UK home secretary warns tech companies over Christchurch content

Sajid Javid says online platforms have a responsibility “not to do the terrorists’ work.’

Tech companies that “don’t clean up their platforms” must be “prepared to face the force of the law,” U.K. Home Secretary Sajid Javid said today.

The warning was delivered in reaction to Friday’s terror attack in New Zealand, which left 49 people dead and 20 seriously injured after a shooter targeted two mosques in the city of Christchurch.

Javid’s statement comes as the U.K. government prepares to publish a delayed “online harms” white paper this month, setting out how it plans to impose a duty of care on tech companies.

Writing in the Express, Javid said online platforms have a responsibility “not to do the terrorists’ work for them.” The Christchurch gunman filmed his attack and live-streamed it to Facebook. “Tech companies must do more to stop his messages being broadcast on their platforms,” Javid wrote.

“Allowing terrorists to glorify in the bloodshed or spread more extremist views can only lead to more radicalisation and murders,” he continued.

“This is the type of illegal behaviour that our new Online Harms White Paper will address.”


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Elena Bunbury: The sexist thinking behind shaming MPs into following women on Twitter

A patronising media investigation highlights a deeply warped perspective on what gender equality really means.

Elena Bunbury is a Conservative councillor and Head of Communications for 1828. 

Not that long ago, scrolling through Facebook and stumbling across posts saying that “one like equals one prayer” for whichever random illness or crisis happened to feature that day was the norm – and, to some extent, it still is.

The recent Times investigation commenting on which MPs follow the least women feels like it’s following a similar theme: “click a button from behind a screen and you can solve gender inequality!”

The focus of the investigation seems to centre around the principle that you can only support women and strive for equality if you follow enough women on Twitter. If you fail to meet the quota allotted to you and your position in society, there’s only one explanation: you’re a raging misogynist.

Recently, International Women’s Day has given a spotlight to many vital campaigns, such as the fantastic work Nimco Ali has done for female genital mutilation, the drive to encourage women into STEM subjects, and a variety of other issues. In comparison to these fantastic women and their incredible campaigns, quibbling about how many women male MPs follow seems, frankly, ridiculous.

Twitter, as a platform, is not the most productive for a wholesome debate. Generally, it’s used for sharing memes, spreading abuse, and trying to get seen by celebrities – not for tackling issues that have been raised by International Women’s Day and the wider feminist movement.

The Times article has put forward the view that not following a majority of women shows a lack of respect and a lack of willingness to support women in the political field. But I entirely disagree with that.

When scrolling through Twitter, gender balance isn’t at the forefront of my mind. If someone posts good, funny tweets, I’ll follow them. If they don’t, I won’t. I am 99 per cent sure that none of those listed within the Times article are sexist MPs who actively avoid women, they probably didn’t even realise the ratio themselves. That is because it simply does not matter.

I’m confident that most people reading this will be – and think – the same. We’ll follow people we associate with and stumble across. It’s a bizarre concept to demand members of parliament sift through their “following” list with a fine tooth comb thinking: “ah, I really enjoy his tweets – but he doesn’t quite fit into my gender quota.”

Twitter is a free platform where no one is obligated to meet quotas or forced to follow people who do not interest them. So, why has the referenced article even been written? The answer is because it’s just another virtue-signalling opportunity to make MPs look bad and patronise women even further than they already are.

MP accounts are mainly based around the local fair they’ve visited that week, or the petition that is being launched about car parking within their constituency. So, why would someone follow them unless the issues directly affected them?

Instead of the virtue signalling displayed, the Times should have spent their time researching what work the listed MPs have done to support women. Numerous MPs mentioned have spoken in debates supporting women and the issues raised by International Women’s Day, and held surgeries supporting women within their constituency. Why does the Times care who they’re following on Twitter?

Finally, as a woman, I find it offensive that people are being forcibly shamed and pressured to follow women on social media. Not because they are interested in their individual platforms, but just to have a better image. People need to stop treating women as the lesser gender which constantly need extra help, attention, and special dispensations – and start treating them as individuals with their own merits.

I don’t think that the MPs listed in the article are sexists. I think this pretentious investigation by the Times is.

Facebook removes hundreds of accounts in UK, Romania

The move marks the first time Facebook has taken down accounts linked to domestic groups in either country.

LONDON — Facebook said Thursday it had removed hundreds of false accounts that promoted divisive content in the United Kingdom and Romania, the first time it has taken such action against domestic groups in either country.

The move comes as the American tech giant is fighting to regain its reputation after a series of privacy scandals, notably linked to Cambridge Analytica, a British data analytics firm, that used Facebook users’ information to target them during the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Both Facebook and Cambridge Analytica deny any wrongdoing.

As part of the cull, the social network deleted almost 140 U.K. Facebook groups and accounts, as well as British users on Instagram, a photo-sharing service also owned by the company. These groups carried out coordinated behavior to portray themselves on both sides of hot-button issues like immigration, differences between Islam and Christianity, and the ongoing conflict between Pakistan and India.

“The actors were playing both sides and engaged in a series of divisive issues,” Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook’s head of cybersecurity policy, told POLITICO. “They changed names of the groups to build an audience and then alter the topic to engage that audience in a different debate.”

The majority of the inauthentic activity in the U.K. related to the British Muslim community and Pakistan, according to Ben Nimmo, a senior fellow for Information Defense at the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab, who independently reviewed the deleted Facebook content.

In particular, the individuals — no one has yet been identified as being behind the groups and accounts, though Facebook said it had referred some material to the British police — had created groups to attract supporters of Tommy Robinson, a British far-right leader, and then altered the Facebook groups to engage them in discussions about Islam.

“There were heated discussions between both sides,” Nimmo told POLITICO. “It was an attempt to draw far-right supporters into a debate with Muslims.”

Facebook’s Gleicher said these groups had disseminated a limited amount of hate speech, which had subsequently been taken down. But they had been deleted from the social network because these accounts had promoted themselves in a way that misled others and corrupted the public debate.

In total, 175,000 other users followed the now-removed Facebook and Instagram accounts, which had garnered roughly $1,500 in advertising over a nine-year period, according to the company’s analysis.

In Romania, a further 30 Facebook pages and accounts were removed after local groups created Facebook content that portrayed itself as independent news, but instead promoted partisan political information linked to the Social Democratic Party.

This is not the first time that Facebook has removed online accounts and pages from its network. In January, the company said it had deleted 365 pages and accounts with ties to Russian government agencies that had promoted anti-NATO and other divisive content.


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Poll: Majority of Brits want tech companies to remove harmful content

Respondents to a POLITICO-Hanbury poll strongly prioritized this over protecting free speech online.

A majority of people in the U.K. back regulation to force tech companies to remove harmful content online while a minority considers protecting free speech to be a priority, according to a POLITICO-Hanbury poll.

Asked what government should prioritize when regulating companies such as Twitter, Facebook and Google, 56 percent answered “forcing companies to remove harmful content” while 24 percent said “preserving free speech online.” A fifth of respondents said answered “don’t know.”

The exclusive snapshot of U.K. public opinion, which was conducted between 22 and 25 February, comes as Jeremy Wright, the digital and culture secretary, is putting the finishing touches to proposals for new online harms legislation. That is now expected to be published in mid-to-late March, according to an official close to discussions.

Ministers had been hoping to publish a white paper of proposals before the end of February, but they have not yet been signed off across the U.K. government.

Wright and his deputy, the Digital Minister Margot James, travelled to California last week, where they met Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg to share the government’s current thinking on new regulations.  While Wright has made clear in recent weeks that the “era of self regulation [for technology companies] is coming to an end” he has not yet set out concrete proposals for how he will force companies to remove harmful content from their platforms. Wright has said he is considering creating an online regulator.

Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Jeremy Wright | Christopher Furlong via Getty Images

The poll, which sampled the opinion of 2006 people, found a higher proportion of men than women prioritized free speech, with 28 percent stating it would be their preference when regulating tech companies, compared to 20 percent of women. The proportion of men and women who said they prioritized forcing companies to remove harmful content was similar — at 57 percent and 55 percent respectively.

Londoners were also most committed to preserving free speech, with 38 percent stating it should be the priority. Other regions of the U.K. had equivalent figures ranging from 18 percent in the Midlands to 24 percent in the North of England.

Conservative supporters were the strongest backers of forcing companies to remove harmful content, with 70 percent stating it should be a priority over preserving free speech (21 percent.)

The cross-party digital, culture, media and sport select committee, led by Tory MP Damian Collins, published a damning report last week calling for a raft of regulatory action against technology companies, including for their legal liability for content identified as harmful to be tightened.

Facebook said in its response to the committee report that it would be open to “meaningful regulation.”

The digital secretary and other ministers have publicly called for regulation on the issue of harmful content, following the death of teenager Molly Russell, whose father accused Facebook-owned Instagram of facilitating her death, by failing to remove images of self-harm.

Tommy Robinson banned from Facebook and Instagram

Far-right activist has ‘repeatedly broken’ policies and standards.

Facebook and Instagram have banned British far-right activist Tommy Robinson for breaking hate speech policies and “violating our community standards,” Facebook announced Tuesday.

Robinson had “repeatedly broken” standards by “posting material that uses dehumanizing language and calls for violence targeted at Muslims,” Facebook said in the statement. “He has also behaved in ways that violate our policies around organized hate.”

“As a result, in accordance with our policies, we have removed Tommy Robinson’s official Facebook Page and Instagram profile. This is not a decision we take lightly, but individuals and organizations that attack others on the basis of who they are have no place on Facebook or Instagram.”

Robinson’s official Facebook page had more than 1 million followers.

Robinson, whose real name is Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, said the ban is “clear evidence of the tech giants working alongside the establishment in order to silence criticism,” CNN reported. “The more you try to censor me the more people will want to hear from us.”

Robinson is already banned from Twitter, the Guardian said.


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Rachel Wolf: On policy, it’s not the Independent Group that’s driven to the margins. It’s the Conservative Right.

The new group’s platform is not very inspiring – if, like me, you still feel public services could do with improvement. But its biggest problem is it they won’t be very different from the Conservatives’.

Rachel Wolf is a partner in Public First. She was an education and innovation adviser at Number 10 during David Cameron’s premiership, and was founding director of the New Schools Network.

Will the former Conservative and Labour Members of the Independent Group find it easy to come to a consistent policy platform? And will that platform be ‘centre left’ or ‘centre centre’? My answers, in turn, are “yes”, and “there is no longer a meaningful distinction in Westminster between these two”.

To explain why, it’s important to look at the wider policy background.  There’s not been much of policy discussion within the Conservative Party recently. It’s wholly unclear what its domestic agenda would be at the next general election. Brexit dominates.

That will have to change. Anyone who campaigned in the 2017 general election discovered – to their cost – that many voters cared less about Brexit than the Conservative Party did. Doorstep conversations were often focused on the NHS and school funding – where the Conservatives were repeatedly crushed.

People in Westminster are often process, politics, and personality geeks – but the public care more about issues. Miserably, Brexit has whittled the number of domestic policy discussions to almost zero. The environment has become a major policy focus because at least, under Michael Gove, the Conservatives have something – anything – to say (even if that anything now appears to include a strong support for protectionism and tariffs).

Vote Leave, of course, recognised all this. Their arguments focused on the concrete: NHS funding, immigration control. Ideas that would have a direct impact on voters.

So if the Independent Group are to survive – and grow – they will need to make a differentiated case to the electorate on issues that they care about. One of their challenges, in my view, is that the space open for them is not as wide as many think.

While Theresa May talks like a traditional Conservative, domestically her government is increasingly indivisible from one that would be run by a Soft Left (not even necessarily Blairite) Prime Minister. She may have talked about citizens of nowhere, and Gavin Williamson may engage in occasional sabre-rattling, but all the substance points in the opposite direction.

The Conservative Government has become increasingly paternalist (with bans created or looming on public health issues such as sugar; on environmental issues like plastic and ivory; and on activities like social media). Ministers no longer focus on market-based reforms of public services in health or education (many of the interventions made by, for example, Justine Greening on education were completely indistinguishable from those that Gordon Brown and Ed Balls might have made back in their day). The Tories’ commitment to fiscal conservatism remains greater than Labour, but the dividing line is increasingly narrow.

Policies that were once derided when floated by Ed Miliband – such as the energy price cap – are now pushed by the Conservatives. The toughest area of government reductions that can be felt by voters – welfare – is being softened by Amber Rudd and the toughest area of government restriction – immigration – is being softened by Sajid Javid. It is only because Jeremy Corbyn is so extreme (and because all we ever discuss is Brexit) that there remains much distance between the Government and the Opposition. Between TIG and the government? It’s not very obvious.

Let’s take an article written by Chuka Umunna in 2011 in which he makes an appeal for “One Nation Labour” and which includes the two following passages:

“there is no disagreement on the need to address the deficit – despite coalition claims to the contrary. Where the disputed terrain lies is around the speed and depth of reduction and what that means for growth and jobs. “

“What I call “bad capitalism” – unrestrained capital, highly speculative, obsessed with the short term, dismissive of the ties that bind – acts as a barrier to this notion of the good society; whereas “good capitalism” – one that is entrepreneurial and productive with good democratic corporate governance – can smooth the path to a better tomorrow.”

Both of these reflect current government policy.

Now let’s take the Conservative defectors. They themselves sit on the soft left, One Nation wing of the Conservative Party.  All three of the Conservative leavers are critical of grammar schools, and are likely to support a liberal immigration policy. Allen has been a long standing critic of the rollout of welfare reforms. Sarah Wollaston has argued for a long time for much more NHS funding. Soubry is the one who may be most uncomfortable in a centre-left party – she is clearly a supporter of almost everything the Coalition government did, including “austerity”, and she has been an active Conservative for a very long time.

Fundamentally, I don’t think that merging with former Labour members will be a challenge. They will all agree that more money should be spent by the state (including redistribution). They will share a widescale support for state interventionism. There will be mutual antagonism towards some traditional ‘Tory’ policies.

This isn’t a terrible platform for public support (other than on immigration). It’s certainly not very inspiring if, like me, you still feel public services could do with quite a lot of improvement. But its biggest problem is that it won’t be very different from the Conservatives’.

I began this article saying that policy matters. It does – to peoples’ lives and therefore what voters want to know about. The irony seems to me that, actually, the TIG won’t have much new and different to say from the current government (though they might say it in a better way with different sounding people). It is the traditional right, now criticised for driving out Conservatives over Brexit, that has no place in the current domestic policy debate.

WATCH: Wright on regulating social media firms – “I’m not asking their permission”

The Culture Secretary says he “hopes” to be talking directly to Mark Zuckerberg.

Iain Dale: Were it not for Churchill, McDonnell might be speaking German. And so could the rest of us.

Plus: Up, up and away – HS2’s costs. Staying down – LibDem poll ratings. Stuck where they are – Labour’s.

Iain Dale presents the evening show on LBC Radio and is a commentator for CNN.

I don’t know how many of you watched Liam Halligan’s Dispatches documentary on Channel 4 on Monday night, but he raised some real questions about the future of the HS2 project.

It’s cost the taxpayer £4.2 billion so far, but from this year the spending is ratcheting up, and that amount will apparently be spent each year. HS2 now employs 17 – yes, 17 – different PR companies to persuade us that a) HS2 is needed and b) it’s value for money.

As someone who thinks visionary transport projects are much needed in this country ,I think the jury is out on both counts. It’s rumoured that Theresa May wanted to can the scheme on her first day as Prime Minister, but was persuaded not to.

Were it cancelled now, it would be a humiliation for a Government which could do without any further humiliation, and there would be hell to pay for wasting more than £4 billion on a white elephant.

But sometimes you have to do the right thing and seal a political wound. I wonder whether we are at that point, or at least very near it.

– – – – – – – – – –

So John McDonnell thinks Winston Churchill is a villain. Good luck in explaining that to working class communities up and down the country, who see know nation’s war leader for what he is and was.

An absolute hero – without whom McDonnell and the rest of us might well be speaking German.

What is it about the Left who love to laud real villains like Chavez, Maduro and the like, yet delight in trying to denigrate the reputation of people who achieved things for this country that they couldn’t even dream of doing in a month of Sundays?

– – – – – – – – – –

It amuses met to see Labour supporters on Twitter trying to maintain the myth that Labour is constantly ahead in the opinion polls. The last three polls that I have seen showed a five to seven point Conservative lead. The last poll I saw a Labour lead of more than a couple of points was weeks ago. Even a poll of polls shows a Tory lead of 1.5 points, and that was before the last two Ipsos/MORI and Kantar polls showing seven and five point leads.

Given the shambolic state of the Government, it is incredible that, in what is now effectively a two party system, Labour isn’t way ahead. Yet those Labour supporters are so deluded they daren’t even ask the question as to why that is. They cling to the mantra that they started the last election 24 points behind and on polling day nearly won – nearly being 50 seats behind. This hubristic view that lightning is bound to strike twice may well be their undoing. It deserves to be.

Another polling mystery is why the Liberal Democrats still can’t get much more than ten. They are the only party with a distinctive Brexit message, and they ought to be cleaning up the Remain vote, given Jeremy Corbyn’s clear determination to avoid a second referendum. But they’re not.

Is it down to Vince Cable’s less than charismatic leadership? Is it the fact that their part in the coalition busted their support on the Left? Is it the hangover from the tuition fees debacle? A combination of all three, probably. I expect Cable to stand down in the summer. The leadership contest is likely to be between Jo Swinson, Layla Moran and Ed Davey.

I interviewed Moran for an hour on my show on Tuesday evening, and was hugely impressed. She may be inexperienced, but she comes across incredibly well and has the kind of charisma that a third party requires. She didn’t avoid answering some tough questions very directly. She’s certainly not an Orange Booker, but she is the sort of LibDem who might well appeal to people on the left of the Conservative Party. The Tories would do well not to underestimate her.

“Minister, you must be in the story”

Mordaunt, Rudd and Hancock offer three examples in today’s papers of how British politics work now.

If you are not “in the stor”y, you’re not doing your job.  This is a fact of modern political life, and today’s papers offer three examples – variously displaying the futility, dangers, opportunities and necessities of so doing.

Example One comes from the Sunday Telegraph, which is now free, after a courtroom struggle, to report a medley of disgusting stories about Philip Green.  Penny Mordaunt must be in the story – she is Equalities Minister, after all – and take a view on non-disclosure agreements.

Frankly, she has little to say of any import. “The UK government will launch a consultation to hear from those affected and understand whether there should be more limitations on confidentiality clauses so that workers cannot be intimidated into silence and to find out what needs to be done to ensure that workers are clear about their rights.”  One can almost hear the groaning of Government lawyers as they square up to the task to seeking to define in law when workers do and don’t sign non-disclosure agreements of their own free will.

Example Two also comes from the Sunday Telegraph.  Up pops a piece from Amber Rudd about company directors who plunder their companies’ pensions funds.  The article is shy, indeed silent, about context, but this site notes that in 2017 Green came to a settlement with the Pensions Regulator under which he paid £363 million to aid the BHS pension scheme.

The Work and Pensions Secretary is at least proposing concrete measures.  “I am going to make ‘wilful or reckless behaviour’ relating to a pension scheme a criminal offence, with jail terms of up to seven years for the worst offenders,” she writes.  “We’ll also give the courts powers to levy unlimited – yes unlimited – fines.”  It isn’t clear how she has reached this decision, what caused it, what wider effects if any on pension fund such legislation might have, when it will introduced and whether it could pass this no-majority Commons.

Finally, we have example three from the Sun on Sunday.  Matt Hancock is at the eye of a kind of media Storm Erik.  The social media giants are huge, vastly-used and distrusted – all at once.  Not so long ago, the immediate cause of alarm was child pornography.  Then (and still), content from terrorists.  Now there is a spate of alarm over self-harm material and tragic teenage suicides.

The Health Secretary has threatened legislation, but must know the nightmares it would pose in this essentially hung Parliament, and the potential consequences for the Government if new laws went wrong.  It would be tricky to write laws that distinguish between content that promotes self-harm, seeks to explain the phenomenon, and tries to curb it.  No wonder, in his interview, he seeks a voluntary approach – “a handpicked cyber-squad to oversee the removal of self-harm pictures from Instagram”.

Of our three examples, Hancock’s is the most challenging, public-facing and sensitive, at least in terms of pure politics.  It is part of a wider story of a gradual shift in healthcare provision from physical to mental health, and the tech-savvy Health Secretary is striving to produce a policy response to a culture change that will work.

Rudd’s poses a lot of questions – there is a trade-off between a populist crackdown on unscrupulous directors and invoking the law of unexpected consequences – while Mordaunt’s is almost content-free.

But all three are faced with Ministers’ Dilemma.  Think calmly, move carefully, pause before acting – and you risk being labelled “out of touch”.  Rush in, take snap decisions, get in the story, and all you may achieve is bad decisions that will catch up with someone else later (if you’re lucky) or you sooner (if you’re not).

A run of cocked-up initiatives, and even plain bad luck, and the two Adjectives Of Death will be attached to you: “embattled” and, worse, “beleaguered”.  The media will haul you, Grayling-like, to the stocks.  This morning, our three ministers will be crossing their fingers.