Jacob Rees-Mogg vs Leftist Thugs, And Another Depressing Weekend For British Conservatism

The Conservative Party would deserve more sympathy when their MPs are shouted down by leftist thugs if the prime minister herself were not such an enthusiastic suppressor of free speech

By now I assume everybody has seen footage of the impressively unflappable Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg attempting to break up a physical altercation after an event in which he was speaking was stormed by leftist, Momentum-aligned protesters.

This is the kind of scene we have come to expect from American university campuses, where roving bands of masked Antifa-style goons, wearing their intolerance for diversity of thought like a perverse badge of honour, now routinely storm the meetings and public events of student organisations or external speakers they consider to be haram.

University campuses in Britain, by contrast, tend to be far more sedate places with much less visible security. Since we are fortunate enough in this country not to have to pause every couple of months to mourn another deadly mass shooting incident in an educational establishment, our university campuses do not have their own dedicated police forces as is sadly necessary in America. Neither is there some kind of private security guard for every three or four students.

This, however, may need to change if Members of Parliament and other speakers, people routinely invited onto university campuses to give talks or participate in student debates, find themselves pitched into the middle of violent confrontations with balaclava-clad goons whose devotion to the Cult of Social Justice and Identity Politics leads them to shut down the expression of any opposing thought.

On this occasion, the situation was defused before any real violence could take place, but Jacob Rees-Mogg has experience of standing up to aggressive leftist protesters and bravely stood his ground. Other MPs or public figures might understandably be less keen to put themselves in harm’s way while security guards or police are called to quell a developing problem.

And be assured, this will happen again – not because the speakers invited onto campus are becoming any more controversial or provocative, but because those opposed to their presence are becoming ever more sensitive to what they see as heresy – and too often are being indulged in their precious sensitivity by leftist academics, university administrators and politicians. The protesters cannot be reasoned with, and will not engage respectful debate when offered the chance, so the only way to preserve and protect freedom of expression on university campuses is to have a heavy security presence ready to haul out disruptive people who would censor events with their incessant yammering.

Unfortunately, what we saw from the Conservative Party in response to these events at the University of West England was not a muscular defence of free speech and a commitment to ensuring that universities which take public money also take seriously their responsibility to crack down hard on would-be student censors; rather, we saw a whinnying display of self-pitying victimhood:

Brandon Lewis - Conservative Party email - free speech petition

In wheedling tones, the new Conservative Party chairman writes:

Last night, Momentum-supporting thugs broke into a university event and tried to silence Conservatives. Wearing balaclavas, they tried through violence and intimidation to stop the ideas that they disagreed with from being heard. Help us back free speech by signing our petition today.

Momentum, the left-wing campaign group, was set up after Mr Corbyn’s initial victory as Labour leader to keep the spirit and politics of his campaign alive.

Young people have a right to hear all sides of the political debate. So we’ll protect free speech by stepping up our speaker programme – making sure Conservative voices are heard in universities across the country.

Together, we can send a message to Labour and Momentum. Sign our petition today and back free speech.

To whom is this petition addressed? The Conservatives are in power, for pity’s sake. Are we to waste our time signing a petition at the request of the party of government, encouraging the party of government to do something which it could and should have been doing all along? A government which has to pass around tear-stained petitions encouraging their own ministers to do their jobs does not deserve to hold office.

The title of the email is “It’s not ok”, which is exactly the same scolding, infantilising kindergarten phrase used by the Social Justice Left in America to describe behaviours which they deem to be “harmful” or “oppressive”. And so rather than taking the fight to those who would shut down free speech in this country, the Tories instead prefer to flaunt their scars in an appeal for public pity and then ask us to sign a petition calling on them to do something about the very problem over which they have so ineptly presided.

This is untenable stupidity. As Home Secretary, Theresa May did as much as anyone else to suppress freedom of expression in numerous forms, using exactly the same arguments as the Social Justice Warriors – to protect the supposedly weak-minded citizenry from corruption or offence from undesirable sources.

As Brendan O’Neill noted in 2016, soon after Theresa May ascended to the office of prime minister:

May and the student Safe Spacers she’s railing against are one and the same in their belief that bad or eccentric ideas are best dealt with by censorship. May bans a pastor who has a problem with the Koran; students ban secularist critic of Islam Maryam Namazie. May bans Tyler, the Creator for being sexist; 30 students’ unions ban Robin Thicke’s ‘Blurred Lines’ for being sexist.

And both use the Stalinist language of ‘safety’ or ‘the public good’ to justify their speech-strangling antics. Students’ unions claim, with spectacular paternalism, to be protecting the ‘mental safety’ of their student charges; May says she bans people who say weird things because they aren’t ‘conducive to the public good’. It’s almost funny: student leaders fancy themselves as anti-Tory, yet ape Tory intolerance of difficult ideas; May positions herself as a critic of Safe Space nonsense, yet she’s Britain’s Safe-Spacer-in-chief, treating not only students but all of us as infants to be guarded from controversy.

You cannot busily construct a Safe Space at the national level – a dystopian society where people are woken up in the middle of the night and dragged off to jail for placards they create, songs they sing or words they publish on social media – and then be overly surprised or outraged when a gang of young college thugs, raised in a society where it is constantly preached that people have the divine right not to be offended, decides to take matters into their own hands.

As this blog has repeatedly pointed out, the battle for free speech is won or lost at the margins – it is only by defending the vile and unconscionable speech of extremists that a firewall is created to protect mainstream political discourse. Sadly for Britain, the battle for free speech was never even fought at the margins – the government instead chose to unilaterally surrender on all of our behalfs, and restrict speech considered offensive by nearly every designated victim group or professional offence-taker in the land.

Now the barbarians are at the gate, and it is not just “extreme” language or opinion under threat, or even loud-mouthed and controversial provocateurs like Katie Hopkins, but mild-mannered right-of-centre politicians like Jacob Rees-Mogg. And now that the Faith Militant of the Cult of Social Justice and Identity Politics threatens the physical safety of Conservative MPs as they address perfectly respectable student organisations, finally the government is stirring lazily to action, unjustifiably offended that anyone other than the police might seek to enforce the very cultural and linguistic taboos that in their incompetence they allowed to spread unchecked across the land.

Well sorry, but this is too little and too late. The idea that a government led by the same authoritarian zealot who waged war on civil liberties in this country for six years as Home Secretary is suddenly going to bravely fight for freedom of thought and expression on university campuses or elsewhere is utterly risible. Even if she were to totally flip-flop on the issue, devoid of any other ideological backbone as she is, the prime minister no longer has the political authority to take a serious stand on a domestic political issue.

The litany of political failures which can be chalked up to the Conservative Party since 2010 – failures of ambition, vision, intellect, principle and courage – is growing too long to recount in any one blog post or article. But ending up in the same ideological hemisphere as masked thugs who threaten the physical safety of their own MPs surely has to rank near the very top of the list.

Jacob Rees-Mogg - University of West England - Momentum leftist protesters

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Upset An MP On Social Media? Prepare To Lose Your Voting Rights

Intimidation in Public Life report - Committee on Standards in Public life - Parliament - Britain - UK - online social media abuse

Hurt an MP’s feelings and lose your civil rights. This could be a reality in the prissy, authoritarian, neo-puritanical Britain we inhabit

Having learned nothing from the past three years of populist insurgency, rather than facing up to their shortcomings and accepting the validity of justified criticism (and the inevitability of unjustified criticism) the political class is instead preparing to further insulate itself from public accountability.

A new report published by the Committee on Standards in Public Life proposes punishments such as barring people from voting or removing them from the electoral register as suitable punishments for the “new electoral offence of intimidating
Parliamentary candidates and party campaigners during an election” – which if enforced with the same arbitrary capriciousness as all other UK speech laws would inevitably see many people unjustly stripped of their basic civil rights while other, worse “offenders” who happen to hold officially sanctioned opinions go unmolested.

We in Britain now have a government which would give convicted prisoners the right to vote while stripping the franchise from certain free citizens who commit vague and loosely-defined acts of speechcrime – including hurting the feelings of an MP or Parliamentary candidate.

The report (prefaced with a quote from the late Jo Cox MP, so as to imbue the document with an air of incontestable wisdom and grace) graciously concedes that the existing restrictive framework of draconian anti-free speech laws does not need augmenting to protect the feelings of MPs at this time, but then immediately ventures the possibility of unprecedented new punishments for those accused of speechcrime:

Electoral law can overlap with and complement the criminal law, such that offences with criminal sanctions can also involve sanctions under electoral law. These sanctions are specific to the election process, such as being barred from voting for a certain period, or removal from the electoral register. Such sanctions recognise that these offences, such as undue influence or electoral fraud, are offences against the integrity of the electoral process, and that it is therefore appropriate that individuals face sanctions relating to their own privileges within that process.

[…] However, the Committee considers that the issue of intimidation is of particular significance because of the threat that it poses to the integrity of public service and the democratic process.

During an election period, it would therefore be appropriate to have specific electoral sanctions that reflect the threat that intimidation of Parliamentary candidates and their supporters poses to the integrity of elections. Any such offence in electoral law should be tightly defined, to capture intimidatory behaviour that is directed towards an individual specifically in their capacity as a Parliamentary candidate or party campaigner, which intends unduly to influence the result of the election (for example, by affecting their candidature or inhibiting their campaigning).

[..] the introduction of a distinct electoral offence will serve to highlight the seriousness of the threat of intimidation of Parliamentary candidates to the integrity of public life and of the electoral process, and will result in more appropriate sanctions. We believe that specific electoral offences will also serve as an effective deterrent to those who are specifically targeting Parliamentary candidates and their supporters.

The Committee on Standards in Public Life, a body whose intended purpose was to ensure that elected and non-elected officials uphold standards of behaviour appropriate to those who serve the public in high office, now seems far more interested in passing haughty judgment on whether members of the public are abiding by the new speech codes dictated by our puritanical, thin-skinned rulers.

I would be interested to know which of the Seven Principles of Public Life the committee believes it is defending by proposing new speechcrime punishments which attack so fundamental a civic right as voting – particularly as each of these principles sets a standard specifically for “holders of public office” and not private citizens. The only tenuous link offered in the entire report is this throwaway sentence:

[..] the Committee considers that the issue of intimidation is of particular significance because of the threat that it poses to the integrity of public service and the democratic process.

Ah, that’s okay then. So because the rowdy public is supposedly threatening “the integrity of public service” (presumably by scaring people away from getting involved in politics, because those who are already inclined to get involved in politics of course tend to be shy fauns who take fright at verbal hostility) the Committee on Standards in Public Life can use this as an excuse to regulate the behaviour not of people in positions of power, but of those who seek to express their feelings about people in power.

Of course, MPs are not the only people to find themselves at the receiving end of vitriol on social media, as anybody with even a semi-public profile or the desire to talk about politics on Facebook or Twitter can attest. Twice in recent months I have been at the receiving end of such a barrage, first when a “comedian” chose to misrepresent one of my tweets to his baying audience of pro-EU Remain supporters and again when an SNP MP sicced his Twitter supporters on me for daring to write about the office of Scottish First Minister in less than worshipful terms. None of the hate I received (on those occasions) amounted to the level of death threats, but other private citizens have suffered far worse.

Yet the political class seem to want to carve out a special protection in terms of exempting themselves from harsh criticism while doing nothing for anybody else. As Members of Parliament they already occupy a high-status, well-remunerated position in society, are generally endowed with a level of intelligence which enables them to articulate their priorities and concerns and be taken seriously, and make laws and decisions which impact our present reality and future happiness. Yet many of these same people now seem determined to portray themselves as shrinking violets, vulnerable victims-in-waiting, a discriminated against minority group who require the special and proactive additional protection of the law. This is absurd and insulting to the citizenry they notionally represent.

But in addition to protecting the powerful from the masses, these puritanical proposals also fundamentally misunderstand the problem. As even many victims of social media harassment would likely agree, the really damaging part of online abuse is not the individual insults but their combined, collective effect. One person insulting or mocking you can be laughed off or brushed aside, but this is not so easily done when one’s notifications fill up with a constant wall of such derogatory, negative messages. Indeed, when under attack on social media, at times it can be difficult to step back and remember that the strident opinions of social media moralisers is not reflective of the feelings of the country or society as a whole. At times, I myself have momentarily allowed hate and derision on social media to interfere with my self-esteem, despite my fairly thick skin.

The answer to online trolling and abuse (whether directed at politicians or private citizens) is not to criminalise individual acts of strident, unpleasant or insulting speech, let alone to curtail the fundamental civil rights of individual citizens as punishment for (or deterrence of) something which is in large part a swarm effect, an unpleasant but distastefully necessarily defensible part of our society’s commitment to free speech.

To do so would be akin to criminalising the act of gathering together in crowds because of the risk that somebody might be crushed or trampled, punishing individuals for what in itself is often a very small contribution to a larger group effect. No single individual is usually responsible for a stampede, just as very few individuals commit specific acts on social media which alone trigger substantial distress, and barring such people from voting (one wonders what offence merits losing the franchise while retaining one’s liberty) will not deal with the vast bulk of abuse on social media and consequently the vast bulk of suffering resulting from it.

The issues addressed by the report are real, worthy of discussion, and are already being debated at length. There is no lack of editorialising or scholarship on the impact of social media on public political discourse, and the way in which the semi-anonymity of interacting online brings out a far more vicious side of human nature than is usually visible during face-to-face interactions. These are problems which we need to face up to as a society at a time when we are learning on the go. But the solution is not to announce further new restrictions on freedom of expression, as though filling in gaps in the statute books will in any way compensate for filling in the mental and spiritual void which turns some people (including the highly educated and outwardly successful) into social media trolls.

Furthermore, at a time when the yawning disconnect between the ruling class and many of the people they represent is growing wider and fuelling all kind of populist outbursts (some welcome and others far less so) it is the height of irresponsibility for those in power to publicly toy with the notion of punishing the plebs for insulting their masters by stripping them of their voting rights.

The Committee on Standards in Public Life should cast their haughty, disapproving gaze back where it belongs – on those who debase their political offices or abuse the public trust. Now more than ever is a time for humility and introspection from the ruling class, not a whinnying list of grievances about those who fail to sing their praises.

 

By election - ballot box - Democracy

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Laurie Penny, Gaslighter

Laurie Penny

According to Laurie Penny, conservatives are the true enemies of free speech and the illiberal student activists who beat them up, ‘no platform’ their speakers and disrupt their events are merely questioning the establishment

As they stagger on under the “leadership” of Theresa May, this Conservative government continues to cast about aimlessly for some kind of raison d’être, a justification for showing up for work in the morning which sounds marginally more noble than “because daytime TV sucks”.

And so it came to pass that the unremarkable minister for universities, Jo Johnson, decided to jump on the increasingly popular right-wing bandwagon of bashing identity politics, demanding that universities uphold a commitment to free speech and promise not to use no-platforming or safe spaces to suppress the exchange of ideas on pain of being fined or even deregistered as an institution by the Office for Students.

This is all incredibly boring. Jo Johnson was head of the Downing Street Policy Unit from 2013-2015 under David Cameron, right at the time when illiberal identity politics zealots were cementing their power. If Johnson had a burning desire to protect free speech, he could have persuaded Cameron to take up the cause. He did not do so. It is also curious that he now wants to become a crusader for free speech when working for an authoritarian prime minister whose every instinct points the opposite way, toward more regulation and censorship. In short, this whole thing is a PR stunt by a rudderless Tory Party chasing headlines rather than following an ideological compass.

But all this is only to be expected. More noteworthy is the response to Johnson’s posturing by identity politics priestess Laurie Penny, who took to the New Statesman to claim not just that conservatives are exaggerating the threat to free speech but that it is entirely a figment of their imagination.

Penny’s article begins dishonestly, and then gets worse:

The nonsensical consensus amongst the centre-right that today’s students are a bunch of censorious cry-babies plays well with the base, so Johnson Minor has jumped on the rickety bandwagon barreling down the road to the palace of convenient fictions, where a delicate banquet of delusion will be served to those whose cash and status protect them from ever having to hear their opinions questioned by a bunch of rowdy kids.

Conservatives seeking protection from having their opinions questioned? This is an interesting inversion. Rather than trying to minimise the issue and argue that the threat to free speech on campus has perhaps been blown out of proportion and is perhaps not as bad as portrayed, Laurie Penny insists – rather shamelessly – that the problem does not exist at all, that it is all a figment of our imagination.

Penny must be a secret neo-conservative fan girl because this is a consummate Karl Rove strategy, whereby she shamelessly accuses her opponents of the identity politics Left’s own glaring flaws. Where is the lengthy list of prominent left-wing speakers who have been banned from college campuses by conservatives? Where are the left-wing professors who fear for their job security if they question conservative ideas? Where are the left-wing students expelled or suspended from college because they made conservatives feel “unsafe” and contributed to a hostile, non-inclusive atmosphere? They don’t exist.

The problem is not that crusty old establishment figures are upset that brave, radical students are questioning their judgment. The problem is that these illiberal students do not merely question ideas, they actively suppress them on the grounds that they amount to dangerous “hate speech” with the power to wound or even kill. Yet through immense self-deception, Penny is able to cast actions which deliberately prevent speech from taking place as mere protest:

This is a non-controversy, and it’s unbelievable that otherwise intelligent commentators are taking it seriously. “No-platforming” is just another word for student protest – the practice of opposing invited speakers with bigoted views is a time-honoured one. The cooked-up row over “student censorship” is led by the sort of trembly-whiskered outrage-merchants for whom “censorship” means “making me feel bad about holding certain views”.

But protesting an idea and infringing on the rights of another person to express that idea are two very different things. One could excuse any act of violent oppression using Penny’s logic. “But lynching is just another word for protest”, said the Klansman to the sheriff as he was caught red-handed tying a noose. “I believe that black men are a menacing sexual threat to white women. Doesn’t matter if it’s true or not, I sincerely believe that it is and on that basis you have no right to stop me stringing up DeShawn over here for making my wife stare at him lustfully”.

And so it is with the SJWs. They sincerely believe that words are violence (or at least some of them do – I can’t help but think the smarter ones know full well that words are not deadly, but pretend that they are as justification for censoring unwanted ideas) and on that basis they claim the right to “protest” by shutting down the offensive speech, preventing it from taking place or exacting severe physical, financial or bureaucratic consequences for the speaker who dares to persist.

Laurie Penny continues:

There is, I ought to say, a rhetorical difference here that causes some confusion. Today’s students are simply more likely to use the language of empathy and trauma in their politics. They’re more likely, initially, to say “this book about how women aren’t really human might make some of us feel unsafe” than they are to say “this book is bullshit”. They’re more likely to say “you’re doing harm” than they are to say “fuck you”.

This is partly because a lot of today’s young radicals come from demographics for whom it’s far more dangerous to say “fuck you”. They are young women, young queer people, young people of colour. Their way of questioning authority is simply less actively aggressive. Today’s angry young people are more likely to show you their scars than their fists. That might be passive-aggressive, but it’s not politically unsound.

This is nonsense. Today’s SJWs and Antifa (the movement’s Faith Militant) are equally happy inflicting scars as they are flaunting their own to garner sympathy. It doesn’t take long to dig up both high-profile and more obscure cases where the pseudo-victimhood of supposedly marginalised and oppressed groups morphed suddenly into violent aggression on campus.

Witness student Bonita Tindle pushing and shoving a white male student who had the temerity to wear his hair in dreadlocks. Witness the recent incident at University of California – Santa Cruz, in which protesters shut down a meeting of the College Republicans and one protester claimed that she literally felt unsafe meeting in a library which was previously used by college Republicans. Witness the aggression of Jerelyn Luther getting hysterical about Halloween costumes. Witness Black Lives Matter shutting down an ACLU free speech event at William and Mary College, holding up banners declaring that speech kills. Note, too, the rising trend of outraged leftists demanding that speakers and publishers of wrongthink retract their “harmful” ideas and articles rather than going to the effort of disproving them. The Cult of Social Justice and Identity Politics is causing many on the Left to forget how to argue at all.

Laurie Penny dismisses the current ideological focus on “harm” as a mere difference in rhetoric compared to previous generations, which is blatantly false. If you think a prominent idea is “bullshit” and evidently false then you generally relish the opportunity to publicly tear it down and discredit its proponents. But the SJWs do not do this. All too often, they don’t even attempt to engage with the substance because they claim that even hearing contrary thoughts expressed will do them physical and emotional harm.

There is hardly a shortage of literature and academic research on the rise of victimhood culture and learned fragility/unresilience. One thinks particularly of the paper “Microagression and Moral Cultures” by Bradley Campbell and Jason Manning, which discussed the difference between dignity, honour and victimhood cultures, or Jonathan Haidt’s development of these ideas.

Laurie Penny is doing a fantastic job of telling often well-meaning leftists exactly what they want to hear. She seeks to assuage any doubts that some wavering souls may feel about their movement’s snarling illiberalism by waving away any concerns as the desperate squeaking of a racist, misogynist old guard who are simply upset at the loss of their hegemony. After all, it is much easier to dismiss concern as the self-interest of oppressive powers rather than reflect on the ideological oppression they themselves are inflicting in the name of social justice.

But in telling conservatives that persistent, concrete efforts by the Left to paint their ideas as intolerably extremist and forbid their expression on campus are merely imagined, Penny is actively gaslighting. She is engaging in that coercive, manipulative behaviour more common to spousal abusers by portraying her opponents as crazy and flat-out denying observable reality in order to delegitimise conservative concerns about free speech suppression.

That Laurie Penny feels able to lie and deceive so freely in the pages of the New Statesman shows just how strong the Cult of Social Justice and Identity Politics has become. Adherents to this illiberal, censorious cult no longer fear being discredited or held to account for their lies. So complete is their control over academia and so cowed and enslaved are the media and many politicians that people like Laurie Penny can now create their own reality and demand that others accept it as real.

If a conservative were to insist that capitalism was completely flawless or deny that poverty exists, they would be laughed out of town and rightly lose all credibility. Yet Laurie Penny can use her exalted perch in the New Statesman to deny that things we can all see taking place on Western university campuses are even happening at all, yet still be taken seriously the next time she spouts off on TV.

That’s the protective power of the Cult of Social Justice and Identity Politics at work.

That’s how close conservatives and defenders of free speech are to losing this war.

 

Gaslighting definition - Dr Robin Stern

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Virginia Schools Butcher The English Literature Curriculum To Appease Social Justice Zealots

n-word

Humanity’s intellectual and artistic horizons must not be limited by the delicate sensitivities of society’s most easily-offended members

It has happened again – another oversensitive, censorious American school district has suspended the works Huckleberry Finn and To Kill a Mockingbird from their high school curriculum pending a full review of the two novels’ artistic merit versus their supposed offensiveness. And this time, all because of one solitary parental complaint.

The Guardian reports:

To Kill a Mockingbird and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn have been suspended from the curriculum in some Virginia schools, after a parent complained about the use of racial slurs.

Harper Lee and Mark Twain’s literary classics were removed from classrooms in Accomack County, in Virginia after a formal complaint was made by the mother of a biracial teenager. At the centre of the complaint was the use of the N-word, which appears frequently in both titles.

The woman who made the complaint said her son struggled to read the racist language, telling the Accomack County public schools board: “There’s so much racial slurs and defensive wording in there that you can’t get past that.” The challenge also appears to be motivated by the current political landscape in the US, as the mother told the board: “Right now, we are a nation divided as it is.”

What a pathetic person, and what terrible parenting. If her son “struggled to read the racist language”, it is only because he was deliberately made fragile. Made fragile by his own parent(s) and by the society in which he grew up, which constantly, wrongly taught him that sticks and stones may break his bones, but words can kill him stone dead.

The danger is that by bowing to these petty, whinnying requests for censorship, our overall society is dragged down to the level of the weakest and most intolerant members. Little Timmy can’t read this book without weeping and being triggered, so now nobody can read it.

Are we really to shuffle books in and out of the school syllabus according to how sensitive people feel following a presidential election? Is a book’s inherent worth subject to fluctuate according to the changing political fortunes of the Democratic and Republican Parties? This is ludicrous.

As this blog has argued numerous times, the “N-word” has no power to harm beyond that which we give it by pretending that there is no difference between using the word in anger and clinically discussing it in a classroom, court of law or television news broadcast.

And there is a difference. Being called a nigger is not tremendously pleasant. As a mixed race young man (like the child whose insufferable parent demanded the ban), I have had occasional direct experience myself. But this is a world apart from reading or hearing the word in the context of studying a great work of literature. And people who are unable to make this distinction should not be allowed to hold the rest of society back by virtue of their self-inflicted fragility.

 

Safe Space Notice - 2

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German Politicians, Drunk On Power, Prepare A Fresh Assault On Free Speech

volker-kauder-free-speech-social-media-censorship

German social media users test their leaders’ patience by exercising awkward, unruly free speech at their own peril

German politicians, ever anxious to squash strident criticism of their unilateral and, uh, somewhat controversial decision to expand the population by nearly a million migrants and refugees in the space of a year, are rounding on social media companies to strike another blow on already-constrained freedom of speech in Europe.

From Deutsche Welle:

Volker Kauder, a member of German Chancellor Merkel’s CDU, has said Facebook should pay for failing to remove online hate comments. There has been a surge in xenophobic posts as refugees have arrived over the last year.

Speaking to German magazine “Der Spiegel,” Kauder said: “The time for roundtables is over. I’ve run out of patience.” He said if companies like Facebook, Google and Twitter failed to remove offensive comments within a week of them being posted, they should be penalized with a 50,000 euro ($54,490) fine.

Social media websites needed to rethink their strategy, he said. “Otherwise, I have another suggestion. Cigarette packs always carry a warning that smoking can be dangerous. Why don’t we ask these [social network] providers to carry a warning on their websites, saying: ‘Anyone who communicates here must expect insulting remarks,'” Kauder said.

Kauder also insisted that the justice ministry should demand that the companies submit the IP addresses of people who posted hate messages on social networks.

Because heaven forfend that politicians should have to explain their decisions and win support for their actions (or better yet, follow the will of the people in the first place once in awhile). Far better to simply make it increasingly difficult for people to register their boisterous dissent.

Note the language. Kauder has “run out of patience”, suggesting that free speech in Germany is something granted to citizens at the sufferance of their thin-skinned leaders rather than an inalienable right. And of course that is exactly how it is in Germany, and most of Europe (including Britain). If some jumped-up politician decides that the civil discourse has become too un-civil – or, let’s be realistic too critical of them – then it is perfectly legitimate for them to turn the screws on private companies to shut it down.

Note too the ludicrous “public health” defence creeping into politicians’ language. One interpretation of Kauder’s threat to slap a mandatory trigger warning on the home pages of social networks is that he thinks so little of the German people’s intelligence that he genuinely believes they might currently be unaware that websites where political issues are discussed may contain opinions with which they disagree. That is one interpretation. But the other one (and the correct one in my view) is that it is simply a way of trying to hurt private enterprise for not bending the knee and doing government’s bidding.

Stephen Fuchs of the German-American culture blog German Pulse shares the same suspicions:

Do I think Germany is out of line to expect a level of cooperation to remove highly offensive posts once reported? No, not entirely. Where I begin to disagree though comes when any government starts policing excessively to the point where our outlets for expression become restricted by a set of rules that make any level of opinion a bannable offense.

How long until Germany pushes Facebook to delete any negative comments or opinions about a certain political party or candidate?

Negative remarks about refugees are deemed hate speech in Germany, but what about the negative remarks about Merkel’s refugee policies? Should we expect Facebook or Twitter to delete those immediately as well?

Maybe the government would be better off addressing the real issues that lead to the divisiveness, instead of playing the “you hurt my feelings” game online.

This is why free speech needs to be an absolute and indivisible right. It is a fragile freedom, with the slightest infringement causing a crack which easily grows and fractures our entire right to self expression. And while some (like Fuchs) may find it distasteful, the battle for freedom of speech must be fought at the unpalatable margins. Only by defending the rights of the racist to spew their bile about Syrian refugees can we be confident of preserving the upstanding citizen’s right to criticise German immigration policy without fear or expectation of censorship.

And as German Pulse rightly points out, no one step, no new draconian crackdown on freedom of expression is ever enough – just as one new health warning on cigarettes sugary food is never enough for the public health police. Individuals and companies cede more of their rights and autonomy, and it only ever emboldens the state to demand yet more.

Demanding that social media companies submit the IP addresses of users who post “hateful messages”to the justice ministry suggests that the German government (or at least significant factions within the ruling Christian Democratic Union) aims to become much more proactive in their persecution of thought and speechcrime. Why dream of building a massive database of social media users who type unacceptable keywords or are reported for causing “offence” by their thin-skinned peers unless you plan on unleashing some kind of retribution on them in response?

This is yet another dark day for free speech in Europe, but perhaps there is an upside – Theresa May will be able to find so much common cause with Angela Merkel over their mutual contempt for basic civil liberties that their shared authoritarianism could yet grease the wheels of the upcoming Brexit negotiations.

 

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Top Image: Wikimedia Commons

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