Back when I was in college in the 1970s, we had long, worthy discussions, as only students can, about censorship. On the whole we decided this was a bad thing. No-one’s views, we felt, should be eradicated or even doctored so that parts we didn’t subscribe to were removed from what they had to say. Of course they’re was no Internet back in those days. No texting, no Twitter, Tik Tok or Facebook. They were a long way in the future and inconceivable to those of us in the age of printed media, vinyl records first time round and three UK TV channels. Undoubtedly censorship existed; mainstream media, which is pretty much all there was apart from the occasional ‘underground’ magazine, reported on what mainstream media deemed it was necessary for us to know. Alternative or even questioning views were without a voice, which is presumably why they were considered to be alternative or questioning. There was no representation of gay or lesbian people, much less the B and T of LGBT, of radical politics, black voices, feminism or spiritual perspectives that weren’t aligned with mainstream, respectable Christianity, the state religion.
You might think this was a good thing. Surely, you might say, it made life simpler. Everyone knew what to think about and what they should think of what they thought about. There was no space for the extremist views that proliferate today, made possible by the Internet. In this latter respect you’d be right. And how much poorer we were for it. Those with dissenting, questioning and alternative voices were relatively unheard. Not so today with social media platforms. Mainstream media and politicians, the ‘system’, no longer control the agenda.
They are not giving up without a fight, however. The British government is determined to introduce laws that will make it a criminal offence to publish ‘misinformation’ or ‘harmful’ views on social media. Initially designed to prevent ‘misinformation’ about Covid-19, it has far wider application, allowing the suppression of any views that are contrary to the narrative of the day. We all know that there is misinformation out there; the Earth is not flat, Jesus is not returning soon and the world is not controlled by shape-changing lizards. It is not this sort of misinformation governments object to. As far as they’re concerned, you can believe and express this sort of rubbish as much as you like.
What these new laws are designed to control is the agenda – what I’ve already referred to as the narrative of the day. And who determines what the agenda is? Those self-same governments and their unelected advisors, who rely on a compliant media to parrot the narrative they’ve decided upon. We saw this clearly during the pandemic. Dissenting voices, not yet criminalised by draconian laws, were nonetheless suppressed, including those of respected scientists not part of the prevailing groupthink. Social media, under threat of state control and heavy fines, were pressurised to stifle views that contradicted the official line. Without a doubt, many of the views were unsupported by evidence and some were abusive*, but this does not entitle any government to suppress all contrary views. We live in a western democracy, after all, and not an authoritarian dictatorship.
If the proposed new laws had existed two years ago, would the view that lockdowns were largely ineffective be considered by the state to have been ‘misinformation’ or harmful? Almost certainly. A significant number of scientists are now of the view that they most certainly were, and far from preventing the spread of the virus created serious long-term problems in the social, societal, healthcare, economic and educational realms. What about the view that the vaccine’s effect would be relatively short-lived? Again, it is more than likely this would have been deemed to be misinformation too. (I’m strongly pro-vax; they’ve got us through the pandemic here in the UK, but we must face the fact they are not as effective as we were first told.) Repeat for the efficacy of face masks. Repeat for the exaggerated predictions of doom.
Not far behind Covid on the system’s agenda is climate change. Who will decide what is ‘misinformation’ about climate change? You guessed it: those same official bodies; governments and their unelected advisors but also other interested parties like so-called eco-warriors who haven’t a jot of evidence to justify their pranks. And who will decide what is ‘misinformation’ about climate change? Again, those the self-same people.
Would the fact that the world is becoming greener be deemed to be ‘misinformation’ or harmful? Yet this is happening due to planting programmes, chiefly by China and India, and the increase of CO2 in the atmosphere on which plants feed. Consequently, there is 5% more vegetation now than there was twenty years ago. It is helping mitigate some of the effects of global warming. What about that climate change is part of a natural cycle and would be happening (though perhaps not as quickly) without a human contribution? What about questioning the fact that while the UK is determined to reduce it’s 1.1% contribution to the world’s pollution (to 0% by 2050) by imposing green taxes on its populace, the majority of countries, many making significantly greater contributions to pollution, are doing nothing at all? Would this kind of comment be deemed to be ‘harmful misinformation’? It seems likely to me that it would: it doesn’t comply with the prevailing narrative/groupthink/agenda.
Laws like that proposed by the British government have no place in a democracy; Authoritarian regimes impose such draconian measures in order to silence their citizenship. I’m not sure what we in the free world can do to prevent such laws but we should not be walking blindly into them: we accept them at our peril.
* It goes without saying I am not arguing for the protection of those who post abusive, hateful comments online. I’ll address this issue next time.