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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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Filed Under: content moderation, damian collins, disinformation, duty of impartiality, fake news, free speech, political speech, uk


Reader Comments

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  • icon
    Thad (profile), 17 Nov 2020 @ 9:39am

    Agnes Skinner: I want everything in one bag.
    Squeaky-Voiced Teen: Yes, ma'am.
    Agnes: But I don't want the bag to be heavy.
    SVT: I don't think that's possible.
    Agnes: What are you, the Possible Police?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 17 Nov 2020 @ 1:43pm

      Re:

      Just start with her and go from there.

      Then tell them you gave them what they wanted if they take you to court.

      Source:friends in retail dealing with idiots

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Thad (profile), 17 Nov 2020 @ 1:49pm

      Re:

      Alternate Simpsons reference:

      So, you want a realistic, down-to-Earth show...that's completely off-the-wall and swarming with magic robots.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Nov 2020 @ 9:40am

    Behind the scenes of how this idea was first spawned

    Damien Collins: “So I read this really inspirational book called Nineteen-Eighty Four and it gave me this magnificent idea...”

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Nov 2020 @ 9:43am

    Why we can't have nice things version 1, the politicians insist that everything becomes a tool for politicians to get their message out.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Chris-Mouse (profile), 17 Nov 2020 @ 9:51am

    He is forgetting that anything a politician says is, by definition, political speech. This applies even when the speech consists mostly of lies being spread by a president...

    ...or a member of the UK parliament.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    techflaws (profile), 17 Nov 2020 @ 9:52am

    He's launched his own fact checking service, called "Infotagion

    Sounds a lot like contagion. Freudian slip or a try at reverse psychology?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Nov 2020 @ 9:56am

    Step One

    It sounds like Step One would be to block any links to Infotagion

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Bloof (profile), 17 Nov 2020 @ 10:01am

    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!;

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    genghis_uk (profile), 17 Nov 2020 @ 10:02am

    You see? Your Congress-critters are not the only complete idiots in politics...
    We have to suffer these morons daily too!

    Next - porn filters and encryption backdoors!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Nov 2020 @ 10:09am

    "Social Media Companies Must Not Take Down Political Speech, But Must Block Disinformation"

    I don't know ... sounds mutually exclusive to me.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Stephen T. Stone (profile), 17 Nov 2020 @ 10:15am

    At some point, politicians need to learn that saying “nerd harder” to tech people is like saying “thoughts and prayers” after a school shooting: Neither one does anything useful.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    MathFox, 17 Nov 2020 @ 10:15am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Thad (profile), 17 Nov 2020 @ 11:41am

      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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        MathFox, 17 Nov 2020 @ 1:54pm

        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.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 17 Nov 2020 @ 11:05pm

      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

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    crade (profile), 17 Nov 2020 @ 10:21am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    wereisjessicahyde (profile), 17 Nov 2020 @ 10:33am

    This Week From Pedants Corner

    "UK Parliament Member Damian Collins.."

    It's 'Member of Parliament Damian Collins'. That's why he is 'Damian Collins MP'

    The other way around would be 'Damian Collins PM', which would really piss Boris off because he would be out of a job.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 17 Nov 2020 @ 11:00am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      wereisjessicahyde (profile), 17 Nov 2020 @ 3:53pm

      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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Nov 2020 @ 11:25am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 17 Nov 2020 @ 11:43am

    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.
    :D

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Norahc (profile), 17 Nov 2020 @ 11:56am

    You all are missing the silver lining...

    If disinformation must be removed from the internet, then any political promise not kept is disinformation and needs to be removed.

    Since MP Collins is providing promises he can not keep, his disinformation should be removed forthwith..

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Bobvious, 17 Nov 2020 @ 1:57pm

    Impossible is easy.

    I want you to paint this white wall green, using blue paint from that tin of red over there. It also must have a spray finish, using only that brush as a roller, and all paint must drip upwards.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    TheResidentSkeptic (profile), 17 Nov 2020 @ 3:36pm

    Just a new twist on an old approach.

    Used to be "Damned if you do, Damned if you don't".

    Now it is "Fined if you do, Fined if you don't".

    At least this one makes the government some money...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Nov 2020 @ 5:26pm

    silliness.... too much bias in what people think dis-information is

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Nov 2020 @ 7:17am

    Twiitter and Facebook are California companies, with servers in California, and are, therefore, not subject to British laws.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 18 Nov 2020 @ 7:48am

      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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Nov 2020 @ 5:26pm

    Its likely that this will lead to the already deleyed online harms bill being deleyed even longer.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Wyrm (profile), 23 Nov 2020 @ 12:15pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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