UK Politician Demands The Impossible: Social Media Companies Must Not Take Down Political Speech, But Must Block Disinformation

from the say-what-now?!? dept

UK Parliament Member Damian Collins has been pushing dangerous nonsense about social media content moderation for a while now. A couple years ago he held a theatrical hearing on fake news that was marred by the fact that Collins himself was spreading fake news. Last year, he announced incredibly dangerous ideas about “stopping fake news” on websites.

And now he’s doing something even stupider. According to the Financial Times, Collins is working with Boris Johnson on forcing a “duty of impartiality” on websites, saying that they cannot moderate political content:

Downing Street is pushing for big tech companies to be subject to a ?duty of impartiality? to prevent political bias as part of legislation to regulate dangers on the internet.

How the fuck would that work in practice? Not well, I imagine. And then Collins decided to make it worse. Responding to a question from Jeff Jarvis on Twitter about this “duty of impartiality,” Collins uttered what might be the stupidest thing I’ve ever seen a politician utter regarding content moderation (and we’ve seen a lot of stupid things said):

He said:

In my view social media companies must not censor political speech but they have a responsibility to act against known sources of harmful disinformation wherever it comes from, including when it’s from a President

Got that? The rule is that you can’t takedown any political speech, but you have a duty to remove disinformation, including when it’s from the President. Just take a second and marvel at the pure, unadulterated stupidity of that statement. It presumes that there’s a bright line between “political speech” and “harmful disinformation.” Anyone who knows anything knows that’s not true at all. A ton of “political speech” is actually “harmful disinformation.”

Hell, I’d argue that Collins’ idea that this is easily distinguished is, in itself, “harmful disinformation.” Should Twitter remove it? Or is that political speech.

Basically, what this comes down to is the same old shit. So many people think that social media companies should be forced to keep up the content they like, and forced to takedown the content they disagree with. It never occurs to them that their own personal tastes differ from others and that there’s no way to write a regulation that takes into the account the bad taste of some clueless politicians.

Oh, and it gets worse. You see, MP Damian Collins has another possible solution. He’s launched his own fact checking service, called “Infotagion,” promising to tell people what is disinformation that must be removed, and what’s okay.

In other words, he’s positioning himself to be the Lord High Internet Censor of the UK.

We’ve discussed before the differences between content moderation and censorship, and let’s be quite clear here: what Collins is proposing is not content moderation, but censorship. He’s set up his own fact checking service, and seems to think that he can magically decide which content sites must all block, and which content they must allow. It’s not hard to see how that kind of power will be immediately and frequently abused by petty and small minded politicians.

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Comments on “UK Politician Demands The Impossible: Social Media Companies Must Not Take Down Political Speech, But Must Block Disinformation”

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35 Comments
Bloof (profile) says:

Sounds about right, they purged everyone with a conscience and a lick of common sense before the last election, kicking everyone who stopped them driving the country over a cliff out of the party then won an election because the opposition parties were in chaos and easy pickings for the Right wing press.

This will go about as well as their plans for the great porn filter, or Louise Mensch’s anti online bullying efforts, which boiled down to pretty much the same thing as this, ‘DON’T CRITICISE TORIES OR HOLD THEM TO THE SAME STANDARDS AS EVERYONE ELSE ON THE PLATFORM OR ELSE!;

MathFox says:

The Iron Curtain

In the old days, when the Iron Curtain had still a presence in Europe, politicians in the "free west" didn’t dare to publicly advocate for censorship or mass surveillance. It seems that that curtain didn’t only keep people in, but also the bad policies.
What is remarkable is that the leading nations of the allies, the UK and the US seem to be the most affected by this "keep the population suppressed" infection.

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Thad (profile) says:

Re: The Iron Curtain

In the old days, when the Iron Curtain had still a presence in Europe, politicians in the "free west" didn’t dare to publicly advocate for censorship or mass surveillance.

You’re joking, right?

The US had Joe McCarthy, the Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency, and the Nixon Administration.

I’m not as familiar with western Europe during the same period, but I’m extremely skeptical at the suggestion that there weren’t similar political undercurrents there.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
MathFox says:

Re: Re: The Iron Curtain

Being honest: Spain had Franco until 1975 and I would not call Francoism an undercurrent. In general Western Europe had felt the boot of Nazism during WWII and in most countries the feeling from the 50s on was "not that again!". I admit that this feeling has subsided.
The undercurrents that you mention are growing in Europe… one can see that in the rise of populist parties.

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PaulT (profile) says:

Re: The Iron Curtain

As someone who grew up in Thatcher’s Britain, I have to laugh heartily at anyone who thinks that Thatcher’s government, along with broadcasters and the BBFC at the time were not indulging in mass censorship. Also at anyone being aware of McCarthyism not being aware of such things in the US.

As for mass surveillance, this springs immediately to mind although there are other examples:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ECHELON

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crade (profile) says:

political speach and harmful disinformation are practically synonymous 🙂

"political bias" however, is bullshit, if you agree with or disagree with what a political party or individual stands for, "political bias" is just being free. These sites and companies don’t come from ether, they are created and controlled by people and you are trying to tell these people they can’t try to convince others they are right. You might has well forbid people from making movies with political bias. It’s not only impossible, it’s also wrong.

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That One Guy (profile) says:

It was meant as a warning, not a to-do list

You see, MP Damian Collins has another possible solution. He’s launched his own fact checking service, called "Infotagion," promising to tell people what is disinformation that must be removed, and what’s okay.

No no no you wannabe dictator it’s called The Ministry of Truth, you can at least get the gorram name right if you’re going to rip off the rest of the book.

wereisjessicahyde (profile) says:

Re: It was meant as a warning, not a to-do list

This Week From Pedants Corner Part 2

It’s Damian Collins MP not MP Damian Collins. Look don’t ask me why I’m being a dick about this other than for educational purposes.

But it really should be "Damian Collins MP" much in the same way that it’s ‘Sir David Attenborough’ rather than ‘David Attenborough Sir’

When a you are elected as a Member of Parliament you’re (temporarily) granted a title by the Queen – you get to put an "MP" at the end of your name. Some titles go at the front, most go at the end.

Sorry guys, I’m reading an interesting book about the history of British titles and how they work and I find it interesting.

Anonymous Coward says:

So theres no politicans that tell lies or spread conspracy theorys or support q anon
what a nice world that mr collins lives in
everyone is honest ,no one makes mistakes or maybe posts a link to fake news
.Also politicans have different views on topics like immigration and contraception or vaccination ,
but who decides that an elected politican must be blocked or censored on
facebook or twitter ,
its an impossible thing to ask any tech company to do.

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That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

One does wonder how upset they will be when they manage to get their way & then discover that they are not exempt.

Hell imagine Hawley or Cruz’s twitter feeds if we removed all the lies… they’d have only like 5 posts.
I think we should do this immediately I see no downside.
😀

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Are you really sure you want "company has servers outside of the country, so they can ignore all local laws when serving people in those countries" as a standard? That could backfire on you. I can, however, confirm that both companies have UK offices and thus are subject to some local regulations.

Also, while I’m not sure of the actual physical locations of the servers of each company (no, they’re not all located in California), I’d imagine that the whole Brexit thing is going to need some more localised presence rather than depending on an EU presence at some point soon if they haven’t already.

Wyrm (profile) says:

In my view social media companies must not censor political speech but they have a responsibility to act against known sources of harmful disinformation wherever it comes from, including when it’s from a President

Does he not realize how contradictory this statement is?
"Don’t censor political speech, which is 90% lies (half-truth at best), but please censor their lies."
And given that he wants to decide what truth is, I’ll pin his statement as contradictatory.

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