Weekly Briefing

Weekly news round-up

Welcome to the FSU’s weekly newsletter, our round-up of the free speech news of the week.

The FSU Christmas Special – a festive comedy extravaganza

Round up your comedy-loving friends and family for the FSU Christmas Special, a one night only extravaganza of comedy with a fabulous line-up, in association with Comedy Unleashed, the home of free-thinking comedy. The event takes place on Monday 12th December at the Backyard Comedy Club, Bethnal Green, London (please arrive by 7pm). Comedy legend Bobby Davro is our Master of Ceremonies for the evening and will be joined on stage by stand-up comedian and GB News presenter Leo Kearse, Comedy Unleashed favourite Mary Bourke and comedian and Radio 4 ‘personality’ Simon Evans. Join the fun with the FSU team and helps us raise funds to defend freedom of speech. This event is open to the public, so please spread the word. Tickets on sale here.

Sign our petition urging Elon Musk to stop banning gender critical voices on Twitter

We’ve started a petition urging Elon Musk to restore the accounts of people expressing gender critical views on Twitter, e.g. the view that sex is biological and immutable and women can’t have penises. We think the number of accounts that have been banned for this reason runs into the hundreds and possibly the thousands. Here is one of the key paragraphs:

Some gender critical accounts have been taken down simply for asserting the view that sex should be defined biologically. Posts such as “Only females get cervical cancer”, “If you have a uterus you will be female”, “If you have periods you are a woman” and “Having a penis is what makes someone male” were all deemed by Twitter to be in violation of the platform’s rules against ‘hateful conduct’. But such views are not hateful. In banning gender critical accounts on the grounds that such views are ‘hateful’ – or banning accounts because they have ‘misgendered’ or ‘deadnamed’ trans people – Twitter is appealing to an imaginary consensus in favour of the view that it is transphobic to define sex as biological and immutable, or that self-declared gender identity should determine access to single sex spaces and services, or that people are entitled to compel others to use their preferred gender pronouns. No such consensus exists, which leads us to conclude that the reason so many gender critical accounts have been banned is because Twitter’s content moderators have taken the side of the transrights activists in this debate. If Twitter is to become the digital town square you want it to be, where free speech is sacrosanct, the moderators must remain above the fray when it comes to matters of ongoing public debate. They should act as holders of the ring, not political combatants.

Please sign the petition and help persuade Twitter’s new owner to lift the ban. You can find the petition here.

New research reveals generational divide on free speech issues

A new report for the think-tank Policy Exchange by FSU Advisory Council member Professor Eric Kaufmann has found compelling evidence that UK schools are becoming sites for indoctrination rather than education (Telegraph, Times, Unherd). The report surveyed attitudes among different age groups and found that young people are markedly less liberal than older generations on issues like free speech, democracy and the need for tolerance of dissenting opinions. Specifically:

  • Nearly a third (29%) of 18-24 year-olds say author JK Rowling should be dropped by her publishers for her gender critical views – that figure falls to 10% among adults, and just 3% among those over 50.
  • An equal proportion of young people (38%) agreed and disagreed with the idea of removing Winston Churchill’s statue from Parliament Square because he held racist views – among adults as a whole, 68% disagreed with moving the statue compared to just 12% who agreed.
  • Two in five 18-24 year-olds agree that schools should “teach students that Britain was founded on racism and remains structurally racist today” while 25% disagree – adults as a whole rejected that statement by 53% to 24%.

It’s all too easy to blame ‘perma-offended’ young people for this generational divide, says Madeline Grant (Telegraph). But what about those she describes as “enabling adults”? After all, educationalists have long understood that teaching professionals are important role models, possessed of the capacity to influence the attitudes, values and behaviours of those under their tutelage. So when, say, colleagues of the philosopher Kathleen Stock turn and look the other way as she’s getting hounded on campus by transactivists (Unherd), or when senior academics fire off emails to students that denounce visiting speakers like Dr Helen Joyce and apologise for the “distress” her immutable biological presence on campus may cause (Spectator, Telegraph), or when academics instigate public discussions about how to cancel an early career researcher who has been investigating the various forms of discrimination experienced by gender critical feminists in academia (Spiked), or when… and so on and so forth – in those moments it’s difficult to believe that impressionable young undergraduates aren’t able to spot the moral of the story for anyone who wants to get ahead in life.  

Joanna Williams seems inclined to agree, although the “enabling adults” she’s concerned about aren’t academics, but teachers (Spiked). So-called ‘activist teaching’ has been on the rise for a while (Guardian, Spiked, Telegraph), but what the Policy Exchange report reveals is that the politicisation of children’s education is beginning to have an impact on the views of young people. Polling commissioned for the report reveals that six out of 10 school leavers say they were either taught about ideas associated with neo-Marxist critical race theory or heard about them from an adult at their school. These include concepts like white privilege, systemic racism and unconscious bias. Slightly more – 65% – say they either encountered the concept of patriarchy or the idea that there are multiple genders from adults at school.

As to what we should do about it, Joanna thinks it’s high time activist teachers had some schooling of their own – the crucial idea that none of them seem to have grasped, she says, is that conveying subject knowledge and pushing a particular political view are not the same thing when you’re a salaried, public-sector worker in a western, liberal democracy.

Not that that would solve the problem overnight. As she readily concedes, there’s the rest of the ‘woke-pedagogic-complex’ to think about. Because behind every local, pink-haired, non-binary teacher forcing children to take the knee are the academics writing the school curriculum and textbooks, the university educationalists training each successive generation of teachers, the journalists and campaigners agitating for their own pet issues to gain a foothold in the classroom, and the people stocking the school library and putting together online resources for teachers and children alike.

Employee activists thwarted in bid to cancel academic conference

An academic conference in Glasgow was nearly axed at the last minute because LGBTQ+ venue workers were so upset at the thought of the event’s likely content that they “weren’t willing” to come to work (Christian Institute, Scottish Daily Express, Times).

The ‘Education not Indoctrination’ event was originally due to take place last Saturday at Civic House at the city’s Speirs Locks. Delegates including Dr Stuart Waiton (Abertay University), Emeritus Professor Frank Furedi (University of Kent) and Dr Penny Lewis (Dundee University) were set to debate the ways in which woke ideology is taking over schools and universities, and often has a ‘chilling effect’ on those who dissent from it.

Speaking to the Scottish Daily Express, Dr Waiton said: “This attempt to cancel the event is illustrative of the dangerous and deeply intolerant times we live in, where any discussion or disagreement about issues like race and gender are silenced. The whole point of this conference is to have a discussion about some of the dogmatic and ideological developments in schools, developments that clash with the idea of an open, liberal education for all.”

Jointly organised by education campaign group Hands Up Scotland, alongside The Christian Institute, Academics for Academic Freedom, The Battle for Ideas, Stand By Me (Scotland) and For Women Scotland, the conference comes at a crucial time for schools, particularly in Scotland, where the SNP-led government is at the vanguard of imposing woke values on society.

Take Education Scotland’s forthcoming Racial Literary Programme, for instance, with its content on intersectionality, anti-racism and “racial microaggressions” (Critic). Then there’s the General Teaching Council of Scotland’s renewed professional standards document, which states that “Scottish teachers must demonstrate professional values of social justice”. There’s also the Scottish Government’s new sex-education curriculum, which will expose very young children to overtly sexualised material and risks normalising underage sexual activity (Herald). And there’s also a new LGBTQ+ vocabulary (cisgender, transgender, bisexual, non-binary, genderfluidity) being taught in schools, and new government guidance on ‘Supporting Transgender Pupils in Schools’, which advises teachers not to question a child’s desire to transition (Times).

Important issues, you might think. But not everyone agrees that any of this should be up for debate.

In an email sent a few days before the event was supposed to take place, Agile City, a “community interest company” which operates the Civic House venue, emailed the organisers claiming that the conference’s programme had upset the values of protesting LGBTQ+ staff who would refuse to come to work if the event went ahead. Agile City said: “The content of the event has just been highlighted to us via your online marketing, and through further research to be in opposition to the values held by our team and staff members who comprise part of the LGBTQ+ community. As such the staff who were booked to manage the event are not willing to work. Without staffing in place, we cannot host your event.”

What the whole affair reveals, according to Rob Lyons, “is the brittleness of woke thinking” (Spiked). It is one thing to be passionate about particular issues, he says. But it’s something else entirely to think that the mere airing of a different point of view is a threat, in and of itself.

Thankfully, the story has a happy ending – conference organisers were able to find another venue and the event went ahead at the city’s Tron Church.

FSU T-Shirts – back by popular demand!

Back by popular demand, our new stock of exclusive T-shirts, featuring Bob Moran’s fabulous ‘Orwell Surprised’ cartoon, has arrived. For only £20, including first class UK postage, you can show your support for free speech while helping us raise funds to continue doing what we do best. If you order before 1st December, UK orders should arrive in time to make the perfect Christmas gift. This is our last batch of 2022, so please order now to avoid disappointment. You can access our merch store by clicking here.

Women’s rights campaigner attacked by pro-trans activists now threatened with arrest for ‘hate crime’​

Sussex Police has threatened a women’s rights group founder with arrest in connection with something she said at a feminist rally two months ago unless she ‘voluntarily’ agrees to be interviewed at a police station. Ironically, she and other protestors were attacked by transrights activists at the rally (Mail).

Kellie-Jay Keen, whose online campaigning name is ‘Posie Parker’, was told by a Sussex police officer that a complaint had been made alleging she had used “words or behaviour to stir up hatred on the grounds of sexual orientation”.

Before the event in question – a Let Women Speak rally held in Brighton on September 18th – Kellie-Jay was sent threatening messages, including some advising trans activists to “fight her by any means you see fit”. Officers arrested two people at the rally after masked pro-trans campaigners clashed with attendees (SpikedCritic). It prompted JK Rowling to tweet: “I see the Be Kind brigade are once more hiding behind their black masks, throwing smoke bombs, screaming ‘scum’ at women speaking up for their sex-based rights.”

Ms Keen has now released a recording of the phone call she received from Sussex Police, in which she was threatened with arrest (which you can listen to in full here). Pressed by her as to what the allegation was, the police caller replied: “The crime is use of words or behaviour to stir up hatred on the grounds of sexual orientation. It’s gonna be a voluntary interview so you can give your side of the story as well.”

But when the officer is asked exactly how voluntary the interview is, she replies: “If you don’t attend then we will potentially be looking at getting Wiltshire Police to come and arrest you so they can come and interview you themselves.”

Sussex Police has found itself at the centre of a series of controversies regarding gender and women’s rights and has previously been described as being “at the forefront of ‘woke’ politics” (Telegraph).

The force was subject to ridicule in 2017 after a sergeant warned high street stores that “feminine care” signs on women’s sanitary products breached gender equality rules. More recently, Sussex Police unveiled plans for a system where criminals can be recorded as having no gender or other identities (Independent).

In 2020, the Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner trumpeted the inclusion of Sussex Police in Stonewall’s Top 100 LGBT inclusive employers.

Earlier this year, approximately three dozen officers, including Chief Constable Jo Shiner, celebrated this year’s Brighton LGBTQ+ Pride event by posing in rainbow colours and tweeting “Have a ‘fabuloso’ time!” (Breitbart).

In September, the force was criticised by Home Secretary Suella Braverman for “playing identity politics and denying biology” after its Twitter account leapt to the defence of a male paedophile who identified as a woman and who had been misgendered online, warning social media users that they could be committing a hate crime and suggesting that “if you have gender critical views you wish to express this can be done on other platforms or your own page, not targeted at an individual” (SpectatorTelegraph).

Free Speech Cambridge book launch event – register for tickets here!

Free Speech Cambridge, an independent group of free speech enthusiasts in the Cambridge area, would like to invite FSU members to a friendly pre-Christmas drinks and celebration at the Pottery Shed in the Waterman pub in Cambridge (CB4 3AX) on Tuesday 6th December. The occasion will also be a book launch for Jerome Booth’s ‘Have We All Gone Mad?’ – a timely investigation into the rise of groupthink. Please arrive from 6pm with the talk starting at 7pm. There will be plenty of time for Q and A, general chat and socialising. Copies of Jerome’s book will be on sale, so please bring cash (actual cash) if you’d like to buy one. To confirm attendance, for further information and to join Free Speech Cambridge’s mailing list, please contact [email protected]

Sharing the newsletter

As with all our work, this newsletter depends on the support of our members and donors, so if you’re not already a paying member please sign up today or encourage a friend to join, and help us turn the tide against cancel culture. You can share our newsletters on social media with the buttons below. If someone has shared this newsletter with you and you’d like to join the FSU, you can find our website here.

Best wishes,

Freddie Attenborough

Communications Officer

Weekly news round-up

Welcome to the FSU’s weekly newsletter, our round-up of the free speech news of the week.

Joe Kelly fundraiser – one last push to get the case up and running!

We know this is a tough case and not all our members will support us. But if you do, please consider donating to the Crowdfunder — with less than a week to go until the campaign closes, we really need one final push from members and supporters to help reach our funding target and get this important legal case up and running. The link to find out more about the case and pledge your support is here.

Joe Kelly was convicted and sentenced in Scotland for contravening the Communications Act 2003, section 127(1)(b), which makes it a criminal offence to make an electronic post which is “grossly offensive”. Despite showing remorse — even confessing that this was one of the most stupid things he’d ever done in his life — and despite his counsel’s attempt to defend his right to free speech (which includes, as Lord Sedley stated, the “heretical, unwelcome and provocative”), Scotland’s prosecution service decided to throw the book at Joe, convicting and then sentencing him to a community payback order.

Having had his appeal denied by the Scottish Courts and having been labelled an “example case” to deter others from “pressing the blue button” and posting allegedly offensive content, Joe is now seeking to take his case to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg — and the FSU is supporting him.

The case Joe’s counsel will make focuses on ensuring this “deterrence” (i.e., “chilling effect”) on free expression does not materialise. It will also ensure Scotland is not left behind as the only country in the UK in which it’s illegal to say something “grossly offensive”, which it will be if the Communications Act is repealed in the rest of the UK.

Statements made by means of a public telecommunications system, like Kelly’s tweet, should not need to have artistic or political meaning for them be protected by the right to free speech laid down in the European Convention on Human Rights. If applied in the way that the Sheriff did in Kelly’s case, the term “grossly offensive” is far too vague and his conviction will indeed have a chilling effect — a person’s right to freedom of speech should not be subject to interference on this basis.

Any donations made are to fund the legal expenses associated with preparing an application to the European Court of Human Rights. If permission to hear the case in Strasbourg is granted, we hope the remainder of the case will be funded by the Court’s own system of legal aid. You can pledge your support here.

FSU Christmas Comedy Night – book your tickets!

Round up your comedy-loving friends and family for The FSU Christmas Special, a one night only extravaganza of comedy with a fabulous line-up, organised in association with Comedy Unleashed, the home of free-thinking comedy. The event takes place on Monday 12th December, 7pm — 10pm at the Backyard Comedy Club, Bethnal Green. 

Comedy legend Bobby Davro is our Master of Ceremonies for the evening. Bobby will be joined on stage by stand-up comedian, comedy entrepreneur and star of They Think It’s All Over Lee Hurst, Comedy Unleashed favourite Mary Bourke and comedian and Radio 4 personality Simon Evans. This event is open to the public, so please spread the word. Tickets on sale here.

Free Speech Cambridge book launch event – register for tickets here!

Free Speech Cambridge would like to invite FSU members to a friendly pre-Christmas drinks and celebration at the Potting Shed, Waterman pub in Cambridge (postcode: CB4 3AX) on Tuesday 6th December. The occasion will also be a book launch for Jerome Booth’s Have We All Gone Mad — an investigation of the rise of groupthink. We’ll chat to Jerome about all things free speech and leave plenty of time for general socialising and good cheer. Please arrive from 6pm with the talk starting at 7pm. Copies of Jerome’s book will be on sale, so please bring your wallets. To confirm attendance, and to join Free Speech Cambridge’s mailing list, please contact [email protected]

Politically motivated financial censorship in the news… again

A County Court judge has refused to strike out a Christian organisation’s discrimination case against Barclays Bank, following spurious attempts by the multi-billion-pound corporation to have it thrown out (Belfast News Letter, Christian Concern). Core Issues Trust (CIT) is the only registered Charity in the UK currently offering counselling and therapeutic support to those leaving the LGBT community. The Christian organisation is alleging that a “co-ordinated harassment campaign by LGBT activists” back in 2020 caused Barclays to capitulate to demands that it cancel the group’s account (Critic, Forbes).

Barclays — which is regularly lauded by controversial LGBT charity Stonewall as one of the best performing employers for LGBT employees across the UK — had previously argued that it can terminate any bank account by giving two months’ notice without explanation and said there is no evidence that CIT has been discriminated against. 

At the hearing in Belfast County Court, however, lawyers for the bank instead chose to challenge CIT’s case on technical, procedural grounds, arguing that a Belfast court does not have jurisdiction to hear the case. Having heard legal arguments from both sides, the judge rejected this application and decided the case would proceed to a full hearing in Belfast next month.

Elsewhere this week, ticketing website Eventbrite was accused of conducting a “campaign of cancellation” against gender critical events after pulling tickets for a book launch organised by Woman’s Place UK, and a screening of Adult Human Female, a documentary critiquing gender ideology (Telegraph, Reclaim the Net). In both cases, ticket holders were suddenly refunded their tickets, all trace of the event was removed from the Eventbrite website, and organisers were informed by Eventbrite’s Orwellian sounding “trust and safety team” that the event violated policies on “hateful, dangerous, or violent content”. Last month, an event organised by Sarah Phillimore, a barrister, and Graham Linehan, the comedy writer famous for Father Ted, to promote their book Transpositions — a collection of testimonies from people concerned about gender identity ideology — had its listing and tickets purged in an apparently identical fashion (Epoch Times, Scottish Daily Express, Telegraph).

Taken together, these incidents serve as a grim reminder that PayPal’s recent, headline-grabbing attempt to demonetise the FSU wasn’t some sort of aberration, but part of a global trend towards weaponising Big Tech and financial services systems to suppress dissent of every kind (Critic, Spectator, Spiked, Spiked). We saw it in the case of Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau shutting down the Freedom Convoy earlier this year (Spiked). But there are other, less high-profile instances of people with dissenting views being deplatformed by companies like Eventbrite, Ko-Fi, CrowdJustice, GoFundMe and Patreon.

As we hurtle towards a cashless society, the creeping trend of Big Tech platforms financially censoring groups or individuals who express dissenting views needs to be checked before it starts to become institutionally normalised. Indeed, if we don’t pass a law to rein in financial services providers soon, we risk the emergence of a Chinese-style social credit system in the UK, except instead of ideological dogma being enforced by the Communist authorities it will be enforced by woke capitalist corporations.

In a sign that politicians are beginning to wake up to the problem, earlier this month, Conservative MP Sally-Ann Hart proposed an amendment to the Financial Services and Markets Bill that would make it illegal for payment-processing companies to withhold or withdraw services from customers for purely political reasons. Following discussions with Andrew Griffith, the Bill minister, Sally-Ann withdrew the amendment because he promised to come back with a constructive proposal about how to address the problem.

That’s only good news if we keep up the pressure, urging legislators like Mr Griffith to do more to address this issue. That’s why we’re again asking you to send our template email to your MP and let them know how opposed you are to this new and sinister form of censorship. The link is here and the whole process only takes two minutes.

Now that you’re back, having popped off momentarily to send that email to your MP, it’s worth pointing out that the FSU’s Research Officer, Carrie Clark, has looked at the terms and conditions of the major payment processors and crowdfunding platforms and has given them a score out of 10 according to how friendly towards free speech they are – the link to the full briefing is here.

QAA urges universities to “decolonise” and acknowledge West’s “white supremacy”

The Quality Assurance Agency (QAA), which advises universities on course standards and degree content, has for the first time introduced advice on decolonising courses (Epoch Times, GB News, LBC, Mail, Telegraph, Unherd). The independent charity’s so-called “subject benchmark statements” describe the nature of study and the academic standards expected of graduates across a total of 25 subject areas and are intended as “reference points in the design, delivery and review of academic programmes” (QAA).

This week it was reported that the body had updated its benchmarks, telling higher education providers to teach about “colonialism”, “white supremacy” and “class division”.

In one example, the QAA told universities that “computing” courses should address “how divisions and hierarchies of colonial value are replicated and reinforced” within the subject.

In the “geography” document academics are told that the “core values underpinning geography’s inclusive learning community” should be “informed” in part by theoretical concepts and ideas drawn from “critical race theory”; that is, a divisive, racialised offshoot of critical theory, which, in turn, was the brainchild of the ‘Frankfurt School’, a group of 20th century cultural Marxists.

The “classics and ancient history” benchmark advises that such courses “must now engage with and explain” the connections between the subject and “imperialism, colonialism, white supremacy and class division”.

Meanwhile, the QAA consultation document on “maths” curriculums suggests that they “should present a multicultural and decolonised view of mathematics, statistics and operational research, informed by the student voice”, while the equivalent document for “economics” invites respondents to consider whether students should be taught that it is “still predominantly a white, male and Western field”.

And so the long march through the institutions continues.

Reflecting on the significance of the QAA’s updates for the Mail, Professor Frank Furedi points out that in contrast with universities in totalitarian states like China, which promote government doctrine, our universities have always been autonomous and free to decide on their courses and their content. What charities like the QAA and, for that matter, the “egregiously woke” Advance HE, have exposed, however, is that in our “unusually centralised” system, bad ideas that emerge among one particular cadre of activists-cum-academics can quickly be integrated into the systems and procedures of other universities. That’s why Professor Furedi believes the QAA’s updated benchmark statements may end up dealing “a catastrophic blow to freedom of speech and the academic rigour it supports”, turning universities into “indoctrination factories” which take their cue from a de facto “central political body: the QAA”.

John Armstrong, Reader in Financial Mathematics at King’s College London, feels much the same way. The QAA’s attempts to embed ‘decolonisation’ into mathematics are not just “objectionable” on their own terms, but also “symptomatic of a more general trend for the charity to try and dictate what universities should teach” (Spectator, Mail). It’s telling, he says, that the QAA’s benchmark document defining the common mathematics curriculum “has grown in length by 50 per cent in just three years”. This top-down approach is “antithetical to the academically led approach that should be the hallmark of higher education” and is now “slowly homogenising university teaching and diminishing true diversity of thought”.

Speaking to Mark Steyn about the issue on GB News, FSU General Secretary Toby Young pointed out that the problem with all this talk about the need for peoples’ thought structures to be ‘decolonised’ is that it cuts both ways. Take the UK-based academics who prepared the QAA’s updated benchmark statements on the charity’s behalf — isn’t it the case that in “propagating the cult of woke”, as Toby put it, these 21st century beneficiaries of the enlightened, European notion of the liberal academy have done little more than demonstrate the extent to which their own minds have been colonised by the divisive, race baiting identity politics of the US higher education system’s grievance studies sector? Perhaps the doyenne of postcolonial theory, Franz Fanon, was right after all when he wrote in his magnum opus, The Wretched of the Earth (1961), that the problem with colonialism is that it is never “satisfied merely with emptying the native’s brain of all form and content” but that “by a kind of perverted logic, it turns to the past of the oppressed people, and distorts, disfigures and destroys it”.

Music college tells students to report females who want single-sex spaces to ‘transphobe hotline’​

Why is it, the French philosopher Michel Serres once remarked, that we conceive of time as an irreversible line, yet we are always simultaneously making gestures that are archaic, modern and futuristic? Were he still alive he would no doubt have found much to puzzle over in the actions of an elite London music school that decided this week to deploy the uber modern, 21st century technology of the QR code as part of its brief, ultimately unsuccessful attempt to revive that once much-loved medieval tradition of witch-hunting.

As reported in the Mail, the Institute of Contemporary Music Performance (ICMP) was “forced to issue an apology” after erecting a large sign on campus that urged students to “report” any fellow female students overheard either directly opposing transgender ideology or saying something that could be construed as indicating some sort of latent preference for single-sex toilets and changing rooms to a ‘transphobe hotline’.

The badly written sign got things off to an inflammatory start with a remarkably dehumanising question in which complex, multifaceted individuals are reduced to a particular set of apparently distasteful political beliefs: “What is a TERF [a derogatory term which stands for ‘trans-exclusionary radical feminists’]?” “TERF ideology”, the sign went on to explain, “is a specific form of transphobia. The primary TERF assertion is that trans women are not women, and accordingly have no place in women’s spaces. This ideology also affects trans men, as TERF’s assert [sic] that people assigned female at birth, but identify as male [sic], shouldn’t be allowed into women’s spaces either.”

The sign added that ICMP had a “zero-tolerance” approach to TERFs, before helpfully providing a QR code so students could use their smartphones to report delinquent peers to an official ‘Report and Support’ university complaints website. As the philosopher Kathleen Stock wryly remarked on Twitter: “Witch hunts have QR codes now. Find the witch, use the QR code, ‘report and support’. Modern life is wonderful, isn’t it?”

Thankfully, ICMP has since removed the sign and chief executive Paul Kirkham has issued an apology on its website, admitting “we got it wrong”.

Now might be a good time for Mr Kirkham and his colleagues in ICMP’s senior leadership team to reflect on the legal implications of the judgement handed down in Maya Forstater’s recent employment appeal tribunal.

Ms Forstater lost her job after posting a series of tweets in which she set out her ‘gender critical’ — or as ICMP might put it, “TERF” — beliefs that someone’s sex is biological and immutable and should not be conflated with their gender identity.

It was in a test case at the Employment Tribunal back in 2019 that Maya first attempted to establish that her tweets should be protected under the Equality Act 2010. Employment judge James Tayler ruled against Maya, saying such views — that sex is binary and immutable — were not “worthy of respect in a democratic society” (Critic).

Undeterred, Forstater appealed this judgement in the Employment Appeal Tribunal, where High Court judge Mr Justice Choudhury ruled that the judgment handed down by the original tribunal had “erred in law” and promptly sent the case back to the Employment Tribunal to decide whether the claim had been proved on the facts.

The significance of that ruling was wide-ranging because Mr Justice Choudhury carefully enunciated the proper parameters for the exercise of free speech in a democratic society, making clear that even if a belief has the potential to “offend, shock, or disturb” that is not enough for it to be deprived of protection under the Equality Act, which designates “religion or belief” as a protected characteristic (Times, Guardian).

Maya’s original case then went back to the Employment Tribunal so it could be reconsidered in light of the fact that gender critical beliefs are protected. Then, earlier this year, the Tribunal ruled that Maya’s employer had breached employment law by discriminating against Forstater in virtue of her possession of certain protected characteristic, i.e., her gender critical beliefs.

The ruling stated that gender-critical beliefs, including the belief that sex is immutable and not to be conflated with gender identity, was a protected philosophical belief. As Ms Forstater pointed out in a statement published after the judgement, her case “matters for everyone who believes in the importance of truth and free speech”. We are all “free to believe whatever we wish”, she added. “What we are not free to do is compel others to believe the same thing, to silence those who disagree with us or to force others to deny reality.”

Sharing the newsletter

As with all our work, this newsletter depends on the support of our members and donors, so if you’re not already a paying member please sign up today or encourage a friend to join, and help us turn the tide against cancel culture. You can share our newsletters on social media with the buttons below. If someone has shared this newsletter with you and you’d like to join the FSU, you can find our website here.

Best wishes,

Freddie Attenborough

Communications Officer

Weekly news round-up

Welcome to the FSU’s weekly newsletter, our round-up of the free speech news of the week.

FSU’s ‘Orwell Surprised’ T-Shirts now available to purchase!

We are excited to announce that you can now purchase our exclusive T-shirts online, featuring Bob Moran’s fabulous ‘Orwell Surprised’ cartoon. For only £20, including first class UK postage, you can show your support for free speech while helping us raise funds to continue doing what we do best. Due to popular demand, we have ordered extra stock. If you order before 1st December, they should arrive in time for Christmas. You can access the sales page by clicking here.

The FSU Comedy Night Christmas Special – tickets now available!

Round up your comedy-loving friends for The FSU Christmas Special, a one night only extravaganza of comedy with a fabulous line-up, organised in association with Comedy Unleashed, the home of free-thinking comedy. The event takes place on Monday 12th December, 7pm – 10pm at the Backyard Comedy Club, Bethnal Green. Master of ceremonies is comedy legend Bobby Davro, who will be joined on stage by stand-up comedian Lee Hurst, Comedy Unleashed favourite Mary Bourke and Radio 4 and GB News presenter Simon Evans. This event is open to the public, so please spread the word. Tickets are on sale here.

Online Christmas Review for FSU members – register here!

On Tuesday 13th December, all members are invited to join FSU staff at our Online Christmas Review. We’ll discuss the free speech highs and lows of the year and vote for 2022’s free speech heroes and zeroes. Register to receive the Zoom link by clicking here

The Online Safety Bill – reasons to be cheerful?

“Defending free speech seriously,” writes Marc Glendening, “means defending the right to expression of those we vehemently disagree with, are embarrassed to be associated with, and whose outpourings we find repugnant” (Cap X). It’s for that reason that he thinks “political liberals worthy of the title” should be appalled by the decision of Westminster Magistrates Court to imprison two Metropolitan police officers, Jonathon Cobban and Joel Borders, under s127 of the Communications Act for sending “grossly offensive” messages via WhatsApp – to each other. Their messages on a private group that included PC Wayne Couzens, the murderer of Sarah Everard, contained what they claim was ‘banter’ about raping a colleague (a “sneaky b****”), tasering children and people with disabilities (“zap zap you little f******”) and “shooting some c*** in the face” (BBC, Guardian, Mail, Sky News, Telegraph).

The messages they exchanged make for grim, deeply unpleasant reading, and you could certainly make the case for the Met suspending or expelling their two employees for breach of contract. But a custodial sentence for conversations that took place in what was supposed to be an entirely private setting and only came to other people’s attention thanks to Ms Everard’s murder? In a free society people should be free to be grossly offensive, Marc Glendening says, because any idea of what constitutes ‘the gross’ and ‘the offensive’ is, by definition, a matter of opinion.

Section 127 makes it a crime punishable by up to six months in prison to post anything “grossly offensive” on an “electronic communications network”. In recent years, police and prosecutors have jumped at any opportunity to enforce this law whenever someone complains that they feel hurt by what they have seen online or on social media (Spiked). People who’ve been brought to heel in this manner include Scottish comedian Count Dankula (convicted of a hate crime for filming a pet dog giving Nazi salutes), Kate Scottow (fined for being rude to a trans activist on social media), Caroline Farrow (threatened with a criminal record for misgendering a trans activist) and Joe Kelly (someone the FSU is currently supporting in his appeal against a conviction for a social media post in which he rejoiced at the death of Captain Sir Tom Moore).

For anyone who believes in freedom of expression, the current application of s127 is bad enough. But as FSU Advisory Council Member Andrew Tettenborm points out, what’s so worrying about the conviction of the two police officers is that it’s the consequence of a form of legislative ‘mission creep’, with the state now looking to use the Communications Act to police not just public, but private interactions. We got a taste of this earlier in the year when Paul Bussetti was handed a 10-week suspended sentence for filming a video of a burning cardboard mock-up of Grenfell Tower and sending it to a group of friends on a private WhatsApp group (Evening Standard). Two people have since been given prison sentences for sharing an offensive video in private groups on Snapchat (Mirror).

The powers-that-be apparently see no problem in this. The sentencing judge in the case of PC Cobban and Mr Borders, for instance, found the fact that the policemen only conversed in private not so much a mitigation as an aggravation. In being covert, the judge claimed, their comments were even more damaging than if they had been made in public. “Let that sink in,” Andrew Tettenborm urges. “The judge seems to have seen the law as a tool for tackling heresy – for rooting out bad thoughts wherever they might occur and making sure that the people who express them are severely punished.” This use of the law to control private thought “should terrify us”, he says.

Andrew does however think that there is “one hope we can cling to” – the Online Safety Bill. As unlikely as it may seem, this legislation, as currently written, will, on the recommendation of the Law Commission of England and Wales, repeal s127, as well as the Malicious Communications Act 1998, replacing those offences with a new harmful communications offence, whereby it becomes an offence, punishable by up to two years in prison, to say something that causes another person “serious distress”.

At first glance that might not appear particularly promising, simply substituting one entirely subjective definition – “grossly offensive” – for another – “serious distress” – such that judges will still be allowed to criminalise anything they think is unpleasant or hurtful. Yet in its proposals to the Government, the Law Commission was clear that the new offences would set a higher threshold for criminal liability than the current rules. That message is reflected in the legislation. As per clause 151 of the Online Safety Bill, for a person to be prosecuted of this new offence the prosecution will need to prove the following:

  1. there was a “real and substantial risk” the message “would cause harm to a likely audience”
  2. the person intended to cause harm to a likely audience; and
  3. the person had no reasonable excuse for sending the message.

The Bill goes on to suggest that an individual is a “likely audience” of a message “if, at the time the message is sent, it is reasonably foreseeable that the individual would encounter the message”. The FSU has concerns about how, in practice, a court will interpret that term – after all, it could be argued that a Twitter user’s “likely audience” is, in any given case, potentially the whole world – and our General Secretary, Toby Young, has written about those concerns here and here.

That said, it’s a definition that would undeniably be helpful in instances where off-colour WhatsApp messages had been shared between individuals and then subsequently shared more widely – in such cases, an individual would not be liable, because he or she did not intend, or even foresee, that a wider audience would subsequently see the messages. That’s why on paper the Online Safety Bill looks set to reduce the number of people prosecuted for sending offensive messages to each other in private WhatsApp groups – or, as Andrew Tettenborm puts it, the state “tackling heresy” by “rooting out bad thoughts wherever they might occur”. The question now, of course, is whether it will do so in practice.

You can read the FSU’s briefing on the Law Commission’s Proposed Changes to the Communications Act 2003 here. Our briefings on the Online Safety Bill are available here, here and here.

Cambridge college master refuses to apologise for calling gender-critical speaker “hateful”

The Master of Gonville and Caius who wrote to students calling Helen Joyce’s views “offensive, insulting and hateful to members of our community who live and work here” – this was after she’d been invited to speak at the College by a Fellow – has now written to alumni after furious donors threatened to pull funding (Mail, Telegraph, Times).

Author and former Economist journalist Dr Helen Joyce had been invited by FSU Advisory Council member Professor Arif Ahmed, a Cambridge philosophy professor, to be interviewed by Sir Partha Dasgupta, in a talk entitled “Criticising gender-identity ideology: what happens when speech is silenced?” Dr Joyce believes biological sex is binary and immutable and has been vocal about her view that men and women are being “redefined” by trans activists, with laws and policies reshaped to privilege gender identity over biological sex.

Given Dr Joyce’s gender-critical stance it was entirely predictable that students would launch protests, with the college’s LGBT reps all claiming to be “unanimously disgusted by the platforming of such views” and tutors opening a ‘safe space welfare tearoom’ for students during the talk [pass the smelling salts, dearie]. In the days leading up to Dr Joyce’s speaking engagement, the College Master, Professor Pippa Rogerson, and the Senior Tutor, Dr Andrew Spencer, decided to give the incipient mob a quick, coquettish flash of their own pitchforks, emailing all students of the College to tell them how much they disapproved of Dr Joyce’s views (Telegraph).

No doubt suitably encouraged by Prof Rogerson’s highly suggestive language – some might even call it a ‘dog-whistle’ – around a hundred trans rights protesters, some masked, gathered outside the talk last month chanting “trans rights are human rights” and banging drums. Witnesses claimed a fire door was hit and microphones had to be turned to full volume because Dr Joyce was inaudible. (You can watch Dr Joyce’s address and assess the level of disruption for yourself here).

The duo’s intervention led donors to say they were “embarrassed, appalled and absolutely disgusted” and would not give any more to the college without a retraction and an apology (Telegraph). One of the flurry of alumni to send protest letters was Nick Sallnow-Smith, 72, who graduated from Gonville and Caius in 1973. “I have been extremely upset by the way in which the master and senior tutor have behaved… it’s absolutely disgraceful,” he said, adding that: “With people like that in charge I will never donate again.”

Writing in the Telegraph, Douglas Murray describes Professor Rogerson’s subsequent letter to alumni as a “U-turn”. Reading her mea culpa, he said, was “like watching the slowest kid in the class catching up with everybody else and then expecting applause”.

But is there really that much for any self-respecting free speech warrior to be clapping? True, Professor Rogerson’s letter describes free speech as “fundamental”, but it also contains the sort of self-serving justifications for her own recent behaviour that make it difficult to believe she really does value free speech.

There were “difficult and complex discussions” around trans matters, she says. That was why, in their email communication with students condemning Dr Joyce’s talk, she and Dr Spencer had felt it necessary to “express our personal opinions – as is our right”.

Professor Rogerson and Dr Spencer’s email did indeed address students “in our personal capacities, not as Master and Senior Tutor, but as Pippa and Andrew”. Yet as the FSU pointed out in its letter of complaint to the College Council, they fired that address off from Professor Rogerson’s University email address while accessing official and reserved university mailing lists. That’s important because it suggests the letter may have constituted a breach of the College Master’s duty under section 43 of the Education Act 1986 – a provision which obliges every individual and body of persons concerned in the governance of a university to take reasonably practicable steps to secure freedom of speech within the law. Such steps are carefully set out in the University’s Statement on Freedom of Speech and were clearly disregarded by Professor Rogerson.

“Having given the matter a lot of thought,” Professor Rogerson’s apology letter continues, “I disagree with [Dr Joyce’s] views, the way she presents them, and the way in which she responds to those who disagree with her.” Given the context, it’s what you might politely call an ‘indelicate’ remark. Rather than attempting to explain her own behaviour to the college’s wealthy, free speech loving and, up until now, open-handed benefactors, ‘Pippa’ decides instead to draw their attention to another of Dr Joyce’s perceived personal failings that either hadn’t previously occurred to her, or that she forgot to mention during her last publicly delivered character assassination — this dreadful woman isn’t just “offensive, insulting and hateful”, but ill-mannered too.

The more pertinent issue, and one that Professor Rogerson’s letter fails to address, is the appropriateness of her own manner of responding to, as she might put it, “those who disagree with her”. As College Master, she is surely obliged to uphold the College’s Statement on Freedom of speech, which says: “The college expects all Fellows, staff and students to engage with intellectual and ideological challenges in a constructive, questioning and peaceable way, even if they find the viewpoints expressed to be disagreeable, unwelcome or distasteful.”

There was nothing at all “constructive” in mischaracterising Dr Joyce’s views as “offensive, insulting and hateful”, her dismissal of Dr Joyce’s work as “polemics” or her public declaration that she wouldn’t be attending Dr Joyce’s talk. Indeed, does any of that even warrant description as “engaging” with “intellectual and ideological challenges” in the first place? The Master didn’t simply breach the requirements of the Statement – she acted as though it didn’t exist.

According to the Telegraph, many Cambridge alumni felt much the same way. More have apparently since written in to complain, with others now threatening to pull bequests or urge their own children not to attend the university.

Joe Kelly fundraiser – show your support!

One of the FSU’s highest-profile current cases is that of Joe Kelly. It’s a case that will test your commitment to free speech to the limit. Mr Kelly was convicted and sentenced in Scotland for contravening the Communications Act 2003, section 127(1)(b), which makes it a criminal offence to make an electronic post which is “grossly offensive”.

Joe was at home on 3rd February 2021 when he tweeted “the only good Brit soldier is a deed [i.e., dead] one, burn auld fella buuuuurn” along with a picture of Captain Tom, who’d just died.

When he started receiving death threats almost immediately, Joe deleted the tweet, but someone has already reported him to the police and following a long legal process Scotland’s prosecution service threw the book at him. He was convicted and sentenced to a community payback order.

Having had his appeal denied by the Scottish Courts, Joe is seeking to take his case to the European Court of Human Rights. And we’re supporting him.

Everyone at the FSU is heartened by the comments people who’ve donated to Joe’s fundraiser have been leaving on his appeal page. Here’s a few of them:

“I’m a British soldier – but I’m also a member of the FSU, and for that reason I’m pleased to pledge my support for this campaign for justice.”

“This pledge sticks in my craw but the principle is more important.”

“Don’t like what you tweeted mate, but I’ll cough up to defend your right to tweet it.”

We know this is a tough case and not all our members will support us. But if you do, please consider donating to the Crowdfunder – the link is here.

This case is about more than Joe’s own fight for justice – the right to offend is a crucial element of free speech, as Lord Justice Sedley said in Redmond-Bate v DPP: “Freedom of speech includes not only the inoffensive but the irritating, the contentious, the eccentric, the heretical, the unwelcome and the provocative, provided it does not tend to provoke violence. Freedom only to speak inoffensively is not worth having.”

We don’t think Joe’s comment was intended to provoke violence, offensive though it was. All donations gratefully received.

Sharing the newsletter

As with all our work, this newsletter depends on the support of our members and donors, so if you’re not already a paying member please sign up today or encourage a friend to join, and help us turn the tide against cancel culture. You can share our newsletters on social media with the buttons below to help us spread the word. If someone has shared this newsletter with you and you’d like to join the FSU, you can find our website here.

Best wishes,

Freddie Attenborough

Communications Officer


Weekly news round-up

Welcome to the FSU’s weekly newsletter, our round-up of the free speech news of the week.

Partial victory over online censorship bill

Yesterday brought news that the Government is due to remove the ‘legal but harmful’ clause from the Online Safety Bill, a major victory for all the free speech groups that have been campaigning for this, including the FSU (i, Sun, Guido Fawkes). As Fraser Nelson points out in the Spectator, Rishi Sunak and Culture Secretary Michelle Donelan deserve credit for having made good on their pledges to look at this clause again.

However, the battle is not over. As FSU General Secretary Toby Young makes clear in today’s Telegraph, there’s a little-known flaw in the Bill that risks making Nicola Sturgeon the content moderator for the whole of the UK.

The FSU highlighted this flaw in discussions with Chris Philp, then the Digital Minister, earlier this year. The definition of illegal content in clause 52 (12) of the bill states that the content social media platforms will have a legal duty to remove in every part of the UK will be content that’s illegal in any part of the UK (“offence means any offence under the law of any part of the United Kingdom”). Failure to remove such content could result in those platforms being fined up to 10% of their annual global turnover.

The obvious difficulty with that is it means the big social media companies like YouTube, Facebook and Twitter would have to remove something it’s unlawful to say in Scotland in every part of the UK — hence the claim that the Bill will effectively appoint Nicola Sturgeon as content moderator for the entire population.

That’s particularly concerning given that last year Scotland’s Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Act received Royal Assent. Among other things, this “authoritarian mess” of an Act (as the FSU’s Scottish Advisory Council member Jamie Gillies describes it for Spiked) makes it a criminal offence, punishable by up to seven years in prison, for a person to behave in a threatening or abusive manner or to communicate material considered threatening or abusive to another person with the intention of “stirring up hatred” against people on the grounds of: age; disability, religion, sexual orientation, transgender identity, or variations in sex characteristics (intersex).

In effect, if a feminist says in Scotland that she doesn’t think transwomen are women, she could be prosecuted for stirring up hatred. And because of the clause in the Online Safety Bill that states that “offence means any offence under the law or any part of the United Kingdom”, the big social media platforms would also then have to remove any such content across the whole of the UK.

Having been made aware of this problem, the Government attempted to address it last July by making the following amendment:

Clause 52, page 49, line 13, leave out paragraph (d) and insert —

“(d) an offence within subsection (4A).

(4A) An offence is within this subsection if —

(a) it is not a priority offence,

(b) the victim or intended victim of the offence is an individual (or individuals), and

(c) the offence is created by this Act or, before or after this Act is

passed, by —

(i) another Act,

(ii) an Order in Council,

(iii) an order, rules or regulations made under an Act by the Secretary of State or other Minister of the Crown, including such an instrument made jointly with a devolved authority, or

(iv) devolved subordinate legislation made by a devolved authority with the consent of the Secretary of State or other Minister of the Crown.”

We think this will probably mean the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Act won’t affect what people can and can’t say online in the rest of the UK, since that was passed last year by a devolved authority without the consent of the Secretary of State. The amendment is still unsatisfactory, however, because it creates a loophole whereby a future minority Labour Government, knowing it wouldn’t get some draconian new anti-free speech law through the House of Commons, could simply approve that law after it’s been passed by Nicola Sturgeon’s devolved government in Holyrood. In other words, despite this amendment Sturgeon could still become the de facto content moderator for the whole of the UK with the consent of whoever the Culture Secretary is at the time.

The other difficulty with the amendment is as follows. On the recommendation of the Law Commission of England and Wales, the Online Safety Bill, as written, will repeal s127 of the Communications Act 2003 (which makes it an offense to say something “grossly offensive”), as well as the Malicious Communications Act 1998, and replace those offences with a new harmful communications offence, whereby it becomes an offence, punishable by up to two years in prison, to say something that causes another person “serious distress”.

As you might imagine, the FSU has reservations about this new harmful communications offence. The critical issue here, though, is that the Online Safety Bill will only repeal the above communications offences in England and Wales, not Scotland or NI, thereby creating a risk that social media platforms within scope of the new online regulatory regime will not only have to remove content that is unlawful under the new harmful communications offence, but content that’s unlawful under s127 of the Communications Act, since that will remain on the statute books in Scotland and NI, as well as the Malicious Communications Act, since that will remain on the statute book in NI. (It was never applicable to Scotland.)

Does the Government’s amendment address that? We don’t think that it does. The Malicious Communications Act was passed in 1998, and so meets the tests set out in the amendment, as does the Communications Act, since the Communications (Scotland) Act 2003 applied to the whole of the UK.

‘So what?’, you might think. And yet given there’s a chance that Labour will form a minority government supported by the SNP after the next general election, here too the Online Safety Bill, as written, seems capable of granting Nicola Sturgeon the power to determine what everyone in the rest of the UK is allowed to say online.

Let’s hope the Government does more to address this little-known flaw in the legislation when the Bill comes back before Parliament.

Preacher Franklin Graham wins free speech legal victory

Back in 2020, Christian activist Franklin Graham – son of the famous preacher, the late Billy Graham – hired Glasgow’s Hydro arena for a large evangelistic rally. Following protests regarding Mr Graham’s allegedly “hateful” views, however, the booking was cancelled, and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) then sued the body which runs the Hydro arena – the Scottish Event Campus (SEC) – for financial losses arising from that cancellation.

As FSU Scottish Advisory Council member Murdo Fraser points out, “one does not have to be sympathetic to Mr Graham’s opinions on any matter, or to be an enthusiast for his style of mass evangelism, to see that the cancellation of the event by the SEC was an afront to free speech” (Scotsman). “In a free and liberal democracy,” he adds, “there should always be a presumption that people are free to express their opinions even when they may cause offence to others.”

Sheriff John McCormick apparently shares that sentiment. Last week he ruled that the SEC had discriminated against the BGEA and ordered the venue to pay almost £100,000 in damages. The judgment handed down (and available here) ruled heavily in favour of the pursuers (BBC, Christian Today, Mail, Scottish Legal, Scottish Daily Express, Times), with Sheriff McCormick delivering something of a judicial slap-down to the protestors – or “censorious moralising prigs” as Alex Massie called them (Times).

The media narrative surrounding this case has always been that the SEC cancelled the event following protests by Glasgow’s LGBT+ Interfaith Network and several individuals, including two Church of Scotland ministers, who alleged that views expressed by Mr Graham in the past were “hateful, Islamophobic, and homophobic” (Mail, Scotsman, Times). Scottish Greens MSP Patrick Harvie – now a government minister – also lobbied the SEC seeking to have the event cancelled. Graham, he argued, peddles “a toxic and dangerous agenda” that is “utterly at odds with the values of a civilised society”. But did the SEC need much persuasion before pulling the plug (Glasgow Times)? The body’s major shareholder is Glasgow City Council, and as the documents referenced in Sheriff McCormick’s judgement make abundantly clear, Mr Graham’s event was ultimately cancelled because senior local government officials didn’t wish for it to go ahead – they were, in the Sheriff’s words, “searching for a reason to terminate the agreement”.

The minutes from a council board meeting claim “it’s about ‘doing the right thing’ notwithstanding the contractual position”. As Alex Massie translates, “doing ‘the right thing’ here means discriminating against people on the grounds of their presumed beliefs and suppressing their speech rights” (Times). According to her own testimony, Glasgow City Council’s leader, Susan Aitken, felt that the event had to be cancelled because “the expression of [Graham’s] views” might have unspecified “real-life consequences for people in Glasgow”. As Adam Tomkins points out, the “real-life consequences” of having to tolerate those with whom we disagree is entirely positive for grown-up citizens, but the Ms Aitkins of the world seem to believe that views and opinions that fall beyond their own, narrowly drawn moral boundaries are irredeemably oppressive, exclusionary and – literally – harmful (Herald).

The BGEA’s legal case was that the cancellation of the event contravened the Equality Act 2010, which protects religious or philosophical beliefs, and free speech. What’s particularly heartening about Sheriff McCormick’s judgement is how comprehensively he found in favour of the BGEA.

The Equality Act is “designed to protect cornerstone rights and freedoms within a pluralist society”, and “it does not exist to protect or privilege one section of society over others; it applies to all”. By terminating its contractual agreement “SEC directly discriminated against BGEA in that it treated them less favourably than it would have treated others”. The judgement continues: “for the purposes of this decision” it was irrelevant whether others “agree with, disagree with or even, as was submitted on behalf of the pursuer, find abhorrent, the opinions of the pursuers or Franklin Graham”. Why “irrelevant”? Because the Court “does not adjudicate on the validity of religious or philosophical beliefs”, and in relation to a characteristic with existing protection under the Equality Act – “religion or philosophical belief” – it is a simple matter of law that “no section of society can discriminate against those with whom he, she, or they disagree”. In other words, Mr Graham’s beliefs are protected in law regardless of what Ms Aitken might think of them.

Sheriff McCormick also observes that “a theme amongst those seeking cancellation of the event included prefacing their remarks with a professed belief in free speech, while denying that right to others and denying third parties their choice to attend”. Ouch.

Isn’t it the case, reflects Alex Massie, that “the real bigots here are those who seek to suppress lawful speech simply because they disapprove of it”, and that “a better country would be ashamed to have people who think like this in positions of such authority”? On the point about “the real bigots”, Murdo Fraser would almost certainly agree. But you get the sense he’d prefer a little less of that “better country” stuff. Perhaps he’s got a point – after all, wasn’t it Sheriff McCormick who played the starring role in this courtroom based free speech thriller? “Thank goodness,” the Conservative MSP for Mid Scotland and Fife sighs patriotically, “we have Scottish courts defending free speech.”

‘PayPal amendment’ to the Financial Services and Markets Bill gains traction!

We want to thank all of our members who’ve written to their MPs, urging them to support Sally-Ann Hart’s amendment to the Financial Services and Markets Bill which would make it illegal for a payment processor like PayPal to deplatform customers for political reasons. (You can watch Sally-Ann speak about the importance of her amendment on TalkTV here.)

Following discussions with Andrew Griffith, the Bill minister, Sally-Ann has now withdrawn the amendment because he has promised to come back with a constructive proposal about how to address the problem. The fact that the Government is taking this issue seriously is testimony to how many MPs have told their whips they want something to be done – and that’s thanks to all the emails they’ve received from our members.

But we need to keep up the pressure, so if you haven’t done so already, please send the slightly revised version of our template email to your MP, letting them know how opposed you are to this new and sinister form of censorship. It only takes two minutes to fill out the form.

This is a critically important battle. If we don’t pass a law to rein in companies like PayPal, we will soon see the emergence of a Chinese-style social credit system in the UK, except instead of ideological dogma being enforced by the Communist authorities it will be enforced by woke capitalist corporations.

The FSU ranks payment processors and crowdfunding platforms

The FSU has published a briefing paper in which Carrie Clark, our Research Officer, has looked at the terms and conditions of the major payment processors and crowdfunding platforms and given them a score out of 10 according to how friendly towards free speech they are.

It’s not good news. Only two of the seven get a score of more than 5/10, with the remaining five scoring 4/10 or below. The only payment processors we recommend for users concerned about protecting their free speech are Worldpay (8/10) and Stripe (7/10). We don’t recommend any of the crowdfunding platforms.

The difficulty Carrie identifies is that most of these companies include subjective, ambiguous words and phrases in their policies, prohibiting things like ‘misinformation’, ‘hate speech’, ‘offence’ and ‘intolerance’. Many say they won’t simply cancel users who engage in these activities on their platforms (and in some cases retain the funds in their accounts), but also cancel those who commit these sins more generally on social media and the like. Most go even further and retain the right to demonetise their customers for any reason whatsoever at their sole discretion.

You can read Carrie’s report here.

The FSU would love to hear from you!

Thanks to your support, we have been helping to defend our members’ free speech rights for more than two and a half years! But we rely on direct feedback from you to gain a deeper understanding of who are members are and where we should be targeting our support. We have put together a short survey to gather your thoughts and to tailor what we offer in the future. Please follow this link to complete the survey. We will share a summary of the results in a future FSU newsletter.

Joe Kelly fundraiser – show your support

Joe Kelly was convicted and sentenced in Scotland for contravening the Communications Act 2003, section 127(1)(b), which makes it a criminal offence to make an electronic post which is “grossly offensive”. Joe was at home on 3rd February, 2021 when he tweeted “the only good Brit soldier is a deed [i.e., dead] one, burn auld fella buuuuurn” along with a picture of Captain Tom, who’d just died. The tweet was only visible to his handful of followers for 20 minutes before he began to receive threats directed against him and his family and deleted it. It wasn’t fast enough, however: someone had already reported Joe to the police. So began a long legal process.

Scotland’s prosecution service decided to throw the book at Joe, and despite his counsel’s attempt to defend his right to free speech (which includes, as Lord Sedley stated, the “heretical, unwelcome and provocative”) he was convicted and sentenced to a community payback order. Having had his appeal denied by the Scottish Courts and having been labelled an “example case” to deter others from “pressing the blue button” and posting allegedly offensive content, Joe is now seeking to take his case to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. And we’re supporting him.

Yes, Kelly’s tweet was offensive. But the right to offend is a crucial element of free speech, and it certainly shouldn’t be the business of the police or the courts to protect people from hurty feelings. That’s why this case is about more than just Joe Kelly’s tweet. It’s about ensuring this “deterrence” (i.e., “chilling effect”) on free expression does not materialise. And it is about ensuring Scotland is not left behind as the only country in the UK in which it’s illegal to say something “grossly offensive”, which it will be if the Communications Act is repealed in the rest of the UK.

It’s on these grounds that one of Scotland’s most senior legal figures has now backed Mr Kelly’s appeal (Times). Roddy Dunlop KC, dean of the Faculty of Advocates, this week Tweeted: “The tweet was disgusting, in my honest opinion. But we are at the very sharp edge of where the merely offensive becomes an actual offence. A case to watch for sure. Fred Mackintosh will argue it convincingly.”

The “Fred Mackintosh” Mr Dunlop alludes to is Joe Kelly’s counsel. If the appeal process goes ahead, Mr Mackintosh and Joe’s lawyer, Cameron Smith, will argue that statements made by means of a public telecommunications system, like Kelly’s tweet, do not need to have artistic or political meaning for them be protected by the right to free speech laid down in the European Convention on Human Rights. If applied in the way that the Sheriff did in Kelly’s case, the term “grossly offensive” is far too vague and his conviction will have a chilling effect. A person’s right to freedom of speech should not be subject to interference on this basis.

We know this is a tough case and not all our members will support us. But if you do, please consider donating to the crowdfunder. Any donations made are to fund the legal expenses associated with preparing an application to the European Court of Human Rights. If permission to hear the case at the European level is granted, we hope the remainder of the case will be funded by the Court’s own system of legal aid.

Pledge your support here.

The FSU’s packed schedule of events

Don’t miss the chance to join our Online Speakeasy with historian and television presenter Neil Oliver on Wednesday 9th November at 6.30pm. Please register here to receive the Zoom link.

In addition, it’s time to round up your comedy-loving friends and family for The FSU Christmas Special, a one night only extravaganza of comedy with a fabulous line-up, organised in association with Comedy Unleashed – the home of free-thinking comedy. The event takes place on the evening of Monday 12th December at the Backyard Comedy Club in Bethnal Green.

Comedy legend Bobby Davro is our Master of Ceremonies and Bobby will be joined by stand-up comedian, comedy entrepreneur and star of They Think It’s All Over Lee Hurst, as well as Comedy Unleashed favourite Mary Bourke and comedian and GB News presenter Simon Evans.

These tickets are about to go on general release, so please book now to secure tickets at your special discounted member-rate. You can do that here.

Sharing the newsletter

As with all our work, this newsletter depends on the support of our members and donors, so if you’re not already a paying member please sign up today or encourage a friend to join, and help us turn the tide against cancel culture. You can share our newsletters on social media with the buttons below to help us spread the word. If someone has shared this newsletter with you and you’d like to join the FSU, you can find our website here.

Best wishes,

Freddie Attenborough

Communications Officer

Weekly news round-up

Welcome to the FSU’s weekly newsletter, our round-up of the free speech news of the week.

The FSU would love to hear from you!

Thanks to your support, we have been helping to defend our members’ free speech rights for more than two and a half years! But we rely on direct feedback from you to gain a deeper understanding of who are members are and where we should be targeting our support. We have put together a short survey to gather your thoughts and to tailor what we offer in the future. Please follow this link to complete the survey: FSU Membership Survey. We will share a summary of the results in a future FSU newsletter.

The FSU Christmas Special – book your tickets here!

Round up your comedy-loving friends and family for The FSU Christmas Special, a one-night-only extravaganza of comedy with a fabulous line-up, hosted in association with Comedy Unleashed – the home of free-thinking comedy. We are delighted to reveal that comedy legend Bobby Davro is our Master of Ceremonies for the evening. Bobby will be joined on stage by stand-up comedian, comedy entrepreneur and star of BBC’s They Think It’s All Over Lee Hurst, Comedy Unleashed favourite Mary Bourke, and comedian and GB News presenter Simon Evans. Join the fun with the FSU team and help us raise funds to defend freedom of speech. Please get your tickets by clicking here before they go on wider release. Tickets cost: £20 (FSU member full price), £15 (FSU member concessions), £25 (non-member full price), and £20 (non-member concessions)

Register for our November speakeasy with Neil Oliver here!

On 9th November, FSU General Secretary Toby Young will be joined in conversation by historian, author and television presenter Neil Oliver. After a successful career as a TV historian, Neil has become one of GB News’s most popular presenters, with social media clips of his monologues often clocking up several million views. He was an outspoken critic of the UK’s lockdown policy and has subsequently raised questions about the efficacy and safety of the mRNA Covid vaccines. Neil will be speaking to Toby about his transformation from pillar of the Establishment to anti-Establishment rebel. Members can register to receive the Zoom link here.

Salman Rushdie suffered life-changing injuries in Islamist stabbing

Salman Rushdie has lost the use of an eye and one of his hands following the attack in August by Hadi Matar, the 24-year-old Islamist who rushed the stage just as the author and British citizen was about to deliver a lecture in New York, repeatedly stabbing him in the neck, face, abdomen and back (BBC, Epoch Times, Express, FT, GB News, Mail, Times).

Speaking to Spain’s El País, Rushdie’s agent, Andrew Wylie, confirmed that the 75-year-old would survive the attack, but revealed for the first time the severity of the author’s injuries. “[His wounds] were profound, but he’s [also] lost the sight of one eye,” Wylie said. “He had three serious wounds in his neck. One hand is incapacitated because the nerves in his arm were cut. And he has about 15 more wounds in his chest and torso. So, it was a brutal attack.”

“That Rushdie might never be able to type again is particularly stomach-turning,” says Tom Slater (Spiked). It was, after all, “his writing that put a price on his head in the first place”. His Booker Prize-winning novel, The Satanic Verses, attracted the ire of Islamists the world over after it was published in 1988. Hardline clerics, community leaders and protesters condemned it as blasphemous. Copies were burnt, protests organised, and effigies of the author hanged, until eventually this agitation caught the attention of Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini who issued his fatwa in 1989, offering $3 million to anyone who would succeed in killing the author, or anyone involved in its publication and distribution.

Rushdie’s memoir of the time he spent in hiding, Joseph Anton, begins amid the chaos of safehouses, loaded guns, death threats and round-the-clock Special Branch protection, but concludes improbably, some 13 years later, with the threat level against the pseudonymous ‘Joseph’ lowered and the police “spinning on their heels and walking out of his life” with an abruptness that “made him laugh out loud”. Now, suddenly, it’s as if the book has an epilogue, a sickening twist: they got their man – or rather, another of their men. Because as the author reminds us, while his own “nightmare was long”, others too were made to suffer. Joseph the fugitive “thought every day” of William Nygaard, the Norwegian publisher of The Satanic Verses, shot multiple times outside his home, of Ettore Capriolo, his Italian translator, stabbed in the neck, chest and hands, of his Japanese translator, Histoshi Igarashi, left to die in a pool of blood by a lift shaft at Tsukuba University; of the thirty-seven people killed when a mob seeking to murder his Turkish translator, Aziz Mesin, set fire to the Madimak Hotel in Sivas. It was, he said, “the world of books – literature itself – [that] was being vilified, shot, kicked, knifed, killed and blamed at the same time”.

There are “few moments where the solitary nature of life appears more inescapable than when one is clinging to it”, writes Darren Anderson (Unherd). Salman Rushdie must surely know that better than anyone, he says – the grim truth is that even as he lies recovering in an unknown location, surrounded by medical professionals and loved ones, “he is, as he has always been, in this struggle alone”.

Yet the theme of solidarity-at-a-distance, of vicarious support, the “friendly wave in his direction”, as Rushdie puts it, is rarely far from the surface in Joseph Anton. Towards the end of that novel, he recalls “a few blissful, carefree minutes” spent at Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen with his friends, William Nygaard – at that point still recovering from the Islamist attack upon his life – and his Norwegian publisher Johannes Riis. Watching them riding the bumper cars, “shouting and smashing into one another like little boys”, Rushdie catches himself thinking that, in the end, all he wanted to know “was that he was at the centre of a group of people behaving as well, as nobly, as human beings can behave, and beyond that group at the centre of a larger narrative filled with people I didn’t know, would never know, people as determined as my bumper-car friends not to allow the darkness to prevail”.

The thoughts of everyone at the Free Speech Union are with Salman and his family. Despite the many assassination attempts, the killings and the maimings of those associated with the publication of The Satanic Verses, the “impossible dream”, as he once put it, of an “ordinary, banal life”, Rushdie has rarely missed an opportunity to speak out on behalf of freedom of expression, a principle he has “embodied” – as the author Margaret Attwood put it in the wake of his stabbing – since Ayatollah Khomeini issued his decree. Embodied is right. The life-changing injuries he has suffered represent an attack not just on Salman’s freedom of expression, but on all of ours. We stand in solidarity with him now, and always.

Joe Kelly fundraiser – show your support!

Joe Kelly was convicted and sentenced in Scotland for contravening the Communications Act 2003, section 127(1)(b), which makes it a criminal offence to make an electronic post which is “grossly offensive”. Joe was at home on February 3, 2021, when he tweeted “the only good Brit soldier is a deed [i.e., dead] one, burn auld fella buuuuurn” along with a picture of Captain Tom. The tweet was only visible to his handful of followers for 20 minutes before he began to receive threats directed against him and his family and deleted it. It wasn’t fast enough, however: someone had already reported Joe to the police for his tweet. So began a long legal process (see Spiked for the full story and context).

Scotland’s prosecution service decided to prosecute Joe, and despite his counsel’s best attempts to defend his right to free speech (which includes, as Lord Sedley stated, the “heretical, unwelcome and provocative”) he was convicted and sentenced to a community payback order. Having had his appeal denied by the Scottish Courts and having been labelled an “example case” to deter others from “pressing the blue button” and posting allegedly offensive content, Joe is now seeking to take his case to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

Yes, Kelly’s tweet was offensive. But the right to offend is a crucial element of free speech, and it certainly shouldn’t be the business of the police or the courts to protect people from hurty feelings. That’s why this case is about more than Joe Kelly’s own fight for justice. It’s about ensuring this “deterrence” (i.e., “chilling effect”) on free expression does not materialise. And it is about ensuring Scotland is not left behind as the only country in the UK in which it’s illegal to say something “grossly offensive”.

Joe’s counsel (Fred Mackintosh KC and Cameron Smith) will make the argument that a statement like that made by Joe by means of a public telecommunications system should not need to have artistic or political meaning for it be protected by the right to free speech laid down in the European Convention on Human Rights. If applied in the way that the Sheriff did in Joe’s case, the term “grossly offensive” is far too vague and his conviction will have a chilling effect. A person’s right to freedom of speech should not be subject to interference on this basis.

This is not a radical idea – in fact, the Law Commission of England and Wales has urged the UK Government to scrap section 127 of the Communications Act 2003 and replace it with another, less censorious law.

Any donations made to Joe’s crowdfunder are to fund the legal expenses associated with preparation of an application to the European Court of Human Rights. If permission to hear the case at the European level is granted, it is hoped that the remainder of the case will be funded by the Court’s own system of legal aid.

Join the fight and pledge your support here.

University of York drops initials from email addresses in “trans-friendly” move

The University of York has stopped using students’ initials for their emails and usernames. According to the Telegraph, the initiative is intended as a “trans-friendly” move, while the Mail report that “university bosses” believe the policy is “more inclusive”. The Metro, meanwhile, ran the story under the slightly misleading but undeniably entertaining headline: “Calling students by their names ‘too upsetting’.”

For many years York had a policy of using the first letters of students’ first names and surnames when creating their official emails and usernames. But in a move that York’s LGBTQ+ Network describes as “a massive win for trans students” (The Tab), university bosses have scrapped the practice on the basis that too many people are changing gender or asking to change their names for other reasons. From now on, the University will use randomly generated letters and numbers to assign email addresses to students.

Speaking to the Mail, the FSU’s General Secretary, Toby Young, said “it seems like a parody of political correctness gone mad – the sort of thing you’d expect to see in a Netflix series satirising the ideological capture of universities by woke cultists”.

Maybe so, but would even the most imaginative of modern satirists have thought to build into the plot a computerised identification system capable of protecting students from the psychologically harmful effect of incorporating their own initials in their email addresses?

To avoid inadvertently creating addresses and usernames that include profanity or hate speech, the University has made it clear that its new system will limit usernames to just three letters followed by three numbers. In addition, the University will no longer generate usernames using vowels or the letter ‘y’, thus ruling out virtually every known form of smirk-inducing, schoolyard naughtiness (e.g., “sex124”, “bum697”, etc.). Nevertheless, the threat remains of, say, an exclusionary “LGB” suddenly popping up without the “T” (Mail), or an “XX” letter combo triggering students with distressing thoughts of chromosomes and the female karyotype (Spiked). Thankfully, York seem to be alive to this danger – as the Mail reports, the University is now “asking students to report any combinations they think should be blacklisted”. (Although of course it’s highly unlikely that the University will be using the Mail’s term ‘blacklisted’ in any of its student-facing comms.)

York has also been keen to talk up the idea that using initials, which can change if students alter their gender while they are studying, will make the institution “a more inclusive place to work and study”, while also “improv[ing] students’ experience”. Whether that’s true or not, what we can say with absolute, cast-iron certainty is that there won’t be any upside to this initiative for university administrators, who will inevitably spend hours every day answering queries from students who’ve forgotten what their randomly generated email addresses are.

“Wouldn’t it be simpler,” asks Toby, “to just stick with the system that staff and students know and which everyone has got used to?” And if the University authorities want to cheer up trans students, “shouldn’t they just give them the money that they will inevitably have to spend dealing with the unintended consequences of introducing this crackpot idea”?

Sharing the newsletter

As with all our work, this newsletter depends on the support of our members and donors, so if you’re not already a paying member please sign up today or encourage a friend to join, and help us turn the tide against cancel culture. You can share our newsletters on social media with the buttons below to help us spread the word. If someone has shared this newsletter with you and you’d like to join the FSU, you can find our website here.

Best wishes,

Freddie Attenborough

Communications Officer

Weekly news round-up

Welcome to the FSU’s weekly newsletter, our round-up of the free speech news of the week.

The FSU’s packed schedule of events this autumn!

On 9th November, FSU General Secretary Toby Young will be joined in conversation by historian, author and television presenter Neil Oliver. Members can register to receive the Zoom link here.

After a successful career as a TV historian, Neil had his own brush with cancel culture in 2020 as President of the National Trust for Scotland when some offence archaeologists (not real archaeologists like Neil) unearthed a tweet in which he’d praised the historian (and FSU Advisory Council member) David Starkey. Even though the tweet was posted before Starkey’s controversial comments about the slave trade, some po-faced critics argued it made Neil unsuitable to serve on the Board of the National Trust. 

Since retiring from public life he has become one of GB News’s most popular presenters, with social media clips of his monologues often racking up several million views. He was an outspoken critic of the UK’s lockdown policy and has subsequently raised questions about the efficacy and safety of the mRNA Covid vaccines, prompting renewed calls for him to be cancelled. Neil will be speaking to Toby about his transformation from pillar of the Establishment to anti-Establishment rebel.

The Battle of Ideas Festival in Buxton – discount rates for FSU members!

It was wonderful to see so many of our members and supporters at the Battle of Ideas Festival in London last weekend. There is a follow-up, one-day Battle of Ideas Festival taking place in Buxton in two weeks’ time and we have secured a discount for FSU members.

Festival Director and FSU Advisory Council member Claire Fox will be kicking things off, and speakers include Harry Miller, former MP Edwina Currie, SDP leader William Clouston, Daily Telegraph columnist Sherelle Jacobs and many more.

There’s a great-looking session on free speech and comedy chaired by Comedy Unleashed co-founder Andy Shaw and featuring author and radio presenter Timandra Harkness and comedians Nick Dixon and Tania Edwards. Another session that will be of interest to FSU Members is ‘Online Politics: People Power or Social-Media Cesspit?’ The panellists on that one include GB News’s Calvin Robinson and author Tracy Follows.

To get your discount, use this link and select the promo rate tickets.  

Email the candidates in the Conservative leadership contest about free speech

We’re in the midst of yet another Conservative leadership contest and that means we have a fresh opportunity to ask the candidates where they stand on the critical free speech issues facing the next government, such as the Online Safety Bill and the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill. Once we know who the candidates are, we’ll be asking all our members and supporters who are also members of the Conservative Party to use our campaigning tool to contact them in the hope of extracting commitments to uphold free speech that we can then hold the winner to. Expect an email about that soon.

The growing threat of politically motivated financial censorship

The IMF’s managing director, Kristalina Georgieva, revealed that the UN’s major financial agency doesn’t like people using cash and wants to “change that preference” (Epoch Times, Reclaim the Net). Speaking at the IMF/World Bank Annual Meeting, Ms Georgieva bemoaned what she described as digital “hesitancy”. The IMF’s “capacity development experts on financial inclusion often see strong preference for cash”, she said, “even when viable electronic alternatives exist, like e-wallets, mobile money”. Shaking her head and frowning, she went on to ask: “Why are consumers not using these products?”

It’s not rocket science, Ms Georgieva. People are concerned that digital banking will make it easier for them to be cut off from their money if ever a government – or online payment provider in thrall to the idea of “stakeholder capitalism” (Telegraph) – decrees that their lawful political opinions, dissenting views, or deeply held religious convictions constitute ‘hate speech’ or ‘misinformation’ (Epoch Times, Pavlovic Today, Telegraph). Nor can this concern be dismissed as the paranoid fantasy of a small group of tinfoil hat wearing conspiracy theorists – as we hurtle towards a cashless economy, cases of financial censorship are starting to crop up with alarming frequency (Critic, Spiked).

In February 2022, for instance, Canada froze the bank accounts of anti-vaccine mandate protestors, with Deputy Canadian PM Chrystia Freeland making clear that banks would also be asked to freeze the personal accounts of anyone linked with the protests, with no due process, no appeals process and no court order necessary (Spiked). Online donations platform GoFundMe then withheld donations specifically to Canadian truckers protesting against vaccine mandates in what came to be known as the Freedom Convoy.

Around the same time, PayPal de-platformed left-wing alternative media sites Mint Publishing and Consortium News for publishing stories that questioned the rationale for the West’s support of Ukraine following Russia’s invasion (TK News). Then, over the summer, PayPal and Etsy deplatformed the evolutionary biologist and gender critical writer Colin Wright for expressing his belief in biological reality (Quillette).

Last month, PayPal shut down the accounts of UsforThemUK, a parents’ group that fought to keep schools open during the pandemic, due to “the nature of its activities”, and the Free Speech Union, and on both occasions did so without prior warning, meaningful explanation, or recourse to a proper appeals process (Telegraph, Daily Sceptic). More recently, Ko-Fi, an online platform that allows users to sell their work and raise donations, removed a number of accounts belonging to feminists and feminist organisations due to their gender critical views (Reclaim the Net).

Are things about to get even worse? According to financial journalist Robert Kogon, the EU’s recently passed Digital Services Act (DSA), makes that a distinct possibility (Brownstone Institute, Daily Sceptic).

The DSA is designed to function in combination with the EU’s so-called Code of Practice on Disinformation: the Code requires signatories to censor what the European Commission defines as disinformation on pain of massive fines, while the enforcement mechanism, i.e., the fines, is established by the DSA. 

Because the legislation specifically targets “very large online platforms or very large online search engines”, it might appear as if digital financial service providers like PayPal are beyond its purview. Not so, says Kogon. The Commission has been arguing for some time that “actions to defund disinformation should be broadened by the participation of players active in the online monetisation value chain, such as online e-payment services, e-commerce platforms and relevant crowdfunding/donation systems” (European Commission, 2021).

The rationale here seems to be that because people who post so-called ‘disinformation’ on, say, Twitter are also increasingly going to be users of various other financial service platforms, it is possible to target them in two ways: first, by censoring their material as and when it appears; and second, by demonetising them so that they can’t produce any more such material.

It’s that second possibility which seems to fascinate the Commission.

That’s why the first ‘commitment’ in its strengthened code of practice is dedicated to the “demonetisation of disinformation and improving the politics and systems which determine the eligibility of content to be monetised”.

It’s also why, just nine days after the passage of the DSA through the European Parliament, the EC issued a “Call for interest to become a Signatory” of the Code. In the past, signatories have almost always been entities like advertisers, internet service providers, social media companies and search engines. What types of actors is the Commission particularly hoping to sign up to the Code this time? “Providers whose services may be used to monetise disinformation (E-payment services, e-commerce platforms, crowd-funding/donation systems).”

The problem, of course, is that once financial services providers have signed up to the European Commission’s Code and committed to, as the Code puts it, “exchang[ing] best practices and strengthen[ing] cooperation with relevant players… in the online monetisation value system”, their systems will all be finely tuned and ready to impose the Commission’s model of financial censorship on the entire world, including the UK. And at breakneck speed too – not only does the strengthened Code contain a total of 44 “commitments” that its new signatories will be expected to make, but it also contains a deadline for meeting them: namely, six months after signing up to the Code (Brownstone Institute).

In other words, if you thought 2022 was a bad year for financial censorship, just wait until you see an organisation like PayPal roll up its sleeves and get stuck in to meeting its legally binding ‘commitments’, as dictated by the European Commission, in 2023.

The FSU lobbies the government on financial censorship – join the fightback!

As Toby pointed out in Pavlovic Today, the FSU is currently lobbying the Government to introduce a law preventing financial services providers from financially censoring people or groups in this country for the expression of legal but dissenting views. But legislative work takes time, which means we need to keep the pressure up, mobilising the extraordinary public opposition to PayPal’s recent behaviour to tell our politicians that we don’t want a Chinese-style social credit system to be rolled out across the West.

Using the Free Speech Union’s campaigning tool to write to your MP is a great way to keep up that pressure and remind our legislators that there’s strong feeling on this issue among the public. If you’re as outraged as we are about the growing threat of politically motivated financial censorship in the West, please use this tool to send a template email to your MP, urging them to ask a question about it in the House of Commons.

The process only takes two minutes, and the link is here.

Graham Norton falls victim to cancel culture

The fallout from Graham Norton’s recent appearance at the Cheltenham Literature Festival, in which he claimed that ‘cancel culture’ doesn’t exist, and that those complaining of being ‘cancelled’ have simply been held ‘accountable’ for their views, continued this week (Critic, Evening Standard, HuffPost, Independent, Mail).

Speaking to GB News’s Andrew Doyle, the creator of Father Ted and The IT Crowd, Graham Linehan, professed himself “disappointed” by Norton’s comments. Linehan, who has suffered multiple cancellations and was most recently dropped by Hat Trick Productions from involvement in a musical version of Father Ted on account of his perfectly lawful views on transgender activism, said: “I find Graham Norton personally such a betrayal, because one of the first things he did was his role on Father Ted, there is no way he cannot know about what’s happened to me. For him to say there’s no cancel culture, I don’t know what to say about it, but he’s really disappointed me” (Express).

“Sorry Graham Norton”, a not-very-sorry-sounding Zoe Strimpel said, “but cancel culture is all too real” (Telegraph). She felt it is “simply wrong” to argue that “cancel culture is a ruse cooked up by the Right for more attention”. In workplaces up and down the country, she said, “people are being driven to misery – or sacked – for doing nothing wrong”.

Mark Dolan felt much the same way. He was “profoundly offended” that Norton, “himself a privileged and very well-paid presenter”, should seek to “gaslight the huge numbers of artists and creative people who have been or feel censored, or who have had their livelihoods destroyed for having the wrong views” (Express, GB News).

The FSU can attest to the accuracy of these claims – we get an average of 50 requests for help a week and at any one time we’ll have around 100 cases on the go. These are cases where people have been punished, sacked, bullied, harassed, investigated, or disciplined for speaking their mind – or because a colleague prowled through their personal social media profiles looking for ‘offensive’ material.

As the backlash intensified, people angered by Norton’s reluctance to admit the reality of cancel culture rushed off to engage in a spot of ‘offence archaeology’ and came back clutching a TV sketch from the 2000s in which the presenter mocked Big Brother contestant Jade Goody, now deceased, by dressing up in rolls of fake flab and adding a touch of shaving foam to his chin to symbolise semen [she’s working class… so she must be a slapper – geddit?!].

When Norton subsequently deleted his Twitter account, his supporters were understandably outraged (Mail). Norton had been “hounded off Twitter” said Guardian journalist Owen Jones. The host of The Graham Norton Show was “forced off Twitter” and it was all “desperately sad”, said TV presenter India Willoughby (LBC). Pink News felt that Norton had been subjected to “harassment” and a “barrage of abuse”.

It sounds awful. Perhaps he should consider joining the FSU. If you’re reading this, Graham, we have plenty of experience supporting people who’ve fallen foul of cancel culture. Not that Brendan O’Neill seemed in the mood to play the Good Samaritan (Spiked). “What are [Norton’s defenders] talking about?” the cold-hearted brute thundered. “Didn’t they listen to Graham? Don’t they know that this is just accountability culture and that it’s a very good thing? Live by accountability, die by accountability, right Mr Norton?”

Don’t mind Brendan, Graham – he’s like that with everyone. The link to our sign-up page is here. Membership starts at £2.49.

Alumni For Free Speech – a call to arms!

We are delighted to announce that friends of the FSU have recently launched ‘Alumni For Free Speech’ (AFFS), a campaign to galvanise and co-ordinate university alumni to pressurise institutions to protect and promote free speech properly. (The AFFS website is here). AFFS is a timely campaign that will undoubtedly make a major contribution to the fight for free speech at our universities – alumni working collectively can exert both moral and financial pressure and thus have huge leverage and impact on their universities.

AFFS will have three main areas of work: pushing universities to comply with their free speech legal obligations; encouraging and supporting alumni to start focused campaigns to push their own institutions to better protect free speech; and liaising with the FSU to tackle specific incidents as they occur – be they sackings or disciplinaries, no-platformings or cancellations of people and/or events.

AFFS needs large numbers of alumni to become members to gain traction with universities and help make this happen. It also needs financial support to do its work, and in particular to bring in a director to drive this vital project forward. If you’re a graduate, then please show your support for the AFFS by joining the organisation here – the process only takes a minute and membership is free.

Sharing the newsletter

As with all our work, this newsletter depends on the support of our members and donors, so if you’re not already a paying member please sign up today or encourage a friend to join, and help us turn the tide against cancel culture. You can share our newsletters on social media with the buttons below to help us spread the word. If someone has shared this newsletter with you and you’d like to join the FSU, you can find our website here.

Best wishes,

Freddie Attenborough

Communications Officer

Weekly news round-up

Welcome to the FSU’s weekly newsletter, our round-up of the free speech news of the week. As with all our work, this newsletter depends on the support of our members and donors, so if you’re not already a paying member please sign up today or encourage a friend to join, and help us turn the tide against cancel culture.

Financial censorship – a request for information from members

It has come to our attention that the online platform Ko-Fi has removed a number of accounts belonging to some feminists and feminist organisations. Ko-Fi is a multi-purpose platform that allows users to sell their work and raise donations. The FSU is helping some of the cancelled users, including campaign group Conservatives for Women (we’ve tweeted about that case here and here), and is keen to help anyone else who has fallen foul of Ko-Fi in this way. If it has happened to you, or to someone you know, please get in touch.

You can reach our case team at [email protected], or drop us a direct message via Twitter (@SpeechUnion), Facebook (@SpeechUnion), LinkedIn (Free Speech Union) or Instagram (@FreeSpeechUnion).

The FSU’s packed schedule of events this autumn!

You can see a calendar of all our events on our Events page. As that is a public page, you cannot book members-only events on the website, so do please look out for regular emails from FSU Events for full details, including links for tickets and registration.

Members who have opted to hear about FSU Events should have received an email this week. If you have not received this, do check your inbox, including your junk folder, and get in touch if you can’t find it there, using [email protected].

We have two excellent sessions at the Battle of Ideas Festival taking place in London this weekend (15th and 16th October). Toby will be speaking on a packed panel debating Online Safety vs Free Speech on Saturday afternoon, and the Free Speech Champions will discuss Winning Young Hearts and Minds on Sunday afternoon, with panellists including Professor Alice Sullivan and Rod Liddle. Members can access special discount tickets by entering the promo code FSU-BattleFest2022 at the top of the ticket page. Do come and say hello to us at our stall where we’ll also be selling some merch.

The FSU intervenes after London college requests staff declare their pronouns

An elite performing arts college that, as the Mail was quick to point out, “was once attended by Spice Girl Mel C”, has told staff to declare their preferred pronouns on email in solidarity with trans people. Bird College in south London also asked employees to display the transgender Pride flag and Black Lives Matter (BLM) logo in all written correspondence.

In an email to staff last week, the college’s principal, Luis De Abreu, provided a signature template for them to use, writing: “Please can we all have the same version as attached.” The template included his pronouns, ‘he/him’; the slogan ‘I’m #MadeByDyslexia’; and the logos of the trans ‘Pride’ lobby and BLM.

Was this an attempt by Bird College to compel its employees to endorse some contentious philosophical and political views?

Declaring one’s pronouns is certainly a way of expressing support for the agenda of transrights activists, including their insistence that a person’s sex is not an immutable biological fact about them, but something that can be changed at will.

That’s fine if that’s what you believe, of course. But for an employer to instruct employees who don’t believe this – gender critical feminists, say, or orthodox Christians – to declare their gender pronouns, with the implication that they will suffer a detriment if they fail to comply, is an act of unlawful discrimination under the Equality Act 2010, as well as a breach of their Article 9 and Article 10 rights under the Human Rights Act.

It’s a similar story in the case of a self-proclaimed Marxist organisation like BLM – very few members of staff at Mel C’s alma mater are likely to share this far-left organisation’s desire to defund the police, smash capitalism and destroy the nuclear family.

Perhaps a contrarian might try to argue that because Mr De Abreu’s statement has an interrogative structure (“Please can we…”) it’s a little unfair to interpret it as anything other than a polite request for colleagues to voluntarily follow their principal’s lead.

But the email’s recipients weren’t just Mr De Abreu’s colleagues. They were people he’d hired, people he could fire, people whose careers were to some extent in his hands.

Add to the mix the fact that tutors had previously been told during a staff meeting that they “must” use pronouns, while some also felt there was a ‘climate of fear’ in the college such that students were being harassed by peers if they objected to gender identity ideology, and it’s not difficult to see why Mr De Abreu’s email caused disquiet.

According to one employee who spoke to the Mail, “Some staff members feel compelled and bullied and that they are being forced to misrepresent themselves and lie about their beliefs… Now this email telling us all to insert pronouns into our signatures and support the various organisations shown in the template he has sent out… It is not optional. It is definitely compelled.”

Following a tip off from a member of staff, FSU General Secretary Toby Young wrote to the college, setting out the legal violations that may have taken place, and asking Mr De Abreu to make clear to staff that whether they choose to declare their gender pronouns or include the Pride or BLM flags in their signatures is entirely optional, and that they won’t suffer any detriment, including harm to their promotion prospects, if they refuse to do so. You can read that letter here.

Following receipt of our letter the college appears to have had second thoughts. “We appreciate that this may have been interpreted as an instruction to include pronouns and certain logos,” Mr De Abreu conceded in a statement issued to the Mail, “but it is not, and has never been, the intention of Bird College to require any staff member to declare pronouns, or to appear to support any political group in their email signature.”

Are free speech and decolonisation compatible in UK higher education?

Under the Government’s Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill, universities will have a legal duty to promote free speech. That’s good (obviously), but research by the think tank Civitas suggests that institutions currently engaged in attempts to decolonise curricula may struggle to fulfil that duty (Epoch Times, Mail, Mail).

The think tank set out to ascertain whether there’s a correlation between the frequency of occurrence of free speech controversies, and the intensity with which a university adopts decolonisation initiatives.

To that end, researchers first identified 374 free speech controversies that occurred at UK universities during the period 2017-20. These included: 142 “anti-free speech petitions”, 123 “transphobic” controversies, 30 so-called “no-platformings” or “disinvitations” of external speakers, and multiple demands for the censure or firing of academics, and/or restrictions on their publication and teaching.

Next, they scoured university websites, looking for any mention of either formal university policies or official statements/commitments on decolonisation or any mention of academics pushing for decolonisation. What they found was that “the decolonisation movement is more pronounced in British universities than previously thought”. Specifically. over half (56%) of UK universities have “an official commitment in some form”, while a third (34%) “employ academics that are advocating for decolonisation”. Seven out of 10 have at least one or the other.

Correlation analysis of these variables then established that free speech controversies do in fact tend to occur moderately more often “where there are official policies/statements as well as academic advocates of decolonisation”.

In a sense, that’s not particularly surprising – at an anecdotal level much evidence already exists to suggest that decolonisation initiatives often involve senior administrators, bodies like Advance HE and/or radical activists pressuring academics to conform and overriding their independence when it comes to setting reading lists for their courses and writing their lectures (e.g., MailTimes HigherTelegraph). What’s important about the quantitative research conducted by Civitas, however, is that it suggests these anecdotes aren’t anecdotes at all, but instances of a wider, statistically observable trend across UK higher education.

Drawing on research conducted for the Higher Education Policy Institute, the report concludes with a summary of students’ views on free speech. It suggests there may be growing support for decolonisation among younger generations: 77% of students believe there should be mandatory training for all university staff on understanding other cultures (up 22% since 2016); 76% of students think universities should always or sometimes get rid of memorials of potentially controversial figures – up from 51% in 2016; and 62% of students say they support the creation of so-called “safe spaces” on campus, a policy increasingly associated with attempts to decolonise the university classroom – up 14% since 2016.

The report’s author, Dr Richard Norrie, concludes that “the evidence shows a strong and growing censorious cohort of students who prefer cossetting over intellectual challenge, as though the harms of the latter were real and unbearable”.

The FSU writes to the NEU regarding its draft definition of ‘transphobia’

FSU General Secretary Toby Young has written to the National Education Union, Britain’s largest teaching union, after a whistleblower leaked a document to our organisation containing the NEU’s proposed definition of ‘transphobia’ (LBC, iNews, Telegraph, Unherd). The definition has been drafted after a resolution to develop a definition of transphobia was passed at the last annual NEU conference in the spring, and now looks likely to be adopted.

The proposal suggests that anyone who expects trans people “to participate in discussion or debate about their rights and/or identities” is transphobic, and cites “propagating ideas, concepts and misinformation harmful to trans people and which erase and ignore trans history” as examples of transphobic behaviour (while neither outlining what is meant by “trans history” nor what “ideas, concepts and misinformation” would be considered harmful). It further defines transphobia as a “rejection of trans identity and a refusal to acknowledge that those identities are real or valid” or the “incorrect use of pronouns”.

While protecting trans pupils, trans teachers and trans support staff from harassment is a worthy aim, it’s clear that this proposal goes way beyond legal compliance and would have the effect of rendering any challenge to gender critical ideology or the agenda of transrights activists as a form of extrajudicial hate crime.

That’s problematic because, statistically, it’s inevitable that in a mass membership organisation like the NEU many members will reject the central tenet of gender identity ideology, namely, that sex is a social construct, and instead believe that sex is binary and immutable. Is the NEU effectively saying to all its fee-paying members that don’t want to go along with gender identity ideology that it regards them as ‘transphobic’ and no longer wants to represent them or defend their rights? As member relations campaigns go, it’s certainly daring.

And what about the policy’s effect on staffrooms up and down the country – will it have a chilling effect on free speech? The Telegraph spoke to a whistleblower in the teaching union who certainly thinks so: “I am extremely worried. I’m from a Left-wing background and I hate this nonsense. We need free speech. Women need safe spaces. If this definition is accepted, anyone who says: ‘You can’t logically self-identify as the opposite sex’, you’ll be a transphobe.” The source added: “I think it will mean that teachers will be too scared to speak up in schools and they will go along with the NEU policy.”

That’s certainly possible, although as Toby pointed out to the Telegraph, schools could just as easily end up getting swamped by discrimination claims from teaching staff who’ve been punished for refusing to use the preferred gender pronouns of a trans member of staff – the gender critical belief that sex is binary and immutable is, after all, a lawful and reasonable point-of-view, deserving of protection under the Equality Act 2010.

The FSU certainly hopes the NEU will reconsider adopting its new definition of ‘transphobia’, not least because if it ever refuses to stand up for its members who won’t endorse gender identity ideology it, too, could be found guilty of discrimination under the Equality Act 2010.

Graham Norton criticises John Cleese, dismisses idea of cancel culture

Graham Norton has criticised Monty Python star John Cleese for speaking out against cancel culture (Evening StandardIndependentMailMetro). In an appearance at the Cheltenham Literature Festival, BBC presenter Norton said: “John Cleese has been very public recently about complaining about what you can’t say. It must be very hard to be a man of a certain age who’s been able to say whatever he likes for years, and now suddenly there’s some accountability.” The host of The Graham Norton Show went on to argue that free speech should not be “consequence free”, stating that “cancelling” people is better described as “holding them to account”.

According to the Telegraph, Norton had previously “hit out against elements of cancel culture”, and “defended inviting JK Rowling onto his Virgin radio show, despite the controversies surrounding the Harry Potter author because of her involvement in the transgender debate”. That’s a remarkably generous rendering of what Norton actually said (Spiked). Asked about cancel culture during an interview with the Times last month, he responded: “What’s interesting is cancel culture is heavy on culture, but not so much on the cancel. Harvey Weinstein is in jail – he’s cancelled. But everyone else is working away. They have a quiet six months but keep working.”

Leaving aside the fact that Harvey Weinstein wasn’t cancelled for his opinions, but prosecuted for his actions – specifically, rape and sexual assault – the underlying premise of Norton’s argument seems to be that ordinary people have the same power, status and ‘bounce-back-ability’ as your average A-list Hollywood celebrity.

In the FSU’s experience, however, it’s almost always those who aren’t famous who fall victim to the worst excesses of cancel culture. Take Simon Isherwood, for instance, the train conductor and FSU member who was sacked after asking whether indigenous populations in African countries enjoy ‘black privilege’ after attending diversity training on ‘white privilege’. He didn’t endure a “quiet six months” only for his agent to then pop round one day and tell him he’d just secured a six-figure advance for his autobiography, and, by the way, would he like to go on the next series of Strictly Come Dancing. Yes, the FSU helped Simon win at Employment Tribunal against his ex-employer and, yes, we’re still fighting hard to ensure he receives a good settlement. But by Simon’s own admission, cancellation has cost him his job, his career, his livelihood (Mail). That’s not being held to account – it’s being ‘unpersoned’ in the fullest, Orwellian sense of that term.

So much for Norton “hitting out against elements of cancel culture”. As to his “defending inviting JK Rowling onto his Virgin radio show”, what he actually defended was his decision to turn the volume down on Rowling’s “problematic” views. Despite admitting that he’d never talked to her about “the transgender issue”, he said he imagined they would disagree, and that, as a result, he “wouldn’t have her on to air her views”. Why did he “have her on” at all? Because despite her “problematic” views, “she has the right to still wang on about her crime novel”.

No doubt men said much the same thing about Suffragettes at the turn of the nineteenth century; that ‘authoresses’ like JK Rowling were perfectly entitled to regale their husband’s guests with excerpts from their latest, entirely frivolous novellas over the dinner table, but that they really mustn’t muddle their pretty little heads with all the complicated affairs of state that the gentlemen would be thrashing out together over a spot of port once the ladies had retired to the drawing room. Poor Mr Norton. The last of the great Edwardians. Perhaps he thought no-one would notice the antiquated trend to his thoughts. As he himself might put it, “it must be very hard to be a man of a certain age who’s been able to say whatever he likes for years, and now suddenly there’s some accountability”.

Sharing the newsletter

As with all our work, this newsletter depends on the support of our members and donors, so if you’re not already a paying member please sign up today or encourage a friend to join, and help us turn the tide against cancel culture. You can share our newsletters on social media with the buttons below to help us spread the word. If someone has shared this newsletter with you and you’d like to join the FSU, you can find our website here.

And a warm welcome to all those people who joined in the past couple of weeks because they were so horrified by PayPal’s attempt to cancel us. You will be getting your welcome packs in the post within the next fortnight.

Best wishes,

Freddie Attenborough

Communications Officer

Weekly news round-up

Welcome to the FSU’s weekly newsletter, our round-up of the free speech news of the week. As with all our work, this newsletter depends on the support of our members and donors, so if you’re not already a paying member please sign up today or encourage a friend to join, and help us turn the tide against cancel culture.

Elon Musk’s purchase of Twitter is definitely maybe perhaps back on

After months of back and forth, including a legal battle with Twitter, the self-styled “free speech absolutist” Elon Musk now looks set to take charge of the social media company (FT, Reuters, WSJ). The deal, if it goes through this time, raises questions over what the platform might look like under the Tesla entrepreneur – and whether regulators and politicians will be able to stomach it.

Musk’s vision for encrypting Twitter users’ direct messages, for instance, looks like an obvious source of conflict with the UK government. A ministerial lobbying campaign in recent years has tried to discourage tech companies from rolling out end-to-end encryption. Government officials fear they will become unable to read users’ messages at will, something they argue is important when trying to tackle terrorism or other serious offences (FT).

And what of the billionaire’s leanings towards looser forms of content moderation? Speaking to the Telegraph, the FSU’s General Secretary Toby Young said that he “cannot see Elon Musk being willing to remove content from Twitter that’s perfectly legal but which some purse-lipped puritan has decided is too dangerous for adults to be trusted with”. Maybe not, but will his libertarian instincts lead to a run-in with the Government, particularly given that the Online Safety Bill threatens social media companies with huge fines and even jail terms for directors if they fail to do enough to stop ‘harmful content’?

The FSU writes to YouTube about its censorship of Russell Brand

On the subject of online censorship, the FSU has written to YouTube about its removal of a Russell Brand video, allegedly for breaching its Covid-19 medical misinformation policy after he claimed that Ivermectin had been approved by the National Institutes of Health as a safe treatment for the virus. In spite of correcting his mistake and apologising – the drug had been approved for use in clinical trials, but not for general use – Brand’s video was removed and he received a warning. As Brand pointed out in a follow-up video, you can still find videos on YouTube of people saying the Covid vaccines are 100% effective against infection, which we now know isn’t true. So why remove his video but not these ones? We’ve argued that since YouTube is clearly exercising public functions, it is subject to Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights and, as such, this censorship is an unlawful interference with Mr Brand’s freedom of expression. In addition, we’ve argued that it’s a breach of his Article 1 property rights. We’ve asked YouTube to restore the video and withdraw the ‘lifetime’ warning it issued to Mr Brand. You can read our letter in full here.

Leave the adults alone – what we really need is a Children’s Online Safety Bill

Last month, five former culture secretaries wrote an article for theTelegraph in which they argued that “watering down” the Online Safety Bill would “put children at risk”. That was a reference to the fact that the Bill as currently constituted will empower Ofcom to impose large fines on social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube if they fail to remove content that’s harmful to children (ConHome). A case in point is Molly Russell, the 14-year-old who took her own life in 2017. Last week, a coroner concluded that the material Molly had seen on social media that appeared to encourage suicide had “contributed to her death in a more than minimal way” (Guardian).

The verdict was met with a chorus of voices clamouring for the bill to be passed as quickly as possible, including that of Prince William, who said that protecting young people from harm should be “a prerequisite, not an afterthought” for social media companies (Independent).

Writing in the Spectator, Toby felt this was a classic straw man argument: “None of the bill’s opponents object to holding the Silicon Valley giants to account for the death of children like Molly.” The actual reason critics object is that the Bill doesn’t just aim to protect children from disturbing material, but grown-ups as well, including content that’s ‘legal but harmful’. No one yet knows exactly what legal material the Bill’s proponents think adults need to be protected from, although in July the Government did publish an “indicative list” of content it would like social media companies to “address”, including “some health and vaccine misinformation” (Telegraph). But as Toby pointed out on GB News, the problem with trying to incorporate nebulous, almost entirely subjective concepts like ‘misinformation’ into law is that they will inevitably be abused by political activists and defenders of official orthodoxy to silence their opponents – with the Russell Brand imbroglio a classic example of the fact that only information that challenges the status quo falls foul of this standard.

So what guarantee do we have that it won’t just be heterodox content that’s classed as ‘misinformation’ after the Online Safety Bill is passed and YouTube becomes an even more zealous enforcer of health and vaccine orthodoxy? We need laws in place to prevent social media companies censoring legitimate discussion and debate in the name of protecting people from ‘misinformation’, not laws encouraging them to ramp it up.

That’s why the FSU will be spending the next few weeks trying to persuade the Government to turn this piece of legislation into the Children’s Online Safety Bill. As Toby put it in the Spectator, “By all means let’s have a Bill that makes the internet safer for teenagers. But adults should be able to judge for themselves just how dangerous it is to watch videos by Russell Brand.”

Please help us mount an effective campaign against this censorious Bill by donating to the FSU.

Why no one trusts the police anymore

Gender-critical media commentator (and FSU member) Caroline Farrow has criticised Surrey Police after officers “swooped on her home and arrested her in front of her children” over a series of allegedly “malicious” posts on chat board KiwiFarms, which she denies writing (Christian Today, Mail, Reclaim the Net, Sun).

Speaking to GB News, Ms Farrow said, “I have been arrested for what was a twitter spat about gender issues.”

One obvious question here is why the police are still behaving like this. Back in May, His Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Constabulary, Andy Cooke, used his first interview in post to make clear that the police were not the thought police, and that chief constables needed to “avoid politics with the small p”, follow the law and remember that “different thoughts” are not an offence (Times).

In July, the Chief Executive of the College of Policing warned that the police should stop wading in to spats on Twitter and focus on solving crime (Telegraph).

And just this week, the new Home Secretary, Suella Braverman, told the Tory Party conference: “We need to get back to common sense policing, empowering the police to tackle the issues facing the public, not policing pronouns on Twitter or non-crime… hate incidents.”

“Unfortunately,” as Toby Young pointed out to the Mail, “it seems like Surrey Police didn’t get the memo.”

After confiscating Ms Farrow’s electronic devices – including one used by her autistic daughter for home schooling purposes (“You never know with these birthing people, sarge”) – she was taken outside her house while officers conducted a body-search, before being driven to the local police station where she was held in a cell for several hours.

“The investigation into these allegations is very much ongoing and relevant enquires are being carried out,” said Temporary Detective Chief Inspector David Bentley – which is more than you can usually say for Surrey Police. According to Home Office figures, between April 2021 and March 2022, they closed 29,614 of 69,199 reported offences without identifying a suspect – in percentage terms, that means 42.8% of crimes committed in the county were left un-investigated. Of the ‘high harm’ offences committed that Surrey Police did actually investigate – i.e., serious sexual offences, child abuse and violent domestic abuse – the force’s ‘clear-up rate’ was just 13.4%. The solve rate for all reported burglaries, meanwhile, was 3.5%, while the rate for theft of cars was 1.4%.

But can the current crisis of public confidence in the police be blamed solely on flat-footed coppers in Surrey and elsewhere bungling their operational priorities? The FSU’s Research Officer, Carrie Clark, thinks not. Writing for Spiked, she points out that the problem isn’t necessarily incompetence, but an increasingly clear political bias fuelled by lobby groups like Stonewall.

The continued willingness of the police to defy a number of recent legal rulings and go after critics of transgender ideology like Caroline Farrow is a case in point.

In Harry Miller’s trial last year, the Court of Appeal ruled that expressing views critical of gender-identity ideology shouldn’t be treated as a police matter (Spiked). More recently, the judgement handed down in Maya Forstater’s employment appeal tribunal ruled that gender-critical beliefs, including the belief that sex is immutable and not to be conflated with gender identity, was a protected philosophical belief (Times).

And yet despite the fact that these legal victories made clear that gender critical beliefs are perfectly lawful, officers still persistently trample over freedom of speech and even the law in the name of trans rights.

Caroline Farrow’s case is just the tip of a very large iceberg. Last month, an official Sussex Police social-media account warned users not to question the gender identity of convicted child sex offender John Stephen Dixon (now identifying as Sally Ann Dixon), who is reportedly being sent to a women’s prison. Sussex Police told critics that any “hateful comments” directed towards the convicted child abuser would not be tolerated. They claimed that referring to Dixon as a man met the definition of a ‘hate crime’ and advised critics not to express their views. In other words, the police’s bias towards trans ideology led them to prioritise the feelings of a convicted paedophile over free speech. It took an intervention from Suella Braverman to get Sussex Police to apologise.

Earlier this year, women’s rights campaigner Jennifer Swayne was arrested and detained for 10 hours by Gwent Police for allegedly causing “offence”. Her crime? Putting up posters saying “No Men in Women’s Prisons”.

In July, feminist campaigner Kellie-Jay Keen was visited by police after warning online that gender self-identification would be exploited by male sex offenders to get access to vulnerable women. Police recorded this as a ‘hate incident’.

And in August, lesbian campaigners from Get the L Out were ejected by police from Cardiff Pride for carrying signs reading “Lesbians don’t like penises”.

So why is it that despite the Miller and Forstater rulings, the police still seem determined to engage in a politically motivated crusade against those holding the ‘wrong’ (i.e., gender critical) views?

Maybe they’ve forgotten Robert Peel’s nine principles of policing. Issued in 1829, they form the basis of modern policing by consent. Principle five, in particular, should from now on be required reading: “Officers should seek and preserve public favour, not by pandering to public opinion but by constantly demonstrating impartial service to law, in complete independence of policy.”

The FSU’s packed schedule of events this autumn!

Register here for our forthcoming Online Speakeasy with comedian, writer, actor and presenter Jack Dee on Wednesday 12th October and here for our Online Speakeasy with historian, author and television presenter Neil Oliver on Wednesday 9th November.

You can see a calendar of all our events on our Events page. As that is a public page, you cannot book members-only events on the website, so do please look out for regular emails from FSU Events for full details, including links for tickets and registration. Members who have opted to hear about FSU Events should have received an email this week. If you have not received this, do check your inbox, including your junk folder, and get in touch if you can’t find it there, using [email protected].

We have two excellent sessions at the Battle of Ideas Festival taking place in London on the weekend of the 15th and 16th October. Toby will be speaking on a packed panel debating Online Safety vs Free Speech on Saturday afternoon, and the Free Speech Champions will discuss Winning Young Hearts and Minds on Sunday afternoon, with panellists including Professor Alice Sullivan and Rod Liddle. Members can access special discount tickets by entering the promo code FSU-BattleFest2022 at the top of the ticket page. Do come and say hello to us at our stall where we’ll also be selling some merch.

Sharing the newsletter

As with all our work, this newsletter depends on the support of our members and donors, so if you’re not already a paying member please sign up today or encourage a friend to join, and help us turn the tide against cancel culture. You can share our newsletters on social media with the buttons below to help us spread the word. If someone has shared this newsletter with you and you’d like to join the FSU, you can find our website here.

And a warm welcome to all those people who joined in the past couple of weeks because they were so horrified by PayPal’s attempt to cancel us. You will be getting your welcome packs in the post within the next fortnight.

Best wishes,

Freddie Attenborough

Communications Officer

Weekly news round-up

Welcome to the FSU’s weekly newsletter, our round-up of the free speech news of the week. As with all our work, this newsletter depends on the support of our members and donors, so if you’re not already a paying member please sign up today or encourage a friend to join, and help us turn the tide against cancel culture.

PayPal backs down and reinstates the Free Speech Union’s accounts

On 15th September, FSU General Secretary Toby Young was notified by PayPal that it was permanently closing his personal account, as well as the accounts of the Daily Sceptic and the Free Speech Union, both of which he runs (GB News). The reason cited in all three cases was that the accounts had violated PayPal’s ‘Acceptable Use Policy’. Not that that really gave any clue as to the specifics of the alleged misdemeanour, because as the Mail explains, the policy “contains numerous ‘prohibited activities’ including transactions involving illegal drugs [and] stolen goods”.

The closest we came to an explanation was a message from ‘executive escalations’ in the company’s European HQ in Luxembourg, which included this sentence: “PayPal’s policy is not to allow our services to be used for activities that promote hate, violence or racial intolerance.” (Spiked). Confusingly, PayPal then told the Times that it had demonetised all three accounts because the Daily Sceptic was guilty of spreading ‘misinformation’ about the Covid vaccines. Even more confusingly, that would constitute a breach of the company’s ‘User Agreement’, not its ‘Acceptable Use Policy’ – so why start out by accusing us of violating the second, not the first? Toby’s suspicion was that someone at PayPal simply didn’t like his politics and had removed his accounts for that reason, without bothering to create a proper alibi (Spectator).

Perhaps they didn’t think they’d need one; that an organisation like the FSU would go gently into the night, just like so many others it has financially bullied in the past (Critic). They hadn’t reckoned on our General Secretary. After breaking the news of the FSU’s demonetisation on GB News he “went to war”, writing about the episode for the Spectator, Spiked and the Telegraph, undertaking interviews (Disruption Banking, Laura Dodsworth), encouraging his social media followers to boycott the company and making guest appearances on various TV and radio shows (GB News, News NTD, Sky News Aus). The story quickly gained traction. (Breitbart, Epoch Times, GB News, Mail, Spectator, Spiked, Telegraph, Times), and across the British media the company’s actions were roundly condemned, with thousands of people subsequently taking to social media to declare they were cancelling their accounts in solidarity with the FSU and UsForThem, an advocacy group set up by a group of mums to lobby against school closures during lockdown which was also deplatformed by PayPal (Mail).

The political pushback was similarly ferocious. According to the Sunday Express, politicians “reacted with fury to PayPal’s actions, with one Conservative peer saying she had ‘never seen so much cross-party outrage’ over the move”. Danny Kruger MP took to the floor of the House of Commons to ask a question about PayPal’s actions, and, just as importantly – and pointedly – about the regulatory environment in which companies like PayPal presently operate (Epoch Times). Baroness Fox raised the issue – to loud cheers – on BBC1’s Question Time (you can watch a clip here).

Dozens of MPs and peers from across the political divide – including 21 Tory MPs and 15 Tory peers as well as four crossbench peers, a Labour peer and a Labour MP – also wrote to Business Secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg, urging the government to hold PayPal to account and pointing out that the “common theme” among the organisations and individuals to have had their accounts closed — the Free Speech Union, the Daily Sceptic, Law or Fiction, and UsforThem — was that they were all prominent “champions of free speech” who have expressed “critical, non-conforming views on lockdown policies”. Understood in that context, they suggested, it is a little difficult “to avoid construing PayPal’s actions as an orchestrated, politically motivated move to silence critical or dissenting views within the UK”. Mr Rees-Mogg then gave an interview to the Telegraph in which he accused PayPal of trying to cancel the FSU, and told the company that it must now “justify its behaviour” (also Express, Independent).

Less than 24 hours later, the accounts were reinstated (Mail, Telegraph) (UsForThem’s account was reinstated over the weekend). At 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday, PayPal notified Toby that it had restored all three of the accounts it cancelled a couple of weeks ago — the FSU, the Daily Sceptic and his personal account (Spectator). In each case the email explained that these accounts had in fact been under ‘review’ and that after ‘input’ from its ‘stakeholders’, the company had decided to lift the block (Spiked).

Have you been affected?

The FSU will now phase out PayPal from its payment systems. We sent out emails to all our members who are using PayPal to process their membership dues last Tuesday 20th September, asking them to change their payment details. If you did not receive a notification email from us, then you don’t need to take any action. Conversely, if you did receive an email from us and haven’t yet taken action, we would be very grateful if you could change your FSU payment method to one of our alternatives: credit/debit card or direct debit. In order to do this, please log in to your FSU account, click on “My Subscription”, then in the “Actions” box click on the yellow “Change payment” button and select a new payment method. If you experience any difficulty with this, please contact us directly on [email protected]

FSU to campaign on the issue of financial censorship

The fact that PayPal has reinstated the FSU’s accounts is welcome. But what happened to our organisation shouldn’t be dismissed as some sort of aberration. As we hurtle towards a cashless economy, it’s part of a global trend towards weaponising Big Tech and financial services systems to suppress dissent of every kind. We saw it in the case of Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau shutting down the Freedom Convoy earlier this year. But there are other, less high-profile instances of people with dissenting views being deplatformed by companies like Patreon, CrowdJustice and GoFundMe. Nor should it be forgotten that the PayPal account of U.K. Medical Freedom Alliance – an organisation that raises perfectly lawful questions about Covid vaccines – remains frozen. (As in Toby’s case, the head of the UKMFA, Liz Evans, has also had her personal PayPal account closed.)

That’s why the FSU will now be lobbying the Government to develop a legislative mechanism capable of preventing Big Tech companies headquartered outside the UK from censoring people or groups in this country for the expression of legal but dissenting views (or, as in the case of the Free Speech Union, for simply defending those who express legal but dissenting views).

If there’s a positive to be come out of this it’s that the publicity generated by PayPal’s actions has brought the wider issue of financial censorship to the attention of both Houses of Parliament. The  Telegraph , for instance, reported that financial services companies could soon “be banned from blocking the accounts of campaign groups for political reasons”. That’s because Conservative backbenchers are apparently “considering launching an amendment” to a parliamentary bill that would effectively ban companies from freezing campaigners’ accounts. One source quoted in that Telegraph article said that ministers are likely to accept an amendment. If that’s true, then this could be a big moment in the fightback against financial censorship.

But legislative work takes time, which means that we need to keep that pressure up, mobilising the extraordinary public opposition to PayPal’s recent behaviour to tell our politicians that we don’t want a Chinese-style social credit system to be rolled out across the West, the only difference being that instead of the Chinese Communist Party enforcing ideological dogma, it’s woke capitalist corporations based in California.

Using the Free Speech Union’s campaigning tool to write to your MP is a great way to keep up the pressure and remind legislators that there’s strong feeling on this issue among the public. So if you’re as outraged as we are by PayPal’s attempt to cancel the Free Speech Union and other groups, please use this tool to send a template email to your MP, urging them to ask a question about it in the House of Commons. The process only takes two minutes, and the link is here.

New study reveals multiple threats to free speech on campus

Researchers have found that more than a third of students think free speech is “threatened” on campus, and that many also perceive a “chilling effect” that discourages open debate. The study, by the Policy Institute at King’s College London, is based on two new representative surveys of UK university students, amounting to almost 2,500 respondents, as well as several representative surveys of the general public that were carried out to identify where views on these issues diverge between the two groups. The study was also designed to allow comparisons with a previous survey carried out in 2019 to reveal trends in attitudes and perceptions since then.

Focusing on the study’s finding that 34% of students now say free speech is either “very” or “fairly threatened” in their university, the Mail declared that “free speech on campus is under threat”. The Guardian, meanwhile, was quick to spot that that left 65% of students that believe campuses are places of “robust debate” — hence the paper’s headline that “Most students think UK universities protect free speech”. That might be true, but, as the Mail points out, the 34% figure has risen from 23% in 2019, which represents a 47% increase in the proportion of students worried about threats to free speech on campus.

Sifting through the report’s other findings, it also becomes clear that the intensity of feeling among students who say free speech on campus isn’t under threat has weakened over time: in 2019, 30% felt that free speech on campus was “not at all threatened”, while in the latest data that figure falls to just 18% ­– a 40% decrease. Relatedly, the primary data reveals that 25% of students “very or fairly often” hear of incidents at their university where free speech has been inhibited, a proportion that was just 12% back in 2019.

The Telegraph and GB News focused on the fact that half of students now feel that those with conservative views are reluctant to express them at their university – that’s compared to just 37% who felt the same in 2019. This perception has grown most among students who say they’d vote for the Conservative Party, rising from 59% to 68% over the last three years. It’s a finding that’s been repeatedly corroborated over the years. A 2020 report from Policy Exchange, for instance, shows that self-censorship in British academia is over twice as high among conservative academics in the social sciences and humanities than among those on the left (23%). More recently, in January 2022, a study by the Legatum Institute discovered that 35% of British academics surveyed self-censor, with levels twice as high among conservatives.

The King’s College London research found that majorities of students support specific elements of the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill when these were put to them, such as a policy requiring universities and students’ unions to maintain codes of conduct relating to freedom of speech.

The Bill is scheduled to resume its journey through Parliament next month and is designed to strengthen protections for free speech and academic freedom in English universities. We believe it cannot be passed too soon. To ensure that further debate of the Bill is informed by relevant evidence of the free speech problem at English universities, and strong arguments for how it can be resolved, we’ve recently sent our latest briefing about it to allies in both Houses of Parliament. Over the next few weeks – hopefully not months! – we’re looking forward to engaging with those allies to make sure that the free speech protections contained in the Bill are as robust as possible.

You can find our previous briefings on the Bill here and here.

New survey explores reaction of PayPal customers to the FSU’s cancellation

During the period that the FSU’s PayPal account was suspended, campaign group The Democratic Network carried out a survey designed to trace attitudes towards the payment processor among its customers. In total, 3,172 people took part in the survey, all of whom had PayPal accounts. Of those taking part, 1,872 support the work of the Free Speech Union and/or UsforThemUK, 745 oppose that work, and 388 described themselves as “neutral”. The results show that as news of the US company’s actions broke, the vast majority (86%) of supporters stopped or reduced their use of PayPal. Within that group, 45% stopped using PayPal temporarily, 31% cancelled their PayPal account altogether, and 20% reduced their use. Does this indicate that boycotts might be one way for people to fight back against politically motivated financial censorship? Possibly, although if any FSU members who are also academics are reading this, it would be interesting to see an attempt to replicate these findings in a much larger quantitative study.

Also worth noting is that when asked about their experience of problems with other organisations, 7% of supporters said that they had experienced payment problems with other organisations or payment providers in the past two years, while 21% had experienced other problems with Big Tech companies over the same period. Interestingly, these figures rose to 8% and 30% for opponents, which suggests to the report’s author that they may “have sympathy with the problems experienced by the FSU and UsforThem, even though they may not know enough about them or actually support them”.

The FSU’s packed schedule of events this autumn!

Our book launch for Andrew Doyle’s The New Puritans was a sell-out event this week. Members can still buy signed copies of the book at a special rate, using this link. If you missed it, we’ll be publishing the video very soon.

Register here for our forthcoming Online Speakeasy with comedian, writer, actor and presenter Jack Dee on Wednesday 12th October and here for our Online Speakeasy with historian, author and television presenter Neil Oliver on Wednesday 9th November.

You can see a calendar of all our events on our Events page. As that is a public page, you cannot book members-only events via that route, so do please look out for regular emails from FSU Events for full details, including links for tickets and registration. Members who have opted to hear about FSU Events should have received an email this week. If you have not received this, do check your inbox, including your junk folder, and get in touch if you can’t find it there, using [email protected].

We have two excellent sessions at the Battle of Ideas Festival taking place in London in two weeks’ time on the weekend of the 15th and 16th of October. Toby will be speaking on a packed panel, debating Online Safety vs Free Speech on Saturday afternoon and the Free Speech Champions will discuss Winning Young Hearts and Minds on Sunday afternoon, with panellists including Professor Alice Sullivan and Rod Liddle. Members can access special discount tickets by entering the promo code FSU-BattleFest2022 at the top of the ticket page. Do come and say hello to us at our stall where we’ll also be selling some merch.

Sharing the newsletter

As with all our work, this newsletter depends on the support of our members and donors, so if you’re not already a paying member please sign up today or encourage a friend to join, and help us turn the tide against cancel culture. You can share our newsletters on social media with the buttons below to help us spread the word. If someone has shared this newsletter with you and you’d like to join the FSU, you can find our website here.

And a warm welcome to all those people who joined in the past couple of weeks because they were so horrified by PayPal’s attempt to cancel us. You will be getting your welcome packs in the post within the next fortnight.

Best wishes,

Freddie Attenborough

Communications Officer

Weekly news round-up

Welcome to the FSU’s weekly newsletter, our round-up of the free speech news of the week. As with all our work, this newsletter depends on the support of our members and donors, so if you’re not already a paying member please sign up today or encourage a friend to join, and help us turn the tide against cancel culture.

Sinister, shocking, dangerous: Reaction to PayPal’s demonetisation of the FSU

The FSU has been demonetised by US payments company PayPal for daring to stand up for free speech and freedom of expression. PayPal UK, the company whose Twitter banner proudly proclaims that it is “open for all”, has now permanently shut the accounts of the FSU, as well as the personal account of our co-founder and General Secretary, Toby Young, and Toby’s news website, the Daily Sceptic, without prior warning, meaningful explanation or recourse to a proper appeals process (Epoch Times, GB News, Mail, National, Telegraph).

Speaking on Nigel Farage’s GB News show, Toby described the company’s actions as “a new low” in Big Tech’s war on free speech. The fact that people who express contentious political views are now regularly cancelled, de-platformed or demonetised is bad enough, he said. But if that same treatment is now going to be meted out to organisations like the FSU that merely defend people’s rights to express those views, we are entering into another, and altogether more sinister world.

Questions have also now been raised in Parliament regarding PayPal’s actions, and, just as importantly, the regulatory environment in which companies like PayPal presently operate. Citing the FSU’s recent demonetisation, Danny Kruger MP took to the floor of the House of Commons to express his “deep concern” at the fin-tech company’s actions. “As we move towards a cashless economy,” Mr Kruger said, “companies like PayPal form part of the essential infrastructure of ordinary life.” Would the Government “take steps to ensure that [these companies] cannot discriminate against individuals or organisations on the basis of perfectly legal political views?” It was a “very good topic for debate”, said the Leader of the House, Penny Mordaunt, in response – so good, in fact, that she encouraged MPs to put the issue forward for a debate in the Chamber. (You can watch the exchange here).

PayPal’s actions also met with condemnation across the media. The FSU’s special guest at our forthcoming, members only Online Speakeasy event, comedian and writer Jack Dee, told his 575,000 Twitter followers that he was in the process of cancelling his PayPal account. “Big Tech companies that feel they can bully people for questioning mainstream groupthink don’t deserve anyone’s business,” he said. In the view of GB News’s Colin Brazier, “No single organisation – within or without government – has done more over the last couple of years to stand up for basic freedoms than the FSU.” Another GB News presenter, Dan Wootton described the FSU as “one of the most important organisations in the country” and professed himself “proud to be a member of a group that was set up to fight the causes of so many ordinary Brits who have found their lives turned upside down after being cancelled by the woke mob – often for holding views the majority of the population actually agree with” (GB News).

For Big Brother Watch’s Mark Johnson, PayPal’s “flex” of its “digital power” is “deeply concerning and dangerous for us all” (Unherd). The “sheer irony” of the thing struck Laura Dodsworth – an organisation that stands up for those who have been deplatformed now getting deplatformed itself. “Big Tech bowdlerisation and banditry,” she said, is a “shocking development”, not least because it would have been “unthinkable only a very short time ago”. Tom Slater agreed: the deplatforming of the FSU was “sinister” and “shows just how unhinged Big Tech censorship is quickly becoming” (Spiked).

Elsewhere, FSU Advisory Council Member Lord Frost described the decision to close the FSU’s account as “a very worrying development” and urged the Financial Conduct Authority “to look into this urgently”. “It is quite wrong for PayPal to close the FSU’s account,” Lord Bethell said, adding that the “politicisation of payment platforms is a worrying trend”. It was also heartening to see four of the FSU’s fellow campaign organisations – Big Brother Watch, Article 19, Index on Censorship and the Open Rights Group – issue a joint statement expressing concern “that PayPal has shut down the account of the FSU without adequate explanation or an effective route to appeal”. The statement also made clear that: “PayPal’s refusal to serve individuals and groups associated with lawful political causes – let alone ones where the right to free expression is directly impacted – is alarming, wrong, and dangerous for all of us who value the right to politically organise and express ourselves online.”

The FSU has now updated its home page to include a compilation of clips about PayPal’s attempt to demonetise us, which you can watch here. Our press release on the matter is available here. And if you’d like a quick reminder about the important work the FSU does in support of members that have been sacked, cancelled, penalised, harassed or attacked by outrage mobs simply for exercising their legal right to free speech, we’ve put together a selection of some of our highest-profile cases from the past six months for you to read about here.  

How have you been affected?

About a third of our 9,500 members are paying their dues via PayPal and we’ve written to all of them with instructions about how to switch to another payment processor. If you’ve received that email, please follow the instructions; if you haven’t, that’s because you aren’t affected and you don’t need to do anything. If you want to make a donation to the FSU to help us deal with any of the fall-out from this attack, please do so on our Donate page. Rest assured, all traces of PayPal have now been expunged from our systems.

Why has the FSU been demonetised?

How did we get here – to a world in which a financial intermediary can so casually close the account of an organisation that defends people’s right to free speech, and that does so without taking sides on the issues that those people are speaking about?

Writing for the Spectator, Toby recounts receiving his first email from PayPal last week, informing him that the company was “initiating closure” of his personal account. A few minutes later, PayPal sent the same message to the FSU and the Daily Sceptic. In each case the message was the same: PayPal was shutting down the account because it was in “violation” of the company’s “Acceptable Use Policy”. Not that that really gives any clue as to the specifics of our alleged misdemeanour, because as the Mail explains, the policy “contains numerous ‘prohibited activities’ including transactions involving illegal drugs, stolen goods, or ‘the promotion of hate, violence, racial or other forms of intolerance’”.  

What’s so odd about PayPal’s decision is that, as Tom Slater remarks, “even the briefest of glances at the FSU’s output would make clear that Toby is not presiding over a network of hate-mongers” (Spiked). Not even legal-but-harmful mongers, actually. Then again, do PayPal’s algorithmically driven systems have much time for anything as human and contextually sensitive as a ‘glance’? Certainly, the fact that the FSU exists to protect dissenters against cancel culture and has defended people from across the political spectrum seems to have been entirely lost on a company that is now treating the FSU “as if it were a new offshoot of ISIS”. Tom Slater’s analogy is chillingly apt – in a similar manner to an individual who is placed on the UK Government sanctions list and then has his/her assets frozen, PayPal will now get to keep the money in Toby’s account for up to 180 days while it decides whether it is entitled to “damages” for the FSU’s as yet unspecified breach of its Acceptable Use Policy. (Although it isn’t keeping the money in the FSU or the Daily Sceptic account, which is a relief.)

Quite why the company decided on this course of action remains a mystery. Speaking to the Telegraph, Toby said he suspected foul play. If PayPal had shut down just one of these accounts “it could conceivably be because it had violated the company’s Acceptable Use Policy”, he said. “But it closed all three accounts within minutes of each other, suggesting there’s a more sinister reason.” Writing for Unherd, Mark Johnson was inclined to agree: the fact that the accounts were targeted “in one fell swoop” suggests that PayPal “designated Toby and the websites he runs as non grata because of some unidentified political transgression”.

‘Unidentified’ is right! No-one at the FSU knows why we’ve been placed on the Big Tech naughty-step. Have we fallen foul of one of woke culture’s strongest taboos – defending people who’ve got into trouble with HR departments for refusing to declare their gender pronouns? “Open for all” PayPal, like most Big Tech companies, has certainly sided with the trans-rights activists on that issue. Or is the Daily Sceptic the source of PayPal’s political discomfort? As Toby pointed out in the Times, his news site has never knowingly published ‘misinformation’ regarding Net Zero, Covid or mRNA vaccines, but of course over in Silicon Valley, ‘misinformation’ is often little more than a euphemism for “an opinion I disagree with”.

As our Chief Legal Counsel Bryn Harris made clear, what we need from PayPal now is an explanation as to what the FSU has allegedly done, and what the company’s justification is for withdrawing its business (Talk TV). In an attempt to prompt the company into making some sort of gesture towards ‘due process’ of that kind, Toby has written to the CEO of PayPal UK – Vincent Belloc (who you can email here), and the Corporate Affairs Department of PayPal US and PayPal UK (you can email them here and here), asking for an explanation. There’s been no reply, obviously – as so often when dealing with these Silicon Valley behemoths, it’s impossible to hold them to account.

The FSU to campaign for new laws on financial censorship

The relatively recent digitalisation of financial transactions placed a vast amount of power in the hands of financial services companies like payment processors, banks, online platforms and credit companies like Visa and Mastercard. (Unherd). It is ‘FinTech’ that now owns and controls the technical, algorithmic means to move virtual money seamlessly around the world in real-time. For a while, the risk that these powers might be exercised to completely cut off and shut up groups, organisations and people seemed entirely abstract. More recently, though, we’ve seen governments leaning on these companies to act in ways beneficial to state interests (Money Week).

In 2019, for instance, the Russian government froze bank accounts linked to opposition politician Alexei Navalny (Reuters); in February 2022, Canada froze the bank accounts of the mostly peaceful truckers protesting against the vaccine mandates with no due process, appeals process or court order necessary (Mail); then, in early 2022, cross-border payment system SWIFT took the unprecedented move to cut Russia’s central bank from its global financial messaging service (Telegraph).

But that was all at the behest of governments. What’s new is financial services companies like PayPal throwing their weight about and attempting to influence what kind of speech is or isn’t acceptable on the basis of their own, decidedly woke corporate values.

Does that mean the withdrawal of financial services from people and organisations that express dissenting opinions on those topics is the new front in the ongoing war against free speech? Sarah McLellan, writing in Spectator Australia, certainly thinks so. Citing Jesse Powell, Chief Executive of Kraken Bitcoin Exchange, she argues that “the traditional financial system has essentially been weaponised” and that losing free access to funding streams on account of one’s political views is tantamount to losing free speech.

PayPal undoubtedly has form in that regard. Earlier this year, Rolling Stone contributing editor Matt Taibbi published a story about how the company has been selectively de-platforming alternative media sites that published stories contradicting some of the West’s reporting of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Among those to have been banned were Mint Press News, a left-wing web-based outlet, and Consortium News, founded by the late Associated Press investigative reporter Robert Parry in 1995 as one of the web’s very first independent, reader-funded news outlets.

More recently, we’ve seen sites that raise perfectly lawful questions about Covid vaccines also getting demonetised by PayPal, including the U.K. Medical Freedom Alliance. (As in Toby’s case, Liz Evans, the head of the UKMFA, had her personal PayPal account closed at the same time.) Law-or-fiction, a site run by lawyers and dedicated to helping citizens understand their rights and how they may have been affected as a result of the UK government’s response to Covid-19, suffered the same fate a few weeks ago. UsforThem, a parents’ group that fought to keep schools open during the pandemic announced just this week that its account had been shut down by PayPal due to “the nature of its activities” (Telegraph). And then there’s Conservative group Moms for Liberty, and the personal website of gender ideology critic Colin Wright, and… we could go on.  

As Matt Taibbi explains, “going after cash is a big jump from simply deleting speech and actually has a much bigger chilling effect”. This is especially true when it comes to alternative media or grassroots campaigning, where “money has long been notoriously tight”, and the loss of a few thousand pounds here or there can have a major effect on a project, website, podcast or whatever else.

Up until now, companies like PayPal, GoFundMe, Patreon and CrowdJustice have ‘only’ demonetised individuals and groups whose views they disapprove of. But “open for all” PayPal has just decided to close the account of the FSU, an organisation that defends people’s right to free speech, without taking sides on the issues they’re speaking about.

Is this now the benchmark for all subsequent forms of financial censorship? If so, then as Toby pointed out on GB News on the night the story broke, PayPal has just significantly – and singlehandedly – “narrowed the Overton Window”, ensuring that “there are now certain issues you aren’t allowed to defend people for expressing sceptical opinions about”.

That’s why, as the switch to a cashless society gathers speed, the Government will need to put laws in place to protect people from being punished by companies like PayPal for the expression of dissenting views. But what sorts of laws? “The challenge,” as Fraser Nelson points out, will be to make the case that “protecting diversity should also mean diversity of opinion” (Telegraph).

One possible solution to Fraser Nelson’s “challenge”, outlined by Toby in a comment piece for the Telegraph, would be for legislation to be passed “making it illegal for financial services companies to discriminate against customers on the basis of their political beliefs, provided they’re within the law”. The Equality Act 2010 does provide some protection for people discriminated against on that basis, it’s true; but not in the case of companies headquartered outside the UK, like PayPal.

The FSU is still working through the ramifications of PayPal’s actions, but one thing is clear: over the coming weeks and months, we will be lobbying the Government to put new laws in place to make it illegal for financial companies to withdraw their services “for purely political reasons”.

The FSU’s packed schedule of events this autumn!

Details of the FSU’s packed schedule of members-only events this Autumn has been emailed to members, so please do check if you’ve received that message (and let [email protected] know if you haven’t).

Our upcoming members-only events include a live, in-person launch of Andrew Doyle’s brilliant new book The New Puritans: How the Religion of Social Justice Captured the Western World. The comedian, author, and presenter of GB News’s Free Speech Nation will join FSU General Secretary Toby Young on-stage in London on 27th September to discuss how we can push back against cancel culture and reinstate liberal democratic values. There’ll be plenty of time for an audience Q&A, as well as for audience members to purchase signed copies of The New Puritans.

On 5th October we’ll be holding our second Online Annual Convention. This event is exclusively for Gold and Founder members, so do consider upgrading your current membership package if you’re not a Gold member already. The Convention affords senior staff and the Directors of the FSU the opportunity to thank members for their continuing support and to report back on highlights from the past year – e.g., legal victories, case-work successes and the impact our behind-the-scenes legislative and policy work is having. It’s also an opportunity for Gold and Founder members to participate in a Q&A where they get to have their say about the work we’re doing.

Then, on 12th October, Toby will be joined in conversation at an exclusive Online Speakeasy by stand-up comedian, actor, writer and presenter Jack Dee. You can watch Jack’s video message inviting you to the event by clicking here.

FSU members will also be offered discount tickets to the Battle of Ideas Festival 2022 (15th and 16th October). During that event, Toby be speaking on a panel the FSU is sponsoring that focuses on the Online Safety Bill. The Free Speech Champions will also be partnering on a session about how young people can be persuaded to join the defence of freedom of speech. 

Finally, we’ve organised a members-only Online Speakeasy with Neil Oliver, the television presenter and former President of the National Trust Scotland – more details to follow in due course.

Roger Scruton Memorial Lectures 2022 – register for free tickets here!

Oxford University’s annual ‘Roger Scruton Memorial Lectures’ are fast approaching.

On 17th October, Chair of the Social Mobility Commission (and “Britain’s strictest teacher”) Katherine Birbalsingh CBE will be in conversation with the founder of the 30% club, Baroness Helena Morrissey, and Dr Marie Daouda (Oriel College, Oxford). Register here.

On 19th October, one of Britain’s most distinguished historians, Andrew Roberts, will be in conversation with Professor Robert Tombs, now Professor Emeritus of French History at the University of Cambridge. Register here.

On 24th October, journalist and writer Peter Hitchens will be in conversation with former Conservative MEP Lord Daniel Hannan and Professor Sir Noel Malcolm (All Souls College, Oxford). Register here.

Finally, on 26th October, FSU Chairman Professor Nigel Biggar (Oxford) will be in conversation with every self-respecting free speech warrior’s new favourite politician, Secretary of State for International Trade the Rt Hon Kemi Badenoch, and Professor Ali Ansari (University of St Andrews). Register here.

All events are free to attend, although registration is required.

FSU members publish free speech related books!

FSU member Andrei Yafaev’s work features in Diversity, Inclusion, Equity (2022), an edited collection from Imprint Academic that also contains contributions from clinical psychologist Jordan Peterson, and philosopher Peter Boghossian. The contributors to this book ― spanning five continents ― offer a stark insight into the dangers of equality, diversity and inclusion policies to free speech on campus and in the research environment. Hyper-wokism poses a serious threat to academic freedom and this volume marks the start of a fight back against those seeking to de-platform, harass, and censor academics who dare to tackle ‘forbidden’ topics. You can purchase a copy here. Another book you might be interested in is this one by FSU member Douglas Cormack.

And finally…

The National Trust will shortly hold elections to its council at its annual AGM, and the ultra-woke Trustees are doing everything they can to secure victory for their preferred candidates. So, if you’re a member of the National Trust, think about voting for the candidates being put up by the Restore Trust, the non-woke alternative: Bola Anike, Jeremy Black, Phil Bradby, Edward Bulmer, Philip Gibbs, Zareer Masani and Rosamund Roxburgh. The Restore Trust is also asking members to vote for its resolutions calling for an end to the Chairman’s discretionary proxy vote, which is a way of rigging the vote on resolutions in favour of the Trustees’  preferred outcome, and another calling for a National Trust Ombudsman so that tenants and other stakeholders have recourse to an independent complaints procedure.

Sharing the newsletter

As with all our work, this newsletter depends on the support of our members and donors, so if you’re not already a paying member please sign up today or encourage a friend to join, and help us turn the tide against cancel culture. You can share our newsletters on social media with the buttons below to help us spread the word. If someone has shared this newsletter with you and you’d like to join the FSU, you can find our website here.

Best wishes,

Freddie Attenborough

Communications Officer