So-called disinformation and misinformation have been singled out by many governments, institutions, charities and commercial businesses as a threat to democracy, requiring widespread censorship. Is this a genuine concern, or just an excuse to suppress dissenting points of view on issues like the lockdowns, mRNA vaccines, the war in Ukraine and climate change? And even if the threat is real and the concern genuine, how can we trust these agents to accurately identify disinformation and misinformation?
Criminalising or suppressing the dissemination of ‘fake news’ often seems to be a convenient way of silencing critics of those in power. New evidence has emerged of the UK Government monitoring people who questioned the wisdom of the Covid-19 lockdown, including scientists and journalists. A recent report by campaign group Big Brother Watch revealed that at least three government units — the Counter Disinformation Unit, the Rapid Response Unit and the 77th Brigade — were deployed to track the social media activities of British citizens, identifying those regarded as problematic, whom Government departments then reported to social media companies using their ‘trusted flagger’ status.
We bring together a panel of experts including the publisher of that report, Silkie Carlo of Big Brother Watch, writer and broadcaster Timandra Harkness, and two of those identified by a 77th Brigade whistleblower as having been flagged for disseminating content critical of Covid policies, the journalist Peter Hitchens and FSU General Secretary Toby Young. Join us, in-person or online, to discuss what lessons we should learn about how to counter this threat to free speech and defend the right to dissent.
Silkie Carlo, Director of Big Brother Watch
Silkie works to further human rights and equality particularly in the fields of state surveillance, policing technologies, big data, artificial intelligence, and free expression using parliamentary lobbying, strategic litigation, investigations and public campaigns to successfully change policies and laws. She is regularly invited to give expert evidence on civil liberties matters to UK Parliament and has also given oral evidence on technology and human rights issues to European Parliament and the Bundestag.
Timandra Harkness, journalist, writer and broadcaster
Timandra is a regular on BBC Radio, writing and presenting BBC Radio 4’s FutureProofing and other series including How To Disagree, Steelmanning and Political School. BBC documentaries include Data, Data Everywhere, Divided Nation, What Has Sat-Nav Done To Our Brains, and Five Knots. Her book Big Data: does size matter? published by Bloomsbury Sigma in 2016, came out in an updated paperback edition in June 2017. She is currently writing her second non-fiction book for Harper Collins.
Peter Hitchens, columnist, journalist and author
Peter is a columnist for The Mail on Sunday who has spent more than 40 years in Fleet Street, covered labour affairs, politics, defence and diplomacy and been a resident correspondent in Moscow (1990-1992) and Washington DC (1993-1995). He has visited 57 countries, some of which no longer exist, and is the author of several books including The Abolition of Liberty.
Toby Young, General Secretary of the Free Speech Union
Toby Young is a British journalist and former Director of the New Schools Network, a free schools charity. In addition to being the founder and General Secretary of the Free Speech Union, he is an associate editor of the Spectator and the editor of the Daily Sceptic.
The Free Speech Union is a non-partisan, mass membership public interest body that stands up for the speech rights of its members. Find out more here.