Censorship never does arrive with the commentary that we’d really very much rather you weren’t allowed to say that. It’s always wrapped up in the idea that the things being said are false, or damaging to society or some favoured group. It’s never “Don’t criticise the Nazi Party because we are the Nazi Party” it’s “That damages the Nation, the Volk” or even “That’s untrue so you can’t say it”.
The end result is the same of course, censorship means that we can’t say what those doing the censoring really very much would rather we didn’t. The most obvious, first and foremost, of those things they’d rather we didn’t say being criticism of those doing the censorship. Shouting “F**k!” from the London stage always did get rather fewer red lines drawn through it than the line “The Lord Chancellor’s a poopyhead”. Wartime censorship of letters was very keen indeed on excising mentions of the fact that there was wartime censorship of letters.
Which brings us to our Brave New World of social media. Now that any of us can just say what we like there’s obviously going to be a move to stop this damned impertinence and here it comes:
New laws to regulate social media are needed to protect the platforms from being “darkened” by fake news and online harms, one of the world’s most powerful regulators of tech companies has said. Margrethe Vestager, the EU competition commissioner, said regulations were being developed that were designed to make social platforms, from Facebook and Snapchat to Instagram and YouTube, fairer and more transparent. “All the bright and shiny positive elements of tech are at risk of being darkened by false news, misuse of data, no respect of the citizen, no respect of individual rights,” she said on BBC Radio Four.
You can censor absolutely anything you like inside those strictures. Respect for individual rights? In the modern world that could mean anything from commenting on IQ variations across populations to calling illegal immigrants illegal. Respect for the citizen will soon enough morph into banning disrespect of those who represent the citizen, the politicians. False news, well, the EU Commission has declared that the bendy bananas story is false news and yet it is still true, that bananas of excessive curvature may not be sold for human consumption on pain of a £5,000 fine and or 6 months in jail.
Do not, under any circumstances, think that they wouldn’t use such powers if they were granted – that’s not how power works. Whoever gains power over what we may say will use it to determine what we may say, that is how power works.
Consider this. In certain European Union countries – France comes to mind – it is illegal to insult a public servant. Yup, to call a bureaucrat a poopyhead is illegal in La Profonde. Here in Britain it isn’t, it’s not even covered by libel laws. Even if I assert that actually the bureaucrat really is, factually, a poopyhead that’s still mere vulgar abuse and while it’s impolite it’s legal.
So, we’ve those two versions of freedom of speech. Margrethe Vestager is arguing that she and hers be allowed to – with zero democratic input of course – determine the free speech laws for an entire continent. The statement “Margrethe Vestager is a poopyhead” is going to come under which version of those censorship laws? When it’s Margrethe Vestager, the poopyhead, doing the determining of what may be said?
Quite, and that’s all you need to know about the suggestion, isn’t it? Thank The Lord we’re leaving come March 29.