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.

Scott Bicheno

July 21, 2020

3 Min Read
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.

About the Author(s)

Scott Bicheno

As the Editorial Director of, Scott oversees all editorial activity on the site and also manages the Intelligence arm, which focuses on analysis and bespoke content.
Scott has been covering the mobile phone and broader technology industries for over ten years. Prior to Scott was the primary smartphone specialist at industry analyst Strategy Analytics’. Before that Scott was a technology journalist, covering the PC and telecoms sectors from a business perspective.
Follow him @scottbicheno

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