Online Harms Roadmap To Censorship
"Online harms" is a loosely defined catch all term being used to seize control of what was an Internet free market of ideas. Recently the UK State announced it will not adopt Article 13 (or rather Article 17) of the EU's draconian Copyright Directive. This was welcomed by some. However, the UK State has its own plans to censor the Internet in the forms of its proposed Online Harms legislation (OHL).
In any event it wasn't much of a consultation. The questions were very carefully constructed to make voicing concerns about freedom of speech extremely difficult. You needed to get creative with your responses in order to do so. This was no accident. The proposed OHL is based upon some outright dictatorial assumptions and, in its Initial Consultation Response, the State make it quite clear it doesn't care what people think about the risks to freedom of speech.
For those who refused to be constricted by the tightly framed questions in the consultation, the State reports:
"A notable number of individual respondents to the written consultation disagreed with the overall proposals set out in the White Paper. Those respondents often seemed not to engage with the substance of questions on the specific proposals, but instead reiterated a general disagreement with the overall approach.....which seemed to attract a relatively large amount of confusion in responses. For these respondents, it was therefore difficult to delineate between an objection to the overall regime and an objection to the specific proposal within the question."
If you didn't think the State should regulate the internet at all and are opposed to them seizing control of what was hitherto a free and open public square, you are confused. Alas, despite the fact that 84% of the people who responded were ordinary members of the public, many expressing their objection to the basic premise that the State has the right to regulate the Internet, the State thinks they're just stupid people who don't understand the risks of Online Harms.
In fact we might ask if the State understands what the risks of Online Harms are. Its proposed legislation isn't based upon anything but its own research and so far it hasn't defined what "harm" actually means. It talks a lot about "illegal" and "not illegal" content but it hasn't defined those terms either. These key definitions are entirely absent from the White Paper and remain conspicuously elusive in the State's response to its meaningless consultation with people whose opinions it's not interested in.
Not that this was pointless exercise for the State. It has quite clearly learned much from it. Most notably how to hide its intent with more aplomb. Although it is still abundantly clear what that intent is, if you care to look.
Using Child Abuse As An Excuse For Censorship
Indeed it does. Straight towards mass censorship of the Internet.
The State has gone to considerable lengths to cover up this trajectory with faux concerns about child welfare and terrorism. We'll get to terrorism in a moment.
Obviously the public understand the need to protect children online. A discussion about how best to achieve this is warranted. However, while the proposed OHL offers various strategies to make the Internet safer for children and vulnerable adults, none will be anywhere near as effective as properly funded law enforcement, empowered to actually arrest and prosecute paedophiles and abusers, no matter who they are. A judicial system that doesn't let paedophiles off with fines but rather imprisons them, and keeps them there,would be quite handy too.
No such measures are suggested by the UK State. Instead its focus is upon its proposed OHL which, coincidentally, also means censorship. The State suggests that age assurance, and age verification technologies should be used to keep children safe online. This will require Internet users to prove their identity before "logging on." Trusting the tech giants with the kind of verified data that opens bank accounts. What could possibly go wrong?
No doubt identity cards will be useful here. So there should be no problem when you have to show your papers.
Tech UK, a trade organisation for the UK technology industry, are among many who have expressed significant concerns about this proposal. They report:
"It is unclear......how it could impact the commitment for Government not to restrict adults’ ability to view, share and post legal content. The proposal to rely on age assurance and age verification technology is a worrying development"
Tech UK have assumed the State is serious about protecting children. It isn't, but it is serious about censorship, which is why it is firmly proposing everyone needs to be "verified" before they can use the Internet. Access that will undoubtedly be withheld for the wrong people who say the wrong things. So it is with relief that we learn the State and its intelligence agencies are working hard on the verification system:
"Work is already underway with the VoCO (Verification of Children Online) project, a cross-sector research initiative undertaken in partnership between DCMS, HO and GCHQ, exploring the concept of age assurance as a risk-based approach to recognising child users online."
It would be good to know more about the VoCO project. Unfortunately, there is no mention of it at all on the UK State's information portal. It seems, in order for us to "verify" Internet users, the "project" creating that mechanism must be completely hidden from public scrutiny. It is reassuring to note the focus on transparency in the State's response to the consultation.
The terrifying scale of the child grooming gangs, the prolific abuse of children in the care system, the destruction of police officers careers (if they are ever brave enough to investigate prominent paedophiles or establishment paedophile rings) the incarceration of survivors who make allegations, the perpetual disappearance of all the evidence from State custody and the sexualisation of children through the education system, are all taking place in a parallel universe of which the State has no knowledge whatsoever. As far as it is concerned it's doing an excellent job protecting children. It just needs to do more, which means censorship.
The survivors of the previous generation's horrific, widespread abuse are currently enduring the farce that is the State's ludicrously named Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA). An inquiry whose own terms of reference make it completely incapable of adding anything to the fight to stop the rampant paedophilia infesting every corner of the UK, at every level of society.
With IICSA the State once again decided that it was only looking at failures and mistakes. While these are important considerations, it seems clear that it is unwilling to find and prosecute the scoria responsible for these heinous crimes. In fact, it appears to go to some lengths to protect them:
"All personal and sensitive information will be appropriately protected; and will be made available only to those who need to see it.......It is not part of the Inquiry’s function to determine civil or criminal liability of named individuals or organisations."
Even identified failings have overlooked some obvious institutional commonalities found deeply embedded in nearly all of the supposed mistakes. This doesn't appear to be a genuine inquiry at all. It looks far more like a whitewash. To imagine that the State is capable, or even willing, to tackle child abuse is absurd. That it is now using it to justify the roll out its censorship grid is nauseating.
The Terrorism Canard
The State has a long and well documented history of working with terrorists. Entire communities of terrorists have been housed in the UK by the State. The al Qaeda affiliated LIFG community in the UK, among whom the alleged Manchester Arena bomber grew up, being one of many such "settled" diaspora. If it is so concerned about UK terrorists maybe it should stop housing them here?
Oddly enough, despite all the ad-hoc commercial censorship and de-platforming going on at the moment, terrorist groups like al Qaeda have no problem at all in spreading their propaganda. Often the MSM do this for them, calling them rebels or freedom fighters. Whereas, people who question official narratives about terrorist attacks quickly find themselves de-platformed and their accounts blocked. It seems questioning terrorism and terrorist events is verboten. Promoting them isn't.
There is no evidence at all that terrorists emerge because they use the Internet. If it were the case then we should have seen a rise in the number of terrorists in the West during the Internet age. Not the broad decline we have actually experienced. The former U.N. Special Rapporteur Ben Emmerson issued a report to the U.N. in which he said:
"There is no authoritative statistical data on the pathways towards individual radicalisation.”
The most complete scientific review of the research literature into radicalisation was carried out by a team at Deakin University. Given their findings it is clear the State isn't really interested in evidence.
Widespread censorship means dictatorship. It's a simple as that. Freedom of speech and expression are indivisible from democracy, without one you cannot have the other. If the State is aiming to censor free speech, which it is, then it is building a dictatorship. There's no escaping that fact.
There is no widespread clamour from the public to regulate the Internet, despite the claims of the mainstream media (MSM). The vast majority of the UK public have no idea what is coming.
The so called scourge of "Fake News" is most pronounced within the MSM. They frequently pump out fake stories and even make entire fake documentaries. These are always designed to meet a political agenda because, first and foremost, the MSM serve the State and its owners. If they ever stray off the path the State orders them to desist. The MSM are fully onboard with the censorship grid because it is all about protecting their business model from the ravages of the free market.
However, we have seen a lot of de-platforming and limitation of free speech, by the social media giants, mainly in response to mounting State pressure. As private companies they are entitled to do so if they wish, just as users, in a free market, can migrate to other platforms if they don't like the censorship. Presently, alternatives remain possible. Despite rigging search results, the independent media is just about surviving in this waning free market.
The proposed OHL is designed to ensure it doesn't. For the State to pretend it values the plurality of a free and independent media is risible.
In its response the State tells us that the scope of OHL will be as follows:
"The ‘duty of care’ will only apply to companies that facilitate the sharing of user generated content, for example through comments, forums or video sharing."
This encompasses all social media platforms, so switching over to those trying to protect free speech won't work. All will be regulated. By including every website who has a comment section, or any operating forums, nearly every independent media site, blog and those individuals who make comments, are targeted for online exclusion.
The State makes it clear that it intends to seize control of every online space where people exchange information and ideas. If the State doesn't like those ideas it will switch off their access:
"The White Paper set out that the regulator will have an escalating range of powers to take enforcement action against companies that fail to fulfil their duty of care - including notices and warnings, fines, business disruption measures, but also senior manager liability, and Internet Service Provider (ISP) blocking in the most egregious cases."
What we read in the Initial Consultation Response is a never ending stream of dictatorial assumptions:
"We will make sure the benefits of technology are spread more widely and shared more fairly."
"It is essential that we get the balance right between a thriving, open and vibrant virtual world, and one in which users are protected from harm."
"We are continuing to work at pace to ensure the right regulatory regime and legislation is in place."
Prompting the question, who is this "we?" The Tories said they would pass this legislation in their manifesto and just over 29% of the population voted for them. Meaning nearly 71% didn't. This is the consequence of living in a so called representative democracy, which is nothing like real democracy. The chosen few rule the many and claim the authority to spew out this kind of dictatorial aberration. While we persist with the delusion that this is a democratic choice, nothing will ever change.
Nothing Has Changed
There are natural limits on freedom of speech and expression, perhaps best encapsulated by the definition of legitimate harm within John Stuart Mill's harm principle. These natural limits arise when speech directly causes real physical harm, by purposefully inciting violence for example.
Instead the State offers us some sort of woolly concept of "harm" Quite clearly designed to mean whatever it wants it to mean and to be defined on a case by case basis, as the State sees fit.
To illustrate this ambiguity we are told it has made great effort to protect freedom of speech and expression. Seeing as this is our birth right, united and annexed, there would be no need to protect it if the State wasn't intending to ignore it. Rather than openly admit its censorship agenda it says:
"Regulation will establish differentiated expectations on companies for illegal content and activity, versus conduct that is not illegal but has the potential to cause harm."
The Online Harms White Paper was very much concerned with OHL to tackle online disinformation. When the confused people told the State they didn't like its excuse of disinformation to justify censorship, the State quickly cottoned on and dropped the word but not the intent. Rather, we have a new term "not illegal." Following the State's consultation with the public, nothing has changed.
In its evasive, word salad response "disinformation" gets scant mention. We learn the State, based upon the recommendations within the Cairncross Review, intends to get at our children and teach them what it calls "media literacy." The State will educate our children:
"[to] think critically about the things they come across online (disinformation, catfishing etc), and how the terms of service and moderating processes can be used to report harmful content."
While its creates its Komsomol, it is clear "disinformation" or rather "not illegal" content causes harm as far as the State is concerned. Seeing the Cairncross Review is key, we need to look to that to understand the State's intention:
"Online platforms should be encouraged not only to downgrade or remove disinformation, but also to prioritise or give prominence to high-quality news."
"High quality news" is the never ending stream of propaganda, fake news and terrorist sympathy emanating from the MSM. Always carefully ensuring they never question power to any significant extent, save in the most frivolous, headline grabbing manner.
This is the real priority of the the State. It couldn't care less about the welfare of children, as IICSA demonstrates, nor tackling the terrorists it supports. All the flimflam about protecting vulnerable people, especially children, is precisely that. What it intends to do, as it always does, is silence all criticism of State policies, decisions and actions and strengthen its propaganda machine.
At this stage, we can only assume that "not illegal" means disinformation. Though caution is advisable because we don't know what "legal content" is either. As the OHL comes into force let's hope the State defines it. It's not looking too promising. Cairncross defined disinformation as follows:
"The term “fake news” is used in this Review as shorthand for both ‘disinformation’ and ‘misinformation’. Disinformation is the deliberate creation or dissemination of false and/or manipulated information that is intended to deceive and mislead audiences, either for the purposes of causing harm, or for political, personal or financial gain. Misinformation is the inadvertent spread of false information."
Inspired by this vagary, we haven't got a clue what "causing harm" means, the State gets a bit more specific in its consultation response:
"The government expects companies to take action now to tackle harmful content or activity on their services. For those harms where there is a risk to national security."*
So it seems harmful content is anything the State judges to be a risk to "national security." We can narrow this down further because the State has already given some examples in the White Paper regarding what it considers to be a threat to national security.
"After the attempted murder of Sergei and Yulia Skripal in Salisbury in March 2018, the Russian State led a concerted disinformation campaign to distract from their culpability. This included the use of state media and covert social media accounts to sow over 40 different narratives as to what happened."
As usual, there is no evidence at all of this large scale Russian disinformation campaign. It appears to be just another State excuse for censorship. Questioning the State's infantile fairy tale, that is its official account of the Skripal incident, is precisely the kind of evidence based inquiry it intends to censor off the Internet.
Whether you agree with challenging State narratives or not, only the alternative media, with extremely rare but welcome exceptions, are doing so. A cottage news industry which has grown because the MSM don't question power. One that has been making its own way in a free market of ideas and content.
You may think everything the State tells you is true, are able to ignore all the evidence to the contrary, and believe that it really cares about protecting children and tackling terrorism. However, that won't stop the State censoring you if and when you ever decide to question it. The censorship won't diminish. Once tyranny is free, there's no putting it back in its cage. Believing this regime will only apply to the Internet is woefully naive.
The State has decided it has exclusive possession of the truth and no challenge to its truth will be tolerated. End of!