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Theresa May’s Call for Internet Censorship Isn't Limited to Fighting Terrorism

Using fear of terrorists to try to control what you can see online

Theresa MayAndy Rain/EPA/NewscomYou'd think Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg himself was the driver of the van that plowed into pedestrians on London Bridge Saturday, the way U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May is talking about the attack. He isn't, but everybody across the world, not just in the United Kingdom, needs to pay close attention to how May wants to respond to the assault.

May believes the problem is you and your silly insistence that you be permitted to speak your mind and to look at whatever you want on the internet. And she means to stop you. And her attitude toward government control of internet speech is shared by President Donald Trump (and Hillary Clinton), so what she's trying to sell isn't isolated to her own citizenry.

In a speech in the wake of this weekend's attack, May called flat-out for government authority to censor and control what people can see and access on the internet:

We cannot allow this ideology the safe space it needs to breed—yet that is precisely what the internet, and the big companies that provide internet-based services provide. We need to work with allied democratic governments to reach international agreements to regulate cyberspace to prevent the spread of extremist and terrorism planning.

Note that May appears to be trying to narrowly pitch a regulatory regime that focuses entirely on censoring speech by terrorists. One might argue that even America's First Amendment would not protect such speech, since such communications involve planning violence against others.

But May and the Tories really want to propose much broader censorship of the internet, and they know it. May is using fear of terrorism to sell government control over private online speech. The Tories' manifesto for the upcoming election makes it pretty clear they're looking to control communication on the internet in ways that have absolutely nothing to do with fighting terrorism. BuzzFeed took note:

The proposals—dotted around the manifesto document—are varied. There are many measures designed to make it easier to do business online but it's a different, more social conservative approach when it comes to social networks.

Legislation would be introduced to protect the public from abuse and offensive material online, while everyone would have the right to wipe material that was posted when they were under 18. Internet companies would also be asked to help promote counter-extremism narratives—potentially echoing the government's Prevent programme. There would be new rules requiring companies to make it ever harder for people to access pornography and violent images, with all content creators forced to justify their policies to the government.

The manifesto doesn't seem to acknowledge a difference between speech and activity, Buzzfeed adds:

"It should be as unacceptable to bully online as it is in the playground, as difficult to groom a young child on the internet as it is in a community, as hard for children to access violent and degrading pornography online as it is in the high street, and as difficult to commit a crime digitally as it is physically."

New laws will be introduced to implement these rules, forcing internet companies such as Facebook to abide by the rulings of a regulator or face sanctions: "We will introduce a sanctions regime to ensure compliance, giving regulators the ability to fine or prosecute those companies that fail in their legal duties, and to order the removal of content where it clearly breaches UK law."

The United Kingdom already has some very heavy content-based censorship of pornography that presumes to police what sorts of sexual fantasies are acceptable among its populace. Reason's Elizabeth Nolan Brown has written repeatedly about the British government's nannying tendencies in trying suppress pornography.

In a manner similar to this censorship push, May and the British government sold the Investigatory Powers Act—also known as the Snooper's Charter—to the public as a mechanism to fight terrorism. But the massive legislation, now in place as law, actually demands that internet companies store users' online data to investigate all sorts of activities that have nothing to do with terrorism at all.

The European Union is also hammering out regulations that would require social media companies to censor their services. But the E.U. plan is currently much more limited than what the ruling party in the U.K. is demanding. The European Union wants to force companies only to delete videos that contain hate speech or incitements to violence.

So be warned: This isn't even a slippery-slope risk that a government that claims the authority to censor terrorist communications might broaden that scope to other areas. May and her government already want those broader powers. They're just using the fear of terrorism to sell the idea.

Photo Credit: Andy Rain/EPA/Newscom

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  • Sevo||

    A call for censorship is never a call for the stated benefit for long.
    Once the power is granted by the population, it's 'Katy, bar the door!'

  • Zeb||

    They didn't even try to pretend that it's just for stopping terrorism this time. Notice how they just throw pornography in there.

  • WakaWaka||

    They also impose speech codes, which could be argued allows the impetus for these types of infringements. But, I don't see any criticism of that here

  • Zeb||

    Their lack of explicit free speech protections allows all of it. So all they need is some level of popular support, or at least tolerance, for censorship and speech codes and they can do whatever they want.

    But, I don't see any criticism of that here

    Where?

  • WakaWaka||

    Here:

    "But the E.U. plan is currently much more limited than what the ruling party in the U.K. is demanding. The European Union wants to force companies only to delete videos that contain hate speech or incitements to violence."

    Do gradients of censorship matter?

  • Zeb||

    All government censorship is bad, but I'd say that more and broader scope of censorship is worse than narrower censorship.

    "Hate speech" is a load of crap, but actual incitements to violence may be something that is within the legitimate scope of government action (assuming that there is a legitimate scope of government action).

  • WakaWaka||

    When you've ceded so much ground in the argument, it's hard to draw a new line that will be ignored anyways. May will just say that they are censoring these people because of 'hate speech' (since that is such a meaningless term with a malleable interpretation)

  • Cloudbuster||

    Who's deciding what qualifies as "incitement to violence?" Oh, judges in the employ of the government that's persecuting you. That's comforting.

  • Zeb||

    Not terribly comforting, but that's how it works.

    Which is why I'm essentially an anarchist. I'm not at all convinced that there is any such thing as legitimate government action. But I think that most people who do believe in legitimate government would say that incitement is something that falls under the legitimate powers of government to control or punish.

  • Quixote||

    Come now, everyone knows that certain forms of electronic "speech" need to be censored. Surely no one here would dare to defend the "First Amendment dissent" of a single, isolated judge in our nation's leading criminal "satire" case? Clearly this outrageous declaration of a so-called judge should itself be censored, and banned from libraries everywhere in America. See the documentation at:

    http://raphaelgolbtrial.wordpress.com/

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    The European Union wants to force companies only to delete videos that contain hate speech or incitements to violence.

    Well that's a relief.

  • WakaWaka||

    That was a pretty telling remark.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    So be warned: This isn't even a slippery-slope risk that a government that claims the authority to censor terrorist communications might broaden that scope to other areas. May and her government already want those broader powers. They're just using the fear of terrorism to sell the idea.

    Well, kind of. The slippery slope was the Investigatory Powers Act.

  • ||

    Hey, May. Go fuck yourself. You, the monarchy and your second-rate, dead imperialist country who have turned into PC sucks and buffoons looking to criminalize their own people. Did I mention go fuck yourself?

    A country with no freedom of speech and expression is not a free country and may as well drop the act and just go full blown retard socialist.

    Idiots.

  • Brian Richard Allen||

    .... A country with no freedom of speech and expression is not a free country and may as well drop the act and just go full blown retard socialist ....

    Once-great-Britain - despite it was already but a shadow of what it had once been - already did that. In 1945, with its election of the execrable totalitarian, Clement Atlee and his fellow-fascist-Leftarded "Labour" potty.

    Britain is doomed. The moslem enemy is the iceberg. Think Titanic. Think rearranging the deck chairs.

  • Jerry on the sea||

    Footage emerges of London attacker in TV documentary 'The Jihadis Next Door'

    Apparently Theresa May doesn't watch television.

  • Crusty Juggler - lamertarian||

    Zuckerberg isn't a terrorist, he is Fidel Castro in flip-flops.

    Also, if England had a few more cameras on their streets they could have prevented this heinous act.

  • I can't even||

    Orwell was English after all:

    1. Invite in hundreds of thousands of savages with beliefs completely hostile to English society

    2. Pass laws making it illegal to even notice that there a lot of new unpleasant savages around

    3. When the inevitable attacks occur, scold anyone who would blame the savages who suddenly appeared in our midst

    4. Use the attacks as an excuse to destroy the last vestiges of civil liberties

  • Zeb||

    Yo, fuck Theresa May. You aren't putting that toothpaste back into the tube. The internet is a communication tool and you aren't stopping people from using it as such.

  • Cloudbuster||

    If you think the government isn't capable of making communicating "unapproved" ideas over the Internet a frightening enough proposition that it discourages the vast majority of citizens, you're very naive.

  • Zeb||

    That may be. But it won't discourage people who are willing to throw away their lives for whatever violent bullshit they believe in.

  • KBeckman||

    Two words. Dark Web

  • Jerryskids||

    Free speech is inimical to government keeping us safe from the terror of dangerous ideas, speaking out in favor of free speech is the hallmark of a terrorist. I'd suggest putting defenses of free speech right at the top of the list of banned speech.

  • SIV||

    Turmoil at Ersatz "Mayo" Company:Food Fraudsters Facing Fall?

    This mountebank of misbranded mock mayo makes Ms. Elizabeth Holmes look like an honest businesswoman.

  • Crusty Juggler - lamertarian||

    If only you had a blog dedicated to sexy ladies in turtlenecks.

    :(

  • Rhywun||

    TW: punch-face

  • CE||

    Needz moar artisanal-ness.

  • Mickey Rat||

    Remember, we told the British government to leave these sovereign states 240 plus years ago for a resson.

  • josh||

    I don't like to tell people we used to be related to England. It's just embarrassing anymore.

  • Ron||

    the goal isn't control of immigrants its control of people every where and if it takes allowing a few terrorist attacks to get that done then thats alright by our betters

  • Uncle Jay||

    RE: Theresa May's Call for Internet Censorship Isn't Limited to Fighting Terrorism
    Using fear of terrorists to try to control what you can see online

    The sad part is once the UK (or any other country) call for internet censorship, then that state is beginning to become a terrorist state, and the ruling elitist morons running those countries don't even realize it.

  • Cloudbuster||

    the ruling elitist morons running those countries don't even realize it.

    Statement requires supporting evidence.

  • Uncle Jay||

    The PRC, Cuba and North Korea all censor their internet.
    Any attempt to bypass the censors will result in arrest and incarceration in the local gulag along with the usual beatings, starvation, etc.
    If abusing your own populace just to see what is out in the world outside their country isn't a terrorists act by The State, then what is?

  • Cynical Asshole||

    I think Cloudbuster was saying that the the statement that the "elites don't realize [they're turning their country into a terrorist state]" is what requires the supporting evidence.

    It's quite possible they know exactly what they're doing and where it all ends.

  • Ron||

    If they shut down pro terrorist web sites then how will they monitor them

  • Eeyore||

    Regulation of the Internet is the goal. Terrorism is just the sales pitch.

  • Hank Phillips||

    Nuclear weapons and mass communications have made socialism--at least in its communo-fascist variants, a non-starter. Of course they're pissed and want to turn back the clock to 1933!

  • Unlabelable MJGreen||

    Hey, we're at war. I'm glad England has the sense to do something.

  • Cynical Asshole||

    Statist cunts like May have been itching to regulate the internet since day one. This just gives them a handy excuse to do what they've always wanted to do.

  • Juice||

    Why do their graphics strongly resemble those of the US Democratic Party during the last election?

  • Juice||

    The United Kingdom already has some very heavy content-based censorship of pornography that presumes to police what sorts of sexual fantasies are acceptable among its populace.

    Lying back and thinking of England still acceptable (for now).

  • CE||

    We had a saying when I was a kid: "sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me".

  • Citizen X - #6||

    That saying would be censored now, lest ye trigger someone whose bones were actually broken by sticks and stones.

  • CE||

    When the people are fearful, they look for a strongman to lead them.

  • Chipper Morning, Now #1||

    That guy that plays The Mountain for President!

  • Mickey Rat||

    Which one?

  • Citizen X - #6||

    Christ, what an asshole.

  • Chipper Morning, Now #1||

    Ew.

  • Cloudbuster||

    We cannot allow this ideology the safe space it needs to breed—yet that is precisely what the internet, and the big companies that provide internet-based services provide.

    Statists gotta state.

    I presume eventually, even that anodyne sentiment will be classified as "dangerous anti-government propaganda."

  • Inigo Montoya||

    Too bad the internet had to come along and give rise to terrorism. Lord knows nothing like that existed back when people only had radio and phones for communication, or hell, even the printing press.

    To prevent the spread of violent ideologies, perhaps the U.K. needs to abandon literacy for ordinary people. If you can't read or write, it makes it hard to plan shit outside of clandestine in-person meetings. So say goodbye to reading, Brits!

    Sarcasm aside, I will say this... Dear Ms. May, fuck off, slaver!

  • Hank Phillips||

    So that scolding hag is the Mother Teresa everyone worships as the apotheosis of altruism?

  • jjjjj||

    The government already knows about these terrorists (you never hear them say "we had no f-ing idea about this guy" rather "we interviewed him 12 times in the last 2 years"), but we need more surveillance and speech restrictions.

  • keddaw||

    Would you want your wife or your servant to be able to see this material?

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