Proposals to address so-called hate groups put forward by the Tony Blair Institute risk damaging freedom of speech in the UK, Index on Censorship warned.
“You do not create more equal societies through censorship and the growing enthusiasm for shutting down other people’s speech in a misguided belief this promotes greater tolerance is depressing. Hatred needs to be addressed – but banning people from expressing hateful views is not the way to do this,” Jodie Ginsberg, CEO of Index, said.
The institute proposed the creation of a new designation the government would use to differentiate between legitimate criticism and commentary on “Islamist extremism or white supremacy” and the “indiscrimate targeting of a group to foster hatred”. Groups that were tagged with the new designation, the institute imagines, “would be banned from appearing on media outlets like the BBC or engaging with public institutions.”
Ginsberg said: “The government already has legislation it can use to tackle those who deliberately stir up racial and religious hatred, and in particular laws that address incitement to violence. We do not need new laws – we need better enforcement of the ones we have. Governments have for decades tried – and failed – to find a way of defining extremist language in a way that would not end up simply scooping up vast swathes of legal political speech. Proposals to give the government greater powers to define and outlaw new kinds of speech simply open the door to more and more state censorship of speech.”
“The idea that the government – or a state body – should be able to designate emergency periods when certain kinds of speech should be removed from the internet is even more troubling. Relying on tech companies to implement emergency algorithms that only isolate ‘bad speech’ betrays a woeful ignorance of the way in which such algorithms work. Using this kind of blunt tool inevitably ends up preventing much essential expression – including distribution of life-saving information and evidence gathering of crime – as well as any hateful content.”