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#LondonAttacks: The UK’s New War on ‘Online Extremism’

TheresaMay
Theresa May speaking at the Royal Institute of International Affairs, also known as Chatham House (Photo: Chatham House. Source: Wikicommons)

In response to the attack in London that reportedly killed seven people in the London Bridge area of the city, UK Prime Minister Theresa May made a speech in which she repeated her frequent calls for a crackdown on internet freedom. Blaming the internet for providing a “safe space” for terrorist and extremist ideologies, she called for other countries to come together and produce international agreements to regulate the internet and internet content. May said:

“We cannot allow this ideology the safe space it needs to breed. Yet that is precisely what the internet, and the big companies that provide internet-based services provide. We need to work with allied democratic governments to reach international agreements that regulate cyberspace to prevent the spread of extremist and terrorism planning. And we need to do everything we can at home to reduce the risks of extremism online.”

The latest attack came less than two weeks after the Manchester Bombing at a sold-out Ariana Grande concert with 20,000 people in attendance that killed 22. After that attack, Prime Minister May said:

“Make no mistake, the fight is moving from the battlefield to the internet. In the UK, we are already working with social media companies to halt the spread of extremist material and hateful propaganda that is warping young minds. I am clear that corporations can do more. Indeed they have a social responsibility to now step up their efforts to remove harmful content from their networks. Today, I called on leaders to do more. We agreed a range of steps the G7 could take to strengthen its work with tech companies on this vital agenda. We want companies to develop tools to identify and remove harmful materials automatically.”

Again, she is not just calling for a crackdown on the internet but also for other countries to join with her to block internet content internationally. One wonders why this should be necessary. Online social networks can already take down content they deem inappropriate, and do so with increasing frequency. There are countless instances of Facebook, YouTube and Twitter removing content; they even have reporting systems built into their platforms expressly for that purpose. So why is a crackdown necessary?

It is well known that the UK government is fighting a war on encryption, with various figures within the government – especially Theresa May – repeatedly stating that terrorists should have no place to hide and/or communicate out of sight of authorities. But blocking certain technologies, while related, is different to blocking users’ content and censoring their opinions.

And there is another very important nuance in May’s speeches. While she uses both the words ‘terrorism’ and ‘extremism’, these words are far from interchangeable. ‘Terrorism’ is the use of violence or the threat of violence to achieve political ends, and is a very serious crime. ‘Extremism’ on the other hand may be a universal characteristic of terrorists, but may also be applied to any number of other opinions, statements, acts or beliefs, and does not necessarily indicate criminal, unlawful or violent acts.

This is very, very dangerous ground. The words ‘terrorism’ and ‘extremism’ are used in conjunction with each other so often, that many people will believe that they are in fact interchangeable. And after hearing them used together so much, one word does connote the other. But in actuality the police, intelligence services, government departments and politicians could call anything ‘extremism’, even opinions that they simply disagree with, and even when no crime has been committed.

While very few people would defend terrorists using the internet to communicate, what Theresa May is saying about extremism (and calling for international agreement on) could apply not only to terrorists but to anyone with a dissenting opinion. Free speech – including speech that holds governments to account – is under very, very grave threat. In fact, all types of freedom are.

For proof that this potential outcome is becoming reality, look no further than a speech by Britain’s previous Prime Minister, David Cameron.

“For too long, we have been a passively tolerant society, saying to our citizens: as long as you obey the law, we will leave you alone. It’s often meant we have stood neutral between different values. And that’s helped foster a narrative of extremism and grievance. This Government will conclusively turn the page on this failed approach.”

In other words, even if you obey the law, we could still consider you a problem and interfere with your life. Ironically, David Cameron and Theresa May both like to talk about the importance of the Rule of Law.

And watch this clip of Cameron addressing the UN General Assembly:

Like Theresa May after him, David Cameron implicitly warned that British authorities would be coming after law-abiding citizens simply because their beliefs could be labelled ‘extremist’. And he explicitly included in that category anyone who questions 9/11 or 7/7, even if they are not violent or have not committed any crime.

More on this from The Independent

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Theresa May wants a crackdown on online ‘extremism’ (Photo: Colin. Source: Wikicommons)

Jon Stone
The Independent

New international agreements should be introduced to regulate the internet in the light of the London Bridge terror attack, Theresa May has said.

The Prime Minister said introducing new rules for cyberspace would “deprive the extremists of their safe spaces online” and that technology firms were not currently doing enough.

The Prime Minister made the comments outside Downing Street on Sunday morning in the aftermath of the van and knife attack that saw seven people killed and dozens injured.

“We cannot allow this ideology the safe space it needs to breed – yet that is precisely what the internet, and the big companies that provide internet-based services provide,” Ms May said…

Continue this story at The Independent

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