by Chauncey Tinker, 22 May 2017
Reading the Tory general election manifesto will be a shocking experience for anyone who values the liberty that our ancestors fought and died for over centuries.
The good news is that the proposed plans to censor the internet are quite daft and practically unachievable. Of course in Erdogan’s Turkey, or the People’s Republic of China they WOULD be achievable, but the UK is still a very different country than those authoritarian states, at least for now. There will be much opposition in parliament and beyond as the reality of what is being proposed here starts to sink in. Search engine and social media companies in particular will not be able to operate in the UK if these proposals are implemented literally. Result? They will simply move elsewhere. Ironically one of the manifesto aims is to promote the digital economy.
The bad news is that a very great deal of time and energy is going to be wasted over the coming years pointing these realities out to our idiot leaders.
The Orwellian manifesto contains many vague subjective phrases such as “hate speech”, “other sources of harm”, “extremism”. Nowhere is any attempt made to define these phrases – in other words this is effectively a carte blanche manifesto for unrestricted censorship of the internet. Note that the intention is not for the government to do the censorship directly, but rather that the government will force the search engine and social media companies to do the censorship for them by suppressing content.
Extract from a section entitled “The safest place to be online” on page 79:
We will put a responsibility on industry not to direct users – even unintentionally – to hate speech, pornography, or other sources of harm. We will make clear the responsibility of platforms to enable the reporting of inappropriate, bullying, harmful or illegal content, with take-down on a comply-or-explain basis.
OK lets spend a couple of minutes thinking about the logical implications of these two sentences. The Tory party clearly couldn’t be bothered to do this so we must do their work for them.
By “industry” we assume that this means search engine companies such as Google. In order to ensure that their users are not even UNINTENTIONALLY directed to content that might constitute either “hate speech” or possibly be a “source of harm”, such companies will have to check ALL material BEFORE they link to it AND make a decision about each and every statement/video/picture at these sites. They wouldn’t have the time to do this for very many sites, clearly. Consequently in order to avoid UNINTENTIONALLY directing someone to the wrong sort of thing in fact search engines would have to refrain from linking to most sites by default.
A search engine such as Google simply could no longer even work in the way it currently does. Instead of the millions of results that many searches currently return, we might perhaps expect to see a handful of mainstream sources that had been checked and considered safe instead.
The current mainstream media will be pleased by this proposal, because non-mainstream sources will simply not appear in search engine results even when they are perfectly harmless. Search engines will not be able to check the huge number of non-mainstream sources that currently exist on the internet. Even if they had time to check the content that non-mainstream sources currently contain, they would have no way of checking every single NEW article/video etc. as it was published.
Blogging companies such as WordPress will simply not be able to operate in the UK any more because there would be no way for anybody to find their way to blogs with content they were interested in. As usual with so many government policies, the winners would be the big established players – you know the ones that publish fake news and lie by omission. The door would be slammed on the truth-telling competition. You have to wonder if powerful lobbying interests are manipulating our idiot leaders sometimes don’t you.
Note carefully the phrase “harmful OR illegal content”, which implies that these companies will be under pressure not to direct users even to some LEGAL content. Think about that, think about that very carefully. LEGAL content is to be effectively suppressed. Of course exactly which LEGAL content the manifesto might be talking about is completely unclear.
We will also create a power in law for government to introduce an industry-wide levy from social media companies and communication service providers to support awareness and preventative activity to counter internet harms, just as is already the case with the gambling industry.
You can tell that the government thinks that social media companies are limited to just a handful of well known brands like Facebook, Twitter and Google. There are a lot of other types of social media however, in fact almost every single website (including this one) is a place where ideas are shared and information exchanged. We are open to the public. In a sense we are a type of social media company, albeit on a very small scale. Will we be taxed as well?
Note the attempt to legitimize this proposal with the phrase “as is already the case with the gambling industry”. Of course these proposals are completely different from legislation that is in place in the gambling industry, and the two industries are completely different industries as well.
Imagine a new search engine startup emerges outside the UK. How will this be regulated by the UK government? How will the government prevent people accessing this search engine and finding whatever content they like through it? For these proposals to be practically effective the government will have to stop people in the UK accessing such sites outside the UK altogether. Erdogan’s Turkey, or the People’s Republic of China might be the sort of models that Theresa May had in mind I suppose. What a step forward eh, “Forward Together” to what exactly Theresa, a dictatorship? (“Forward Together” is the manifesto slogan/title).
and to provide support for civil society organizations to promote alternative and counter-narratives.
May intends not just to force social media companies to censor, but also to guide our thoughts by supporting (with your taxes) “civil society organizations” that will “promote alternative and counter-narratives”, i.e. tell us what we should think. Will these “civil society organizations” include ones that are also funded by George Soros I wonder?
The “fake news” narrative is a transparent attempt by established media players to silence the new threat to their dominance that is posed by alternative media. Is May really oblivious to this reality, or does she see an opportunity to silence her critics here?
Consider these quotes from the section titled “A free media” on page 80:
At a time when the internet is changing the way people obtain their news, we also need to take steps to protect the reliability and objectivity of information that is essential to our democracy and a free and independent press.
How in the name of all that’s sensible are you going to “protect the reliability and objectivity” of information? This is a quite breathtakingly stupid and unachievable objective. How are you going to “protect” the “reliability and objectivity” of the “free media” without INTERFERING with the operation of that same media?
Continuing in the “free media” section on page 80:
We will ensure content creators are appropriately rewarded for the content they make available online. We will be consistent in our approach to regulation of online and offline media.
Oh really, this sounds wonderful doesn’t it? So this very article that is very critical of your manifesto is going to be “appropriately rewarded” is it? Don’t make me laugh. What you are going to do is try to make it impossible for anybody online to FIND this content – you have made this quite clear as I pointed out above in the section about search engines.
The references to extremism are predictably just as vague as they have been in May’s previous speeches and policy proposals. She clearly has not heeded a single word that has been said against her previous proposals – even the criticisms levelled at her draft counter extremism bill from a parliamentary joint select committee. People should especially note this statement in the manifesto:
We will consider what new criminal offences might need to be created, and what new aggravated offences might need to be established, to defeat the extremists.
We don’t need any new criminal offences to be created, there are already laws against incitement to violence, and all forms of violence and threatening behaviour, which are very often not enforced. What is needed is for governments to ACT on the existing long established laws, and to do so FAIRLY, not create any more laws.
If anyone still is in doubt about what May intends with regard to “combating extremism”, then please read this:
“Extremist Banning and Disruption Orders”
“The safest place to be online” – or nanny statism gone stark raving mad?
To even partially achieve the plan, the UK would have to cut the UK’s internet off from the rest of the world, or else create a giant state censorship apparatus that monitors the whole world and blocks new search engines that start up elsewhere in the world. Kind of like what they do in Turkey and China. Progress indeed.
What do you think? Would you prefer Nanny May thinks for you? Please leave a comment below.