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The Great DNA Test Scam: Adding Fake Black and Scandinavian DNA

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Should you drunkenly celebrate St. Patrick’s Day or Oktoberfest? Can you brag about your ancestors having first-class seats on the Mayflower? Do you need to feel extra, extra bad about slavery? All these questions and more can be answered by sending a vial of your spit off to a company like Ancestry.com, 23andMe, or Living DNA …except they are now accused of being a sham.

Genetics experts from the University of Texas and the University of North Carolina have gone so far as to say that these companies are preying on people, because they don’t truly have the information they need to pinpoint your origins on a map, and that it’s not possible to trace unique ancestry that way. As they put it, “That’s the beauty of this scam. The companies aren’t scamming you. They’re not giving you fraudulent information. They are giving you data, real data, and allowing you to scam yourself.”

When Inside Edition had a set of triplets send their spit in to Ancestry.com and 23andMe, they got wildly different results from both services. Neither gave each triplet the same ancestry results — which, considering they all came from the same womb, is pretty weird.

Inside Edition’s Chief Investigative Correspondent Lisa Guerrero revealed the results to Erica McGraw and her sisters on the set of the TV programme The Doctors. She was joined by the show’s host, Dr. Travis Stork.

The sisters were all 99 percent European but the test from 23andMe also showed some surprising differences.

Nicole was 11 percent French and German but Erica was 22.3 percent. Their sister Jaclyn was in the middle at 18 percent. That is not a small gap. If you were off by 10 percent on a DNA test, you could technically be a mouse.

Apparently, all these pretty numbers mean nothing.

“I’m surprised,” Nicole said. “I’m surprised because we came from the same egg and DNA. How are our ancestries different?”

DNA test company staff admitted to having changed people’s results,  “Since we couldn’t do anything to the results (and we wanted to), what we did was add ‘< 1 percent’ to each African category of ethnicity. That way we weren’t lying, and they would both be wondering how much under a percentage point was. We always try to round to the nearest number because we sometimes hear about percentage points, but for them, we leave it open to whether it’s a one or a zero.”

It’s a con to get people to pay for a second test. “Unless they got another test, that was going to bother them. Maybe they weren’t 100 percent Caucasian. I mean, they were, according to the results, but this way it leaves it open, and they’ll always be wondering.”

They claim this was well-intentioned. “If the results only added up to 99.5 percent, we’d say, ‘Let’s stick that 0.5 percent under Scandinavian.’ Other times, when we ask their family name (for women, their maiden name), and we see what country that last name came from, we’ll add it there, because they’ll be more proud of that heritage more often than not.”

Google CENSORS migrant crisis video by Polish government

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YouTube has ‘quarantined’ a hard-hitting video on Europe’s migrant crisis released by Poland’s conservative government, as part the platform’s crackdown on “hate speech and violent extremism”.

The Polish Ministry of Interior and Administration’s video has been placed in a controversial limited state designed by YouTube to restrict access to videos it says contain “supremacist” or “extremist” content, but which don’t actually break any of the platform’s rules. Videos placed in this limited state are unsearchable, impossible to embed on other sites, and removed from users’ recommended videos lists.

The only way to reach such ‘quarantined’ content is by clicking a direct link to the video in question. Even then, viewers are warned that the “content is inappropriate or offensive”, and are asked to click a button confirming this before they are allowed to watch the video.

The video’s description reads –

“The PiS (Law & Justice) government withdrew from the harmful decision of the PO-PSL government to bring immigrants from the Middle East and North Africa to Poland. We were the first to say that not every immigrant is a refugee, and only a few flee from war and terror. Two years after the Polish government’s opposition to the admission of illegal immigrants, EU leaders are beginning to understand the absurd policy of compulsory relocation of refugees.”

This is the restricted video (which has English subtitles):

This is very concerning from a freedom of speech perspective, especially as YouTube is by far the largest video sharing site online. It is very difficult for smaller rivals to compete – just last week VidMe announced that it will be closing down and user uploads have already been disabled.

We cannot allow giant corporations to become the arbiters of free expression and communication. That leads directly to tyranny. One potential solution could be the use of decentralised peer-to-peer video sharing sites, where it would be much harder for a central authority to censor or restrict content.

“Snoopers’ charter” changes put forward by Home Office

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The Home Office has launched a consultation that proposes to make a number of amendments to their controversial internet snooping Investigatory Powers Act 2016.  The Investigatory Powers Act contains a variety of measures, such as one that forces broadband ISPs to retain basic Internet Connection Records on all of their subscribers for up to 12 months (e.g. details of all the websites / servers they’ve visited), which can then be supplied to a valid authority without a warrant. This occurs irrespective of whether you’re even suspected of a crime.

However, at the end of last year the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) threatened to deal a major blow to the IPA, by ruling that EU law does not allow “general and indiscriminate retention of traffic data and location data,” except for “targeted” use against “serious crime”.  After a long wait the Home Office has recently published a consultation in response to last year’s judgement and admitted that “some aspects of our current regime for the retention of and access to communications data do not satisfy the requirements of the CJEU.”  The consultation on the proposed changes will run until 18 January 2018.

To address the CJEU’s concerns, the government proposes:

  • that offences carrying a potential prison sentence of six months or more should be considered “serious crimes” for which communications data can be collected
  • that communications data will no longer be collected for the purpose of public health, collecting taxes or regulating financial markets
  • creating a new Office for Communications Data Authorisations (OCDA) that will authorise or decline law enforcement requests for data

The Open Rights Group and Liberty say the proposed changes do not go far enough.

Adding independent authorisation for communications data requests will make the police more effective, as corruption and abuse will be harder, said Jim Killock, executive director of the Open Rights Group.

But he said the government has evaded the main point of the Watson judgment, which is that it cannot keep data on a blanket basis.

“Without narrowing what they keep to specific places, incidents or investigations, these changes will not meet the standards set by the courts,” said Killock.

“Combined with the so-called Request Filter [covered in the code of practice], which could be a power for a police search engine for retained data, this will remain an incredibly intrusive surveillance power, unparalleled in democratic countries.”

Pestminster: Nadine Dorries says MPs’ computers are full of porn

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In response to the recent scandal about Damian Green MP – the deputy to Prime Minister Theresa May – having porn on his work computer, Conservative MP Nadine Dorries tweeted yesterday that “I’m sure if the computers of all MPs – including Labour ones, were investigated there would be a record of porn being accessed. There would, in all cases, be zero proof of who it was who accessed it.”

This raises a number of concerns – if an employee of any organisation other than the government had porn on their work computer, it would be a disciplinary offence, very likely leading to dismissal, even if they had downloaded or watched it during a break. Certainly, all the companies in which I have worked have mentioned in the employment contract or the employee handbook that using the company’s internet or computers to access any kind of pornography is a serious breach of the rules. So why is there a different rule for MPs and their staff? This point was re-iterated by independent councillor Paul V Greenall in a reply to Nadine Dorries’ original tweet:

MPs and their staff are paid for by taxpayers and should be expected to remain fully focused on their work.

Another concern is to do with security – if, as Nadine Dorries says, there would be zero proof of who accessed the porn, this suggests that MPs and their employees are sharing their computer logins and passwords, which is worrying as these computers likely contain sensitive files. In any organisation I have worked in, it has been made clear that you will be personally be held liable for any misconduct that takes place under your login.  If staff share their logins, there is no audit trail showing who has done what.

Nadine Dorries is effectively saying that MPs all ignore security procedures on the taxpayers’ pound and misuse is rampant. If what she claims is true, surely the police need to look into this across the whole of Parliament – not just the misuse but also possible breaches as security is so poor.

Proposed new Facebook news feed filtering could DESTROY smaller publishers

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Facebook is testing a major change that would shift non-promoted posts out of its news feed, a move that could be catastrophic for publishers relying on the social network for their audience.

A new system being trialled in six countries including Slovakia, Serbia and Sri Lanka sees almost all non-promoted posts shifted over to a secondary feed, leaving the main feed focused entirely on original content from friends, and paid-for adverts.

Some Facebook pages affected by the trial have already seen a drop in user engagement of between 60 and 80%. It is causing significant drops in pages’ organic reach, and if the new change is implemented globally, it could mean that only publishers who can afford to pay for Facebook advertising will be able to reach a wide audience.

In a statement, Facebook said: With all of the possible stories in each person’s feed, we always work to connect people with the posts they find most meaningful. People have told us they want an easier way to see posts from friends and family, so we are testing two separate feeds, one as a dedicated space with posts from friends and family and another as a dedicated space for posts from Pages.”

Matti Littunen, a senior research analyst at Enders Analysis, said the move was “the classic Facebook playbook: first give lots of organic reach to one content type, then they have to pay for reach, then they can only get through to anyone by paying.”

My fear is that as Facebook users are used to seeing everything in one news feed, if the friends/promoted post feed becomes the default, a lot of people may not bother to click onto the secondary feed to see posts from non-promoted pages and groups, or they may not even realise it exists and therefore miss out. This could affect the reach of pages such as MBGA News and the People’s Charter Foundation. The default Facebook feed could become dominated by the big mainstream news publishers who can afford to spend millions on advertising, while smaller independent publishers are squeezed out.

In a second statement Facebook added: “We have no current plans to roll this out globally.”

Deputy to Prime Minister denies watching porn on Parliament computer

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As fresh allegations arise that police found porn on Damian Green MP’s computer, he claims he never watched any “adult material” in his Parliamentary office.

Mr Green said, “I have maintained all along, I still maintain, it is the truth, that I didn’t download or look at pornography on my computer. But obviously while the investigation is going on I can’t say any more.”

The minister – who effectively acts as Theresa May’s deputy – has faced new claims that “THOUSANDS” of pornographic images were found on the computer during a raid over Government leaks in 2008. None of the material was deemed unlawful.

Neil Lewis, a retired Scotland Yard detective, said the data suggested the material had been viewed for hours at a time over a period of around three months.

It is not known exactly who viewed the images on the computer, which was accessible by Mr Green and a number of his staff. Perhaps one of his interns was bored at work, and stupidly downloaded a few thousands photos … because the work PC is a wise place to build a “wank bank”.

“The computer was in Mr Green’s office, on his desk, logged in, his account, his name,” Mr Lewis told the BBC.

Mr Green, who is the subject of a misconduct investigation by the Cabinet Office over alleged inappropriate behaviour towards a young activist, today reiterated firm denials that he viewed porn on the computer.

UK tech industry SNUBBED by EU investment agency

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THE British Business Bank (BBB) has stepped in to financially assist a new technology fund after the European Union’s investment agency, the European Investment Fund (EIF), announced it will not be supporting it following the Brexit vote. This is in spite of the fact that the UK is still contributing fully to the EU budget.

Many tech companies’ requests for funds were frozen alongside this year following the triggering of Article 50. The EIF is majority owned by the European Investment Bank and is a huge source of funds for British venture capitalists.

The BBB has contributed £36million of the £60m fund and following Brexit is expected to be a main player in investing in UK tech.

A Treasury spokesman said : “We are clear that UK companies should be able to access EIB funding on equal terms as other member states while the UK remains a member of the EU.

“While we work to make sure this happens, we have taken action to support business investment by authorising the British Business Bank to increase its support for venture capital funds and have offered construction guarantees on infrastructure projects.”

It is outrageous that we are still paying full contributions into the EU’s budget (to which we are a net contributor, don’t forget), but they have already started denying the UK access to funds like these.  What makes this worse is that it was recently revealed that the EU investment bank will owe Britain money for 35 years after Brexit. The institution’s chief Alexander Stubb said Britain would not get its £3.1 billion, 16 per cent stake back in full until 2054.

The solution is simple – get out of all the EU’s institutions as the people voted for that. Then start negotiating. Stop funding the EU now, as that is what we voted for.

Mobile phone hacking devices are used to suppress political opposition to the EU

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A press release by Bálint Péter Linder reveals that devices for intercepting mobile phones or hacking computers are used to suppress political opposition

EU export controls will be extended on goods and technologies designed for civilian use but possibly used for human rights violations, Trade Committee MEPs voted on Thursday.

The EU is currently updating its rules on the export control of dual-use items to keep up with new technologies and to prevent authoritarian regimes from spying on their own citizens with the help of European products.

  • Export of cyber-surveillance tools needs to be authorised
  • Protection of civilians and human right defenders
  • Handbook for exporters, level playing field for member states

Goods and technologies designed for use in peaceful, civilian circumstances, but that can also be used for weapons of mass destruction or terrorist attacks, are already under an EU export control regime. The new rules would enhance ‘human security’, by adding certain cyber-surveillance tools to the list of items that need the approval of national authorities before being exported.

These include devices for intercepting mobile phones, hacking computers, circumventing passwords or identifying internet users, as such dual-use items are widely used to suppress civilians, political opposition and activists around the world.

Trade Committee MEPs want to strengthen the protection of human rights and create a “future-proof” system that can rapidly deal with new technologies.

Their key suggestions include:

  • strengthening the protection of the right to privacy, data and, freedom of assembly, by adding clear-cut criteria and definitions to the regulation,
  • exporters of products not listed in the regulation but which could be used for human-rights violations, have to make sure that their goods won’t fall into the wrong hands, by following OECD-based ‘due-diligence’ guidelines,
  • the Commission must publish a handbook before the entry into force of the new rules, so that EU businesses know what they can and cannot do,
  • new risks and technologies have to be swiftly included in the regulation, and
  • creating a level playing field among member states, by, for example, introducing similar penalties for non-compliance, along with greater transparency of national authorities’ export control decisions.

MEPs also voted to delete encryption technologies from the list of cyber-surveillance products, as they consider these vital for the self-defence of human rights defenders.

The new rules were backed by 34 votes to 1, with 2 abstentions.

EU Parliament’s rapporteur Klaus Buchner (Greens/EFA, DE) said: “With today’s vote we extend effective control to cyber-surveillance technology. We close loopholes that otherwise result in innocent people across the world being imprisoned, tortured and killed. We make the protection of human rights a central aspect of dual-use export control. We add strong, new transparency measures and include civil society participation, whilst continuing to create value-based European trade policy.”

Next steps

The full House will have to confirm the Parliament’s negotiating mandate during the December plenary session in Strasbourg. Parliament can begin talks with ministers as soon as EU member states have agreed their own negotiating position.

Quick facts

Goods and technologies that can be used in peaceful civilian circumstances can also be used for building weapons of mass destruction, terrorist attacks or facilitating human rights violations. These include a broad range of products from chemicals, toxins, electronic equipment, lasers, navigation technology to nuclear power technology, robotics and software. The current system dates back to 2009, and exports are inspected and authorised by national authorities. During the “Arab Spring”, there was evidence that European technology was used by authoritarian regimes to oppress activists. The Parliament, the Council and the Commission issued a joint statement in 2014 to review the export control system, and the EP has also adopted resolutions calling for targeted changes.

Further Information

Facebook kills UniLad

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Viral video outlet Unilad appears to have been booted off Facebook. Unilad’s main page went offline after the social network said it had violated its posting policy. Unilad has (or had) 34 million followers. It’s not clear if the ban is temporary or permanent.

Unilad has a staff of 60, it makes its founders hundreds of thousands of pounds in profits, it has a global reach of a billion people per week and Facebook is its main traffic driver and revenue source. Facebook now holds the future of many publishers in its hands…

Did an EU employee attempt to hack the MBGA News blog editor’s Twitter account?

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In the final few weeks before the EU referendum last year, I discovered that an EU employee named Chris Kendall, who goes by the Twitter handle “Ottocrat”, had posted a meme accusing all Brexit supporters of being racist and unable to think for themselves.

Ottocrat Profile

As you can see from the screenshot of his Twitter profile above, he claims to be involved in making EU policy. The About section on his website (linked in his Twitter profile) states that he is a “European civil servant (a ‘eurocrat’) of British and German heritage” who works in foreign policy.

Ottocrat Tweet

The meme that Kendall posted, shown in the screenshot above, is a mock-up of an EU referendum ballot paper, with additional wording added which clearly shows what the author thinks of those on the two sides of the argument. It accused Leave voters of only wanting to quit the EU because they “believe that Nigel Farage, Donald Trump, Boris Johnson and Rupert Murdoch all have my best interests at heart and have told me that all our problems are because of the EU.  Also I’m a bit racist.”

By contrast, the meme praised Remainers for wanting to stay in the EU “because the UK should be part of something greater than itself. Also, it’s the 21st Century, for f**k’s sake, and we should be big boys about the EU’s faults, and try to fix them, rather than running home to mummy.”

I was very annoyed by this, so I responded to the tweet saying “Are you really an EU employee? It’s nice to know what you really think of the citizens who pay your wages! 😠” I also re-tweeted the meme to the official Leave EU and Vote Leave Twitter accounts, along with a comment saying “Just look at this arrogant EU civil servant mocking Leave voters!”

Within a couple of minutes, Kendall had blocked me on Twitter, without replying to my comments.  This wasn’t entirely unexpected.  But what happened immediately afterwards was of far greater concern.  I found that I had been locked out of the Twitter app on my phone, and then an email pinged into my inbox from Twitter, saying “Your account may have been compromised by a website or service not associated with Twitter.” I was required to reset my password in order to regain access.  I did think that this was rather suspicious, happening immediately after criticising an EU civil servant!

Twitter account locked

However, that’s not the end of the story – I then made a post about the Chris Kendall tweet in the Facebook group of the Be Leave campaign.  Another member of the group replied to my post, saying that he had also responded to the tweet, and that his account had been locked by Twitter too! He said “so I quoted this guy’s tweet and he attempted to hack my account and to delete it! Twitter just sent me an email saying they think my account has been compromised, by an IP address … cough… in the building of his employer, and he has blocked me from seeing his profile”.

It’s all very suspicious.  Thankfully, Twitter intercepted the alleged attempts to compromise our accounts.  But it does make you wonder – was there a co-ordinated attempt by the EU to shut down any criticism of itself on social media before the referendum, or was this individual acting of his own accord?

It is crucial that citizens are able to trust those in positions of power to respect the law and to not attempt to shut down the freedom of expression of those who disagree with them.  There should also be procedures in place where citizens can report any such suspicious activity amongst staff of EU institutions, so that an internal investigation can be carried out and appropriate action taken.

I would be interested to know if anyone else has had any similar experiences when interacting with eurocrats online.

 

The elites’ misrepresentation of James Damore’s Google memo

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Software developer James Damore was fired from Google last week after he wrote a 10-page document titled “Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber”. In his memo, he argued that the low proportion of females working in tech could at least in part be explained by biological differences between men and women.

Damore has consistently presented himself in subsequent interviews as a man of science and someone who was fired for “the truth.” After being dismissed from his Google role, he set up a Twitter account under the handle @Fired4Truth.

The document was widely misrepresented by the mass media – their headlines kept claiming it was an “anti-diversity” memo, but if you read it fully, you see that Damore doesn’t say diversity is bad. Rather, he criticises Google’s means of achieving a more diverse staff, for example, affirmative-action style quotas and female-only courses.

To give an example of the media distortion, The Washington Post claimed that the memo states that women may be technically unsuited for tech jobs, but Damore never actually said that. Also, the tech news site Gizmodo published a copy of the memo, but they removed all the links and supporting evidence. Was this an attempt to discredit Damore? You can read the full uncensored version of the document here.

This is what Damore actually said about diversity: “I strongly believe in gender and racial diversity, and I think we should strive for more. However, to achieve a more equal gender and race representation, Google has created several discriminatory practices. . . These practices are based on false assumptions generated by our biases and can actually increase race and gender tensions. We’re told by senior leadership that what we’re doing is both the morally and economically correct thing to do, but without evidence this is just veiled left ideology that can irreparably harm Google.”

Writing as a woman in IT, I didn’t find James Damore’s document to be controversial. His main point was that there may be reasons why fewer women are interested in coding, not that women are worse. I wonder how many of the people who complained about it actually read it in full?

There are certain things in the memo that don’t apply to me personally – for example, Damore states that on average, women prefer working with other people whereas men prefer working with things. I’m a quiet, introverted person, so I’ve always preferred working with things rather than people. Thus, a job in back-office IT is ideal for me, compared to, say, a customer-facing role. However, I accept that I am unusual in this respect and that a lot of people-oriented roles such as primary school teachers, nurses and caring vocations are female-dominated.

Although most of my IT jobs have been male-dominated, I haven’t felt disadvantaged. When I mention that I am a computer programmer, people – both male and female – tend to be impressed. There are events which promote IT to girls and women, which I think is positive but I’m uncomfortable with the idea of female-only courses. Thankfully, the events in my area are very inclusive. This shows that it is possible to promote coding to girls and women without excluding boys and men.

I think it would be a positive thing if more girls studied IT and went on to work in the tech industry, but you can’t make them do it against their will. Everyone must be given an equal chance to take IT courses but you can’t make anyone follow a particular career path if they do not want to do so. People spend a large proportion of their life at work so it is important they choose a career they think they will enjoy, rather than one they have been pushed into by their parents, teachers or by society’s expectations.

It’s very harsh that someone can lose their job and their livelihood merely for expressing an opinion and this has been a worrying trend in recent years. When someone expresses a view that goes against the accepted norms, there is a media frenzy (both in the traditional media and on social networks such as Twitter) until the person is hounded out of their job. It’s also very concerning that some employees and managers at Google have reportedly created blacklists of staff with whom they don’t want to work, due to ideological differences. It’s a great irony that a company which prides itself on diversity cannot tolerate diversity of thought.

Gab.ai, the free speech alternative to Twitter

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Founded in 2016, Gab.ai aims to be a free speech alternative to the major social networks such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. It is a libertarian social network founded in the classical liberal tradition of John Stuart Mill and John Milton, as well as the US First Amendment. Gab supports artistic expression and actively challenges the censorship that takes place on the major social media sites.

A couple of weeks ago, the People’s Charter Foundation met with the Chief Communications Officer for Gab.ai, Utsav Sanduja. You can watch the video of the interview below:

Traditional social media outlets censor content in two main ways, via the removal of posts and de-monetisation. For example, videos that YouTube deems to be controversial have their advertising turned off and any existing revenue from that video is withheld.

In recent months, more and more people have quit Twitter, citing concerns over censorship, including actor and producer James Woods.

One of the problems with censorship is that it means you cannot educate or inform people. This means that controversial ideas fester and grow underground (for example on the dark web) which can ultimately be more dangerous.

Gab is different. With Gab, there is no shadow banning, no censoring and no rules as to what you can post (as long as it is within the law, for example promoting terrorism or child pornography is strictly forbidden). Gab does not support criminal activity and is pro law enforcement. It opposes calls for violence, pays tax and is transparent.

The individual user decides what, if anything, to filter or mute. You decide and not some administrator. You are in control of what you want to see.

Gab is currently developing its Gab TV service. With Gab TV it will be possible for viewers to donate to content producers directly, all in one application.  Advertising is on its way out – 75% of millennials have ad blockers installed in their web browsers. The future is in content production.

The founders of Gab are also deeply concerned about censorship carried out by the BBC:

People of the United Kingdom, this is the state of your country. Listen to your taxpayer subsidized broadcasting agency asking us to censor, vet, control and limit speech on Gab. For shame!
This is the great country that produced John Stuart Mill; this is the country that produced John Milton’s Areopagitica, this is the country that fought for the Natural Rights of Englishmen in the 1689 Glorious Revolution, this is the country that produced us the best warning manual against dictatorship.

–Utsav Sanduja, Chief Communications Officer for Gab.ai

Utsav believes that government censorship of online media is being used as a means of attempting to reduce competition against traditional media.

In recent years, an increasing number of people in the UK have been arrested for allegedly sending “offensive” messages via social media. In London alone, a total of 625 arrests were made for alleged section 127 offences (sending by public communication network an offensive / indecent / obscene / menacing message / matter) in 2010 – a number which had ballooned to 857 by 2015. This can result in a potential six month prison term or a fine of up to £5,000. Among the scores of those recently arrested for online posts was a Scottish resident who had used Facebook as a platform to espouse his disdain for Syrian migrants.

Recently, British Prime Minister Theresa May announced plans to step up control of the internet, but this does not solve the root cause of issues such as radicalisation. A recent government announcement proposes levying a tax on social media companies to help pay for police enforcement and moderators. Dangerous extremists are more likely to hang out on the dark web than on social media sites, so such a proposal would inevitably end up penalising innocent people. Furthermore, it is better that dangerous views are out in the open than forced underground where it is much harder to challenge them.

Even the App Store at Apple is showing partisanship, having rejected the Gab iOS app 8 times.

Britain has fallen. People of the United Kingdom, please wake up to what is happening to your own country.

–Utsav Sanduja, Chief Communications Officer for Gab.ai

The #DeleteShopify campaign – an attempt to suppress freedom of expression?

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While scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed on Friday night a post came up from the campaign group SumOfUs, promoting a recent protest against the e-commerce company Shopify, demanding that they stop running the online store for the Breitbart News website.

SumOfUs describes itself as “a community of people from around the world committed to curbing the growing power of corporations.” At the time of writing, just over 200,000 had signed a petition to Shopify calling on them to end their relationship with Breitbart News.

The SumOfUs petition is part of the wider Sleeping Giants campaign which started in November 2016, shortly after Donald Trump’s victory in the United States presidential election, with the launch of a Twitter account aiming to boycott Breitbart News.

Shopify CEO Tobias Lütke wrote an open letter in response to the 10,000+ emails, tweets and messages received by himself and other Shopify employees about their continued decision to host Breitbart’s online store.

In the open letter, Lütke makes some very good points, notably “To kick off a merchant is to censor ideas and interfere with the free exchange of products at the core of commerce. When we kick off a merchant, we’re asserting our own moral code as the superior one. But who gets to define that moral code? Where would it begin and end? Who gets to decide what can be sold and what can’t? If we start blocking out voices, we would fall short of our goals as a company to make commerce better for everyone. Instead, we would have a biased and diminished platform.”

Instead of imposing their own morality on the platform, Shopify defers to the law, saying that all products must be legal in the jurisdiction of the business.

These campaigns want huge corporations to put pressure on news outlets; to tell them we will stop giving you money unless you change your editorial tone. This will have a chilling effect of freedom of expression – news outlets will feel under pressure not to publish stories about controversial issues, even if they are true and in the public interest.

The #DeleteShopify and Sleeping Giants campaigns are very similar to the #StopFundingHate campaign here in the UK, which is encouraging consumers to boycott companies who advertise in The Sun, the Daily Mail and the Daily Express. Is it really a coincidence that this Stop Funding Hate campaign only began after the after the British electorate voted to leave the EU, and that all the newspapers targeted by this campaign are pro-Brexit tabloids which are popular with working class people?

There is a lot of hypocrisy here – The Guardian and other pro-EU newspapers frequently say very hateful things about those who voted Leave (for example that they are racist, uneducated and ignorant), but these campaigners have never called for them to be boycotted.

In response to a question about why they are only targeting The Sun, the Daily Mail and the Daily Express, Stop Funding Hate tweeted that these are the only UK outlets they know of that have been called out by the United Nations over their “hostile coverage”. However, the UN is far from an unbiased source – the UN Special Representative for International Migration Peter Sutherland has made numerous anti-Brexit comments over the last few months, and even called on Twitter for the referendum result to be overturned!

Peter Sutherland is a former EU Commissioner (so no doubt he qualifies for a large pension and does not want this to be jeopardised by the collapse of the EU) and is also a Goldman Sachs alumnus so has a vested interest in the continuation of globalist policies. I find it shocking and disgraceful that a senior official of the UN is prepared to oppose the democratic will of the people by seeking to overturn a legitimate referendum result.

It looks very much like these campaigns are a concerted attempt at censorship against news outlets which criticise the globalist elites and institutions like the EU. The campaigners claim that they’re not actually calling for any news publications to be shut down, but this is disingenuous as their call for an advertising boycott could well have that outcome if successful. Newspapers rely on advertising for a large proportion of their revenue, and if this is diminished they will either have to increase their cover prices significantly (which would likely cause a drop in readership) or go out of business completely.

You can’t remove a view by suppressing it. As we saw when the Iron Curtain came down, it simply goes underground until the boiling pot explodes. Just because you take an opinion out of the public space doesn’t mean it goes away. And if you force it to be private, then it may well become toxic. I think it is far better for controversial viewpoints to be discussed out in the open where they can be challenged and debated.

Pluralism in the news media helps to underpin democracy. Trying to close down bits of it you disagree with is anti-democratic. It would not surprise me at all if the currently established elites, who must be feeling very threatened at the moment, were to covertly orchestrate campaigns to close down areas of the media that they don’t or can’t control.

And with the rise of Brexit and Trump via legitimate political means, this underhand subversion by totalitarians masquerading as ‘liberals’ is only going to get worse.

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