In a chilling threat to civil liberties, the Labour Party in the UK wants to force social media companies to actively censor its citizens’ vaccine-skeptical conversations.
Like the Democrats in the US, the Labour Party feels social media companies should do more to crack down on dissenting opinions. But, unlike the US which has the First Amendment to protect speech from power-hungry politicians, the UK has little protection from such overreach.
The opposition has called on the government, led by Prime Minister Boris Johnson of the Conservative Party, to create emergency legislation that would “stamp out” anti-vaccine content on social media platforms. The proposal came as the government prepares to evaluate the effectiveness of BioNTech and Pfizer’s vaccine candidates and some citizens have taken to social media to say they won’t take a vaccine – some because they’re simply against it and others because they’re worried to take a rushed product.
The shadow secretaries of culture and health, Jo Stevens and Jonathan Ashworth, in a letter to health secretary Oliver Dowden, wrote “our historic strength in vaccine uptake must not be taken for granted” warning that “spread of disinformation online presents a real and present danger.”
The shadow secretaries suggested criminal and financial penalties for social media platforms that failed to remove anti-vaccine conversations.
Data from the pro-censorship activist group Center for Countering Digital Hate shows that anti-vaccine conversations are not only popular on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube but also on newer apps like TikTok. The hashtag #VaccinesAreDangerous has about 800k hits on TikTok.
There are also multiple anti-vaccine petitions, some of which have hundreds of thousands of signatures.
Dowden said, “COVID disinformation is dangerous and could cost lives.” He also said that there is a lot that can be done to handle it.
“The government has a pitiful track record on taking action against online platforms that are facilitating the spread of disinformation,” said Stevens.
Now, she says it is a “matter of life and death.” Therefore, “Anyone who is dissuaded from being vaccinated because of this is one person too many.”
Of course, free speech proponents do not agree with Labour’s proposal of censorship. The coronavirus saga has ushered in many cuts to freedoms both online and offline and it’s not known how many more the public will accept.
“Surely the answer isn’t to ban the anti-vaxxers but to explain why they are wrong on every available platform. Demonstrate why the science is right rather than push the argument underground where rational argument will be lost,” said Index On Censorship CEO Ruth Smeeth.