British Move Toward Censoring “Unsavory” Internet Speech

220px-JamesBrokenshireHomeOfficeI have repeatedly written on the alarming erosion of free speech in the United Kingdom, particularly as a result of hate speech and anti-discriminatory regulations (here and here and here). Now, Security and Immigration Minister, James Brokenshire, has stated that the government is not content with censoring language viewed as terroristic but wants to remove “”unsavoury” content.” He acknowledges that such content is not illegal but express a desire to sanitize the web of such speech. Brokenshire is an example of the insatiable appetite for censorship that develops once you allow the government to control speech. You can almost hear the “harrumph” and “hear, hear” to get the diminishing measure of free speech in England.

Brokenshire is quoted as saying that the government must do more to shape the dialogue of citizens by censoring content that is objectionable: “that may not be illegal but certainly is unsavoury and may not be the sort of material that people would want to see or receive.” He also wants more private censorship from media sites to keep nasty material from appearing.

Brokenshire is the new face of authoritarian measures in the post-9-11 age. New demands for censorship are now cloaked in expression of tolerance and pluralism. It is an appeal to the majority in asking citizens to impose limits on their own freedoms. It brings new meaning to the comment by Ralph Waldo Emerson that “Democracy becomes a government of bullies tempered by editors.”

52 thoughts on “British Move Toward Censoring “Unsavory” Internet Speech

  1. One argument for totally free speech is that it lets us know who among is really, truly wicked or crazy. The electronic slug-trail left behind by such people can be a valuable reference tool for calling them out when they try to conceal their worst selves in order to gain positions of power or influence.

  2. RW Nye: that is the best argument in favor of total openness that I have ever seen – I will definitely remember your point.
    Unfortunately once there is the capability to ‘control’ what one segment do not like, we are in mortal danger of being kept in the dark ‘for our own good’ (of course!!) even more than now, so in the end we have NO IDEA what is truth !!
    But of course there are many who want it that way – the masses are way too dangerous to the powerful when they know what those in power are actually doing !!

  3. I want folks to be able to keep on saying whatever their hearts desire, even if I disagree, as long as and I and others get to tell them we disagree. Sometimes when an opposing view is expressed there are those who would shut down speech with methods that have nothing to do with government censorship. One sees this on the internet forums all the time. Attempts at “outing” anonymous posters, denigration by personal insult, intimidation by posting personal information about another commenter, bullying, harassment and more. The internet is a tough place and it helps to learn how to be unintimidated and to keep saying it as you see it, no matter the pushback.

  4. It is sad indeed but it is of the government’s own doing. First they let the dawgs out without any leashes and let them radicalise the youth, then they had to bear the brunt of the terrorist attacks and hacking of a soldier and many other things. It becomes too late to put genie back in the bottle at times.

    When I lived there in the 60’s and 70’s, my driver’s license had no picture and still does not and it expires when I get to be 75. The govt used to discourage people to keep important papers like car registration, DL and insurance in the car. UK, being a small country, if one was stopped by the police and had no documents, they were given 5 days to present them at the police station of their choice. Lots of people who did not have the DL’s sent their friends in their places.

    This problem of liberty will get worse in all over Europe because of the EU passport which can allow anyone to travel and work anywhere.

    I hope they find a better way to curtail the radicalism with the help of free speech which they can track if it goes off the London Bridge.

  5. Sometimes, the English (English, that is, as in Great Britain) language can be happenstance-poetic?

    Some time in the past, the unitary monarchy government of Great Britain was partitioned into administrative regions which were named “shires.”

    So, “Worcestershire Sauce” was a sauce for which the administrative region of Worcester became known far away from Worcester?

    So, we have a story about a person whose “real” name, as I can grasp it, is “James Broken Administrative Region.”

    For myself, I find his apparent choice of words, with regard to public safety and public well-being to be massively objectionable, save for the curious feature that I find it in the public interest to learn to understand what is not in the public interest.

  6. I never liked savory….. In salad….. But to each its own….. But I do like a good savory perfume…… On the right person….. So… I guess I like unsavory salads…. Speech…. Get the F@&$ over it….

  7. This legislates speech not morality. However, the problem is that ‘unsavory’ is such a slippery slope anything could be on it.:) Even discussion of ‘unsavory.’

  8. Paul, you would be wrong. I suggest you reexamine your own tactics, which several commenters saw through almost immediately. I’m not going to get into a tit for tat here on this thread with you.

  9. Censoring internet speech can and probably would censor morality. “They” ultimately would stop discussions about gay marriage, legalizing marijuana or prostitution to name just three morality arenas that would be forbidden ‘free speech.’ Putting a government agency in charge of monitoring internet speech would result in discussions about weather and gardening.

  10. PCers have all these qualifiers involving “feeling” and “marginalization” and other horseshit. The PCers here secretly applaud this stuff in GB but don’t have the guts to admit it. So they hedge their bets w/ horseshit equivocation.

  11. Paul, a wink and a smile is probably wise when you call me silly “girl”. However it does not reflect well on you as a sincere commenter interested in honest discussion. I’m usually suspicious of those who smile a little bit too much.

  12. Geometry lends some clarity on what the British are doing here.

    The slippery slope is so steep because it is undefined

  13. Nicky,

    We’re you in the French Army? Were you the first or second on duty to drop your rifle when the invading National Democratic Party of Germany took over?

  14. annie – given your actions and comments about me and others, you need to reread the civility rules.

  15. Civility and Decorum Policy:

    This blog is committed to the principles of free speech and, as a consequence, we do not ban people simply because we disagree with them. Indeed, we value different perspectives and do not want to add another “echo chamber” to the Internet where we each repeat or amplify certain views. However, the Turley blog was created with a strong commitment to civility, a position that distinguishes us from many other sites. We do not tolerate personal attacks or bullying. It is strictly forbidden to use the site to publish research regarding private information on any poster or guest blogger. There are times when a poster reveals information about themselves as relevant to an issue or their experiences. That is fine and is sometimes offered to broaden or personalize an issue. For example, I am open about my background and any current cases to avoid questions of conflicts or hidden agendas. However, researching people or trying to strip people of anonymity is creepy and will not be allowed.

    Frankly, while I have limited time to monitor the site, I will delete abusive comments when I see them or when they are raised to me. If the conduct continues, I will consider banning the person responsible. However, such transgressions should be raised with me by email and not used as an excuse to trash talk or retaliate. I am the only one who can ban someone from the blog and I go to great lengths not to do it or engage in acts that might be viewed as censorship. Yet, we have had a few people who simply want to foul the cyber footpath with personal name-calling, insults, and threatening behavior. If they will not conform to our basic rules (which should not be difficult for any adult person in society), they will have to move on.

    We do allow comments as well as anonymity, which some sites have disallowed. It is a curious thing how anonymity will unleash vile and dark impulses in people. Yet, anonymity is part of free speech and, while we have discussed eliminating anonymous comments due to abuses, we are trying to preserve this important element to free speech. It is possible to be anonymous but not obnoxious.

    The blog is for civil dialogue on all manner of topics and not the promotion of commercial interests. If you have a product or service for sale, please refrain from including that in the comments section.

    Given my family and professional responsibilities, I cannot continually monitor the comments. It is a challenge to post multiple stories early in the morning each day. This is reflected by the typos that sneak into my posts at 5 in the morning while I am trying to pour caffeine into my body. For that reason, this site relies heavily on its regulars to preserve decorum and civility. The failure to delete or respond to a post is not a reflection of any agreement or content-based review. All comments are solely the view of the poster and not the blog, myself, or the guest bloggers. We get thousands of comments and have only limited screening ability for foul language. For that reason, your help is not just welcomed but absolutely necessary in maintaining the character and tenor of this blog.

    Like all sites, we attract trolls and juvenile posters who want to tear down the work of others. It is a sad reality of the Internet and the worst element of our species. Don’t feed the trolls. Ignore them. They are trolls and live under cyber bridges for a reason.

    We have often been described as a place where people can have passionate but respectful discussions. That is not for everyone. Indeed, one of the leading legal blogs expressly rejected a civility rule as boring and unnecessary. We disagree. If you find it difficult or unfulfilling to discuss issues without personal insults or foul language, please move on. Our Guest Bloggers are asked to avoid any tit-for-tat fight with trolls and critics. Likewise, most of our regulars refuse to engage in such exchanges. Please help us keep this an island of civility and mature discourse on the Internet. Address the issues and not the individuals in our debate. Be passionate but don’t let it get personal.

    And thanks again for being part of our blog community.

    Jonathan Turley

  16. nick and catchim – had it not been for the bravery of the French army fighting to hold off Rommel and Runstedt, the British Army would never have escaped Dunkirk. During Rommel’s blitzkrieg across France, DeGualle led a flanking attack that almost stopped him. The reason the Germans stopped before taking out the British and Dunkirk was because the German high command was afraid of another flanking attack on their extended supply line. DeGualle and the French Army saved the British Army from capture.

  17. Everything in moderation. Including moderation.
    Civility is a fine doctrine. So is Catholicism, Islam, Bhuddhism, and other doctrines. Just don’t tread on free speech.

  18. Paul: The fact of the matter is that “moderation” is a very subjective term in all spheres of life and in some sphere so is “Free Speech”.

  19. Paul: If I were you, I would read about the Sikh soldiers in the British Army, the only lot to stand and fight even in France among other countries in the world.

  20. Teji Malik – I looked up the Sikhs and do not see a reference to them during Dunkirk. I know they were both brave and valued soldiers for the British Empire. However, most of their work seems to have been done in India and the surrounding territories. If you have a good reference, please post it.

  21. Paul: Sikhs fought all around, the world not just in India. One can find pictures of them tearing down swastika, there are tombstones of the dead Sikh soldiers all over Europe including France, Belgium, Ital etc. etc. Here is a little thing I found. One can find a lot more via Google, I am sure:

    Two World Wars and the Sikhs‎
    During WW-1, it fought in China, France and Belgium-Flanders at Ypres twice … Force in 1940 campaign which ended in the evacuation from Dunkirk (France). … “In the last two world wars 83,005 turban wearing Sikh soldiers were killed and …

  22. Teji – found it. There was a company of Sikhs at Dunkirk. According to the British order of battle that would be between 80-225 men led by a captain (smaller group) or major (larger group). I am sure they fought bravely.

  23. I posted a link to this discussion on a British talkboard, NotTheTalk.

    FYI: NotTheTalk formed after the Guardian Newspaper (where the Snowden revelations originally surfaced) folded up its comment blogs. If you’re interested in what the rest of the world thinks about, and about American foreign policy, this is a good place to start.

  24. Re: Wayne knows now why people wanted to leave the UK to form a new government department . Really knowledgable Americans learned after 4th grade that every Brit does have freedom of speech and freedom of the press to express cultural opinions , A lot of thinking Brits denounce their warrior ancestors as self indulgent colonial land grabbers and knows the American Revolutionary War was necessary for every democracy to flourish.
    Anthony Burgess described the UK as “the land of good pubs and great TV ” but this boring Brit bashing is a unsavory cultural throwback . The US -UK cultural exchange will become Orwell -accepting indeed if we can only repeat trite childish phrases .

  25. UK is the country where celebrities can have their court cases sealed and hidden from the press. The Child Protective Services works though secret courts were the parents are not allowed and then when the child is taken, the parents are given a press gag order. Why are we not surprised about this new move at censorship?

  26. wisely,

    The freedoms of press and speech that you proudly proclaim are the very ones now under attack. And when I was studying Britain’s freedoms in the 4th grade are you suggesting that these freedoms existed at the time of the American Revolution?

    It now seems as if Britain would like to re-visit the 18th century under the guise of removing “unsavory content” from the internet. So yes, I can absolutely understand why our original founders wanted to leave a repressive government, which is what Britain is now becoming.

  27. Do Gurkas who fought with the Brits get confused here with Sikhs? I saw Gurkas in Nepal and have a Gurka knife. It is quite a piece.

  28. Wayne,
    The after 4th grade learning I refer to was more cultural understanding through music and TV and art .
    . The Brits have been under a stressful months of negotiating against a constriction and re shaping of the press but it’s not much worse than the US consolidation of cable companies like Comcast .
    I love the factual tale of John Adams, who successfully defended British Army individuals when they were accused of fearfully shooting without orders into a resentful out of control mob in Boston . There were fatalities but Adams got most of the soldiers acquitted
    Why was that not emphasized in history books, the birth of American justice before 1776 instead of the sleazy exceptions like Benedict Arnold ?, Having fair and just courts is what makes democracies thrive for every country .
    I find it fascinating that the word “chauvinistic ” originally meant excessive nationalism Have a nice multi cultural day day, Wayne !

  29. The morale of this is that soldiers should never fire into a crowd even or especially when both the angry mob and the military /police /militia are panicking. God bless JohnAdams who as an early American gave the world a needed legal lesson . Everyone , included the hated British Army in Boston two hundred years ago, is entitled to a fair trial

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