leading international efforts by setting a coherent, proportionate and effective approach that reflects our commitment to a free, open and secure internet.
A “free” and “open” internet is not the objective, clearly the objective is a heavily censored and controlled internet.
We are supposed to believe that organizations favoured by the government will diligently fact check fake news and report it, but we have consistently seen that the government favours left-leaning “fact-checking” organizations that subscribe to currently accepted wisdom on such subjects as immigration, climate change, and other controversial subjects. The whole point of a free press is to CHALLENGE those in power, not to slavishly support the status quo.
Any attempts to rid the internet of all disinformation are obviously doomed to fail, because of the sheer unprecedented volume of information that is now being shared. According to this article from the Telegraph, the sheer volume of information has already led to some fact-checking sites pulling out of Facebook’s fact-checking efforts:
However, we cannot be complacent because these proposed government measures will only need to partially suppress opinions that are outside currently accepted wisdom in order to entrench current narratives.
The sensible response to this explosion of information sharing is to allow it to flourish and allow people to make their own minds up about what is reliable and what is not. Over time the free market will produce solutions, the emergence of fact-checking websites is an example of such a healthy development, although so far at least they are tending to lean towards the current mainstream media narrative.
Note that the public is invited to contribute their opinions on the “Online Harms White Paper”, please participate by responding otherwise you will find the thought revolution that the internet is enabling will be stopped in its tracks:
This is an open public consultation. We particularly encourage responses from organisations, companies and others with relevant views, insights or evidence.
This consultation closes at 23:59, 1 July 2019.
Details of how to respond are available on this page:
From the Telegraph (2013), regarding the Tell MAMA organization:
The organization was supposed to lose its government funding but somehow never lost favour with our MPs, for reasons that escape me:
The intention to introduce a new era of unparalleled internet censorship was clearly stated in the Conservative 2017 manifesto.
Jacob Rees-Mogg is part of a group of MPs trying to bring legislation that will shut down online forums (citing rising Islamophobia etc). This is an even more disturbing proposal because it calls for prison sentences for administrators of online forums (rather than for the people actually committing crimes):