Censorship

The Government’s Growing List of Nonpersons Whom Internet Companies Are Required to Censor

There has been much discussion about the censorship implications of the Government’s Online Safety Bill. But Government censorship of the internet is already happening now, under existing legislation.

Since late April, the website of RT (Russia Today) has been blocked, as well as RT accounts on social media. Regardless of your views on RT, Ukraine or Russia, the way this censorship has been applied should disturb us all.

On April 27th the Russia (Sanctions) (EU Exit) (Amendment) (No. 9) Regulations 2022 were issued by the Foreign Secretary, Liz Truss. They came into effect on April 29th. The power to make these Regulations was granted by the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act 2018.

These new regulations place a requirement on Internet Service Providers to “take reasonable steps to prevent a user of the service in the United Kingdom from accessing, by means of that service, an internet service provided by a designated person”. In other words, they force our ISP’s to block websites run by designated persons.

They also place a requirement on social media companies to “take reasonable steps to prevent content that is generated directly on the service, or uploaded to or shared on the service, by a designated person being encountered by a user of the service in the United Kingdom”. In other words, they force social media companies to block the accounts of designated persons.

And who is a “designated person”? It is simply somebody designated by the Secretary of State as being on the Russia sanctions list.

Why I Fear This Censors’ Charter

I’ve written the cover story for the June issue of the Critic setting out my concerns about the Online Safety Bill. In essence, it’s a gold-embossed invitation to woke activists to censor the speech of their political opponents in the name of protecting vulnerable people from ‘harm’. Why a Conservative Government with an 80-seat majority is handing this weapon to its enemies is a mystery. Here is an extract:

The Bill will empower Ofcom, the broadcast regulator, to fine social media companies up to 10% of their global turnover if they fail to remove harmful content — and not just harmful to children, which is hard to argue with, but to adults as well.

What does the Government mean by ‘harmful’? The only definition the Bill offers is in clause 150, where it sets out the details of a new Harmful Communications Offence, punishable by up to two years in jail: “‘harm’ means psychological harm amounting to at least serious distress.”

But, confusingly, it won’t just be harmful content that meets this definition that the bill will force social media companies to remove. After all, this relates to a new criminal offence — and content that meets the threshold for prosecution under this new law will, by definition, be illegal. Notoriously, the Bill will also force social media companies to remove ‘legal but harmful’ content — and exactly what that is, is anyone’s guess. I’m sure political activists and lobby groups claiming to speak on behalf of various victim groups will have a lot to say about it.

The bottom line is that stuff it is perfectly legal to say and write offline will be prohibited online. And not just mildly prohibited — YouTube or Twitter or Facebook could be fined of up to 10 per cent of their annual global turnover for a transgression — so in Facebook’s case $11.7 billion, based on its 2021 revenue.

That’s a powerful incentive for social media companies to remove anything remotely contentious — and they hardly need much encouragement. Facebook deleted 26.9 million pieces of content for violating its Community Standards on ‘hate speech’ in the first quarter of 2020, 17 times as many as the 1.6 million instances of deleted ‘hate speech’ in the last quarter of 2017.

More than 97% of Facebook’s purged ‘hate speech’ in the last three months of 2020 was identified by an algorithm and removed automatically. It’s a safe bet that the sensitivity dials on the algorithms social media companies use to censor questionable content will be turned up to 11 if this Bill ever becomes law.

Worth reading in full.

If you’re concerned about this Bill, please sign this petition and write to your MP.

HSBC Rival Backs Free Speech After Suspension of Banker Over Criticism of Climate Change Activism

The head of one of HSBC’s biggest rivals defended free speech after HSBC suspended a senior banker for criticising the hysterical tone of the climate debate. The Telegraph has the story.

Bill Winters, Chief Executive of the FTSE 100 bank Standard Chartered, warned that “it’s increasingly difficult to speak out against anything” following the backlash against Stuart Kirk, HSBC’s head of responsible investing.

Mr Kirk was suspended by HSBC on Sunday after he took aim at climate activists and said “who cares if Miami is six metres underwater in 100 years?”.

Speaking to the Telegraph in Davos, Mr. Winters said that people “should speak their mind” and hinted that he would not have suspended Mr. Kirk, calling the presentation “very colourful”.

He added: “Do I agree with the views? No. Do I encourage free speech? Yes.” 

It comes amid a wider push to reconsider fossil fuel investment in light of the energy crisis sparked by Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

In Britain, ministers are pressing oil and gas companies to invest in new projects in the North Sea just months after the COP26 climate change conference.

The Chief Executive of Saudi Arabia business Aramco, the world’s biggest oil producer, said on Monday that more drilling is vital to prevent energy shortages…

There are wider concerns in the City that a fad for ‘ethical’ investment is shutting down debate.

Accenture’s Europe boss Jean-Marc Ollagnier said that he would not suspend an employee if they gave views in a personal capacity, adding it is “not our job to judge” employees’ views.

In December, the head of outsourcer Serco compared ethical investors to “people who eat sausages, but don’t want to know how they are made” and warned that a reluctance to back defence companies was putting national security at risk…

Human rights activists also accused HSBC of hypocrisy for preventing discussion of climate change while refusing to condemn a brutal crackdown on dissent in Hong Kong, where it makes most of its money.

Worth reading in full.

Teenager is Forced Out of Her Private School by Mob Who Attacked Her for Questioning Trans Ideology as School Refused to Back Her

A sixth form pupil who was forced out of her private school after challenging the ‘trans ideology’ of a visiting speaker has spoken publicly about her ordeal for the first time, thanking J.K. Rowling for her support after other pupils “made me think I was mad”. MailOnline has more.

The 18-year-old teenager was treated “like a heretic” for questioning a female member of the House of Lords’ arguments during a PSHE talk about transphobia in Parliament, one of her teachers said.

The pair parted amicably, but when she returned to the sixth form she was surrounded by up to 60 girls who screamed, swore and spat at her, leading to her being unable to breathe properly and collapsing, it was claimed. 

On Tuesday, J.K. Rowling waded into the row, tweeting: “Utterly shameful. Add this to the tottering pile of evidence that people in education and academia who’re supposed to have a duty of care towards the young have succumbed to an outbreak of quasi-religious fanaticism. The girl’s crime? Saying ‘sex exists’.”

Following support from the author, the teenager told the Times that she is grateful the “important” issue is being discussed, but fears the “sensationalisation” created by Ms. Rowling’s input. 

The student told the paper that she has been mischaracterised online as “expressing ingrained prejudice” but was questioning the baroness in a “measured” way.

“It made me think I was mad. Otherwise how could people turn on me so bitterly?,” she said. 

The student said that during the question and answer session, the baroness “was implying critical theory took precedence over biological reality in defining women”. She said that on questioning the baroness, she was told that “trans people don’t have basic human rights” in Britain. After the session, the student said she apologised to the baroness if she came across as ‘rude’ in her questioning. 

Teachers supported the teenager at first but abandoned her after other pupils accused her of transphobia, according to the report. She returned to school on several occasions but was told she would be sent to work in the library if she said anything provocative in lessons, and was repeatedly bullied. She eventually left in September before completing her A-Levels, which she is now studying for at home.

A teacher at the school told the website Transgender Trend: “We know how these views are being silenced in the adult world through high-profile legal cases and the bullying of celebrities such as J.K. Rowling. This is also happening in schools.”

Worth reading in full.

The Climate Thought Police Have Conveniently Forgotten the Lesson of Climategate

Slowly and surely the forces of climate science misinformation reach out from their academic bases to throttle debate and proscribe off-message reporting. Leading the way recently was the University of Exeter, where an Associate Professor of Geography found a “distinct problem” in pictures being published of blue seas and people on the beach during a summer heatwave while the climate is breaking down. Over in the Politics Department, another associate professor is investigating how computers can be used to help track down climate change wrongthink.

Writing in the Guardian, Associate Professor Saffron O’Neill complained that ‘fun in the sun’ photos were a dangerous distraction from the reality of climate breakdown. Such images, she said, “can hold the same power” as photos of the tanks in Tiananmen Square, and smoke billowing from the twin towers. Writing on the climate science site Watts Up With That?, Eric Worrall said his first thought was “someone should check for fungus growing in the University of Exeter water supply”. But seriously, he continued, “imagine what a locked down medieval dystopia we would all endure if these killjoys were fully in charge”. 

O’Neill’s paper of course assumes that climate breakdown is leading to hotter and more frequent heatwaves. “Not everyone is having fun during heatwaves superpowered by climate breakdown – for vulnerable people they can be deadly,” she says.

How Disagreement Became ‘Misinformation’

Barton Swaim, an editorial page writer for the Wall St Journal, has written a brilliant piece about how censorship has become fashionable among America’s educated elites – and not just America’s – under the guise of ‘protecting’ democracy from ‘misinformation’. What’s particularly good about Swaim’s piece is that he links the mistaken belief that ‘data’ and ‘facts’ can drive complicated policy decisions with the avoidance of difficult decisions during the pandemic, with politicians outsourcing difficult decisions to ‘experts’. Here is an extract:

A quarter-century ago the word ‘censorship’ was almost a profanity in American politics. By the mid-2010s it was permitted, even praised, so long as it targeted heterodox thought. Speakers on college campuses were shouted down without a word of protest from people who in the 1980s had defended the public funding of sacrilegious photographs. Commentators in mainstream journals of opinion advocated the reinstatement of the Fairness Doctrine, which required broadcasters to present both sides of controversial issues and had the effect of chilling debate on every contentious question. A large number of respected academics and intellectuals suddenly believed the U.S. government had a duty to stop people from saying things those same academics and intellectuals held to be factually inaccurate.

Sceptics mostly attribute this new support for censorship to bad faith. I prefer a more charitable explanation. The new censors sincerely mistake their own interpretations of the facts for the facts themselves. Their opinions, filtered unconsciously through biases and experience, are, to them, simply information. Their views aren’t ‘views’ at all but raw data. Competing interpretations of the facts can be only one thing: misinformation. Or, if it’s deliberate, disinformation.

It is in many ways a strange outcome. From the 1970s to the early 2000s, academic philosophies associated with ‘postmodernism’ coursed through American higher education. They held that there was no objectively knowable truth, only subjective interpretation. As if to demonstrate postmodernism’s total impracticality, yesterday’s straight-A college students have now retreated into a risibly facile non-philosophy in which there is no interpretation, only objective ‘fact’.

Such was the mental disposition of America’s enlightened politicos and media sophisticates when the pandemic hit in early 2020. The challenge of public policy, as they saw it, was not to find practical, broadly acceptable solutions. The challenge, rather, was to find and implement the scientifically ‘correct’ solution, the one endorsed by experts. Sound policy, for them, was a matter of gathering enough data and ‘following’ it.

But of course you can’t follow data. Data just sits there and waits to be interpreted.

When COVID-19 came ashore, the country’s political class, in thrall to the authority of public-health experts and the journalists who listen to them, was singularly ill-equipped to lead in a sensible way. What the pandemic required was not the gathering and mastery of information and the quick implementation of ‘data driven’ policy. The data was wildly elusive, changing shape from day to day and yielding no obvious interpretation. No one understood the spread of this astoundingly resilient virus, least of all the experts confidently purporting to understand it. There was, in fact, no clinically correct response.

The situation called for the acknowledgment of risk, the weighing of costs against benefits, the clear declaration of reasonable compromises between competing interests. What happened was an exercise in societal self-ruin – in the U.S. and elsewhere in the developed world. Politicians, especially those most inclined to see themselves as objective, pro-science data-followers, ducked accountability and deferred to experts who pretended to have empirically proven answers to every question put to them. They gave us a series of policies – business shutdowns, school closures, mask mandates – that achieved at best minor slowdowns in the disease’s spread at the cost of tremendous economic destruction and social embitterment.

Worth reading in full.

U.S. and U.K. Among 60 Countries to Sign Declaration that Commits to Censoring “Misinformation” and “Harmful” Speech

The United States and 60 other countries, including the U.K., Canada, Australia and EU member states, have signed a sweeping “Declaration for the Future of the Internet” which commits to bolstering “resilience to disinformation and misinformation” and somehow upholding free speech rights while also censoring “harmful” content. Reclaim the Net has more.

The White House framed the declaration as something that supports freedom and privacy by focusing on its commitments to protect human rights, the free flow of information, and privacy. The EU put out similar talking points and claimed that those who signed the declaration support a future internet that’s open, free, global, interoperable, reliable, and secure.

However, the commitments in the declaration are vague and often conflicting. For example, the declaration makes multiple commitments to upholding freedom of expression yet also commits to bolstering “resilience to disinformation and misinformation”. It also contains the seemingly contradictory commitment of ensuring “the right to freedom of expression” is protected when governments and platforms censor content that they deem to be harmful.

Furthermore, many of the governments that signed this declaration are currently pushing sweeping online censorship laws or openly supporting online censorship.

For example, just a few days ago, the Biden administration called for private companies to censor online “misinformation” – the latest of many similar calls. The EU also recently passed its Digital Services Act (DSA) which contains requirements to censor “hate speech” and “misinformation.”

Some government officials, including Canadian Minister of Innovation, Science, and Industry François-Philippe Champagne and UK Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport (DCMS) Secretary of State Nadine Dorries, even mentioned their country’s online censorship laws during the live launch of this Declaration for the Future of the Internet.

The new Orwellian definition of ‘free speech’, which involves censorship of ‘misinformation’ – defined as anything that disagrees with the Government – and ‘hate speech’ – defined as anything not deemed sufficiently woke – is gaining ground. The ‘Conservative’ Party in the U.K. seems blissfully unaware that conservative ideas are precisely what the ‘progressives’ pushing this agenda want to censor, and already are.

Worth reading in full.

Microsoft Word Censors Politically Incorrect Language

An ‘inclusive language tool’ launched by Microsoft has been criticised for advising writers to type “assigned female at birth”, instead of “biologically female”. The Telegraph has more.

Critics say it amounts to censorship of an individual’s writing and makes a mockery of language, flying in the face of the biological and linguistic meaning of the word “woman” or “female”.

It comes after the Telegraph reported that Google has also started telling users not to use particular words because they are not inclusive enough.

The online giant is rolling out an “inclusive language” function that prompts authors to avoid using certain words and suggests more acceptable replacements.

Microsoft Word has introduced a similar tool, prompting users of the editing function to avoid certain words. Users can opt in or out of the function.

As well as advising people to steer clear of the term “biologically female”, it urges them to change phrases such as Postman Pat to “Postal Worker Pat”, as the former “may imply gender bias”.

It also recommends amending Mrs. to Ms., including changing “Mrs. Thatcher” to “Ms. Thatcher”. In addition, it proposes that users change the word “mankind” in Neil Armstrong’s famous phrase “one giant leap for mankind” to “humankind” or “humanity”.

Critics have objected in particular to the biological definition of a woman being flagged as potentially offensive.

Helen Staniland, a software developer and feminist activist, told the Telegraph: “Microsoft appears to be trying to influence how people discuss social issues, but not really know or understand what they are suggesting.

“What do they mean by gender bias? Why are they suggesting that the perfectly descriptive phrase ‘biologically female’ might imply a gender bias? Why would they presume that ‘assigned female at birth’ might be better?

“It seems that they are trying to jump on the bandwagon of attempting to prevent discussion of ‘biological females’, but their suggestions don’t help them.”

Worth reading in full.

How the Medical Establishment Covers Up the Harms of Adding Fluoride to Drinking Water

We’re publishing today a piece by Robert Carnaghan, in which he challenges the received wisdom that adding fluoride to drinking water to protect teeth is safe and effective. In fact, he says, there is no robust evidence it is effective, and plenty of evidence it is harmful – but all of this is suppressed by a medical and scientific establishment that is in up to its neck defending claims that don’t withstand scrutiny.

Here’s the introduction:

The addition of a fluoride, such as hexafluorosilicic acid or disodium hexafluorosilicate, to public water supplies has been recommended in a joint statement by the four Chief Medical Officers of the U.K. The Government’s Health and Care Bill, which has reached its final stages in Parliament, includes a small section to facilitate water fluoridation, which is now expected to be spread throughout the U.K.

Although water is already fluoridated in a few parts of the U.K. (mainly Birmingham), for nearly forty years no new schemes have been implemented since local opposition has managed to defeat them all. The Government is now determined to impose its wishes.

A recent press release said that “higher levels of fluoride are associated with improved dental health outcomes”, and that the “Health and Care Bill will cut bureaucracy and make it simpler to expand water fluoridation schemes”. The Bill’s explanatory notes state: “Research shows that water fluoridation is an effective public health intervention to improve oral health for both children and adults and reduces oral health inequalities.”

For about 70 years it has been claimed that fluoridation reduces dental decay, and that it is safe. Although there is abundant evidence showing that in fact it is neither effective nor safe, the proponents of fluoridation have long had the advantage of far greater funding than that available to sceptics.

Trials of fluoridation started in 1945 in the U.S. and Canada but, before any had been completed, and without any comprehensive health studies, fluoridation was endorsed as safe and effective by the U.S. Public Health Service. The American Dental and Medical Associations soon added their approval, as later did their equivalents in the U.K.

The original trials were studied by Dr. Philip Sutton in Australia who graduated with honours in Dental Science. Asked to examine them, he found they were of low quality, full of errors and omissions.

In Austria, Rudolf Ziegelbecker also studied the original fluoridation trials and found they did not show what had been claimed. Professor Erich Naumann, Director of the German Federal Health Office, said of him: “Your results have been accepted everywhere in Germany with the greatest interest and have increased the grave doubts against drinking water fluoridation.” Prof. Naumann added: “It is regrettable that the existing data on water fluoridation had not been examined earlier using mathematical-statistical methods. Otherwise the myth of drinking water fluoridation would have already dissolved into air long ago.”

Worth reading in full.

The Climate Change Paper Cancelled by The British Hydrological Society

We’re publishing today an article by James Dent, a retired hydrologist and meteorologist. In a long career, Mr. Dent worked in many parts of the world, specialising in floods and droughts. For a time, he was the World Meteorology Organisation Chief Technical Advisor to the Flood Forecasting and Warning Centre in Bangladesh. The article was initially published in the British Hydrological Society journal Circulation, but was quickly withdrawn.

Here’s an excerpt:

Like the predictions of the progress of Covid, we need to ask what the limitations are to modelling. Too easily the model output is given the status of truth, and quickly becomes unchallengeable. Climate change predictions have been commonplace for at least 25 years, but I recently read an agricultural journalist state that in the future, farmers will have to cope with hotter, drier summers, and warmer, wetter winters, and there will be more extreme events. The message has remained the same, so have we not yet reached the predicted future? It becomes easy to summarise complicated ideas into sound bites.

Over the last 15 years, I have resigned from two national institutions which have incorporated climate change hypotheses into rigid policy statements. This situation could so easily escalate to the dystopian future depicted in the recently published novel The Denial by Ross Clark. Like all the ramifications and issues relating to Covid, the danger comes when theoretical projections provide the basis of legislation, or define the stance of particular organisations, while the media presentations rely on throw-away lines and virtue-signalling in reporting.

I can see similar dangers arising from so-called ‘environmental’ policies, such as ceasing river dredging and weed clearance, ‘rewilding’ and abandoning land and road drainage maintenance. Ultimately we could find ourselves regressing to medieval conditions, where roads and marshy areas become impassable in the winter months.

British Hydrological Society (BHS) President Hayley Fowler, Professor of Climate Change Impacts at Newcastle University, subsequently explained that the paper was “a personal view from one of our membership that climate change was not a real phenomenon”.  She went on to say: “We do not think it is appropriate to provide them with a forum under the BHS logo.” She further noted that the “climate sceptic” viewpoint  did not represent good scholarship in science and we “will be reviewing our governance procedures to make sure that members voices can still be heard, but through the lens of good science”.