Welcome to the Free Speech Union’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.
Online Safety Bill: our latest briefing, plus the threat to close Mumsnet
We’ve published our briefing on safeguarding free speech in the Online Safety Bill, which as it stands amounts to a censor’s charter. Recommendations to improve the Bill from the parliamentary Joint Committee were mixed, although we have welcomed some of their suggestions, including the proposal that social media users should be able to appeal to an independent ombudsman if their content is removed unfairly. This option wasn’t available to the news aggregator Politics for All, whose founder Nick Moar has written in the Spectator about being censored. Please sign our petition asking Twitter to reinstate it.
The Bill is intended, in part, to protect children, but will end up censoring Mumsnet, warned founder and chief executive Justine Roberts. Discussions about breastfeeding have already been marked as “obscene” by digital advertising algorithms. Roberts warned that, without clear definitions of what is allowed online and what isn’t, her platform and many others will be badly affected.
Don’t ban “misinformation” on social media, says Royal Society
A report from the Royal Society has concluded that social media companies should not ban so-called “misinformation”. The authors argued that “clamping down on claims outside the consensus may seem desirable, but it can hamper the scientific process and force genuinely malicious content underground”.
Professor Vinay Prasad wrote for UnHerd about the letter signed by scientists and doctors, which called on Spotify to remove episodes of Joe Rogan’s podcast featuring vaccine sceptics Dr Peter McCullough and Dr Robert Malone. Prasad said:
Perhaps the most serious objection to censorship is that the censors themselves are not fit for the task. Censors are unaccountable. They may be biased, misinformed or undereducated. They may lack perspective. In short, they are as fallible as the people they are trying to censor. This is especially true in science, where, as history shows us, consensus views can turn out to be false, while controversial or heretical ideas can be vindicated.
Schools cut classic books and twist curriculum around “anti-racism”
Several multi-academy trusts are planning to put critical race theory at the heart of their curricula, according to a report in the Telegraph.
Rev. Steve Chalke of the Oasis Charitable Trust, which runs 52 schools, told the paper:
It’s not enough to say you are not racist, you have to proactively be anti-racist. This isn’t one or two changes, this is across the whole piece: what goes on our walls, assembly materials, music, history arts, literature – we dropped various books like Of Mice and Men and have introduced new ones.
We will be writing to each of these trusts reminding them of their duty to discuss contentious political issues in a balanced and impartial way and avoid political indoctrination in the classroom.
Meanwhile, pastor Keith Waters is suing the Active Learning Trust after being dismissed for tweeting in 2019 that Christians should not attend LGBTQ Pride Month events because they “promote a culture and encourage activities that are contrary to Christian faith and morals. They are especially harmful for children”.
Right-leaning academics self-censor to survive
A study by the Legatum Institute led by our Advisory Council member Matt Goodwin has found that 75% of conservative academics feel the need to self-censor their political views, as do 35% of left-wing academics. Professor Goodwin was quoted in the Telegraph:
Academic freedom has long been central to prosperity in the UK and around the world. Yet our findings suggest there are good reasons to be concerned about the extent to which it is being preserved and promoted by our universities.
We find that academics in the social sciences lean heavily in only one ideological direction, while remarkably large numbers of them are concealing their real views when on campus, fearful about what will happen if they are revealed. This should not be happening in a mature, liberal democracy.
The good news is that large numbers of academics do say they are committed to academic freedom. But we also find a sizeable minority who clearly view ideological goals as being more important than the core principle of academic freedom.
Professor Eric Kaufmann, also a member of our Advisory Council, wrote in UnHerd about the political discrimination that is fuelling the free speech crisis on campuses. His fellow Advisory Council member Dr Arif Ahmed has called on academics to fight against the cancellation mob now or risk having 2021 remembered as the year “we let free speech die”. Jordan Peterson has resigned as a professor at the University of Toronto, setting out his reasons in an article for the National Post.
Professor James Treadwell, who we are supporting, is the latest victim of cancel culture on campus, according to Patrick West. Professor Treadwell is being investigated for supposed “transphobia” by Staffordshire University.
Durham students tried to cancel a charity event that intended to raise funds to provide books for east African libraries on the grounds that the people behind it were “white saviours”.
Universities have been asked to sign a pledge against the practice of asking students who report sexual harassment to sign non-disclosure agreements.
Edinburgh slavery commission alleges “racist gang” of academics
Sir Tom Devine has criticised the University of Edinburgh for having failed to defend him and Professor Jonathan Hearn after they were branded “racist” by Sir Geoff Palmer, who is leading a review into the city of Edinburgh’s connections to the slave trade. Palmer, who is black, had accused Hearn of being part of “an academic racist gang” after he wrote an article criticising Palmer’s simple-minded approach in the Spectator. Devine says he may sue over the unfounded allegations, and a former rector of Edinburgh has said its Principal should quit if he won’t defend his academics. We are writing to the Principal to remind him of his duty of care towards his employees.
Scotland’s universities have been debased by the scandal, writes Iain Macwhirter in the Herald. Frank Furedi wrote in Spiked that claiming you are on the “right side of history” is just a way to silence your opponents.
Woke: a religion without a church
Our founder Toby Young was interviewed about the origins of the woke ideology and its spread throughout our institutions:
The woke cult has replaced secular liberalism as the official doctrine of the establishment, which means that a lot of institutions and professional communities that used to regard freedom of expression as sacrosanct – the Civil Service, the judiciary, the higher education sector, the mainstream media, the arts, particularly the performing arts, the third sector, etc. – no longer do.
Toby was also interviewed by Brendan O’Neill to mark the second anniversary of the FSU.
Dr Amy Orr-Ewing argued in the Times that cancel culture is rooted in Christian ideals and a demand for justice, but warned that the concepts of forgiveness and redemption have been lost in the “cold cruelty” of the current climate.
Tory MP makes complaint against police commissioner after she retweeted JK Rowling
Crispin Blunt MP has submitted a complaint against Surrey Police and Crime Commissioner Lisa Townsend after she retweeted JK Rowling, saying “it’s not hysterical for women to be taking to the streets about [the issue of protecting women-only spaces]. We will not accept this gaslighting from men who keep telling us they are women, or from those who enable them.”
Townsend said that Blunt has repeatedly told her to stop discussing how trans debates affect women’s rights:
He… effectively told me to stop speaking out. I explained that I wasn’t prepared to do that. I reminded him that I have a duty to defend women’s right to access single-sex refuges, hospital wards and prisons – not just because it matters to me, but because it matters to many of the people I represent. He responded with something that sounded like a threat. He said something along the lines of, ‘Well, in that case I’m sorry for what I’m about to do.’ And then the call was ended.
Blunt complained to Townsend’s employer and, in addition to 40 other complaints, she has received anonymous threats to her life. You can read the full account in Josephine Bartosch’s article about the case in UnHerd.
Meanwhile, police have said that trans activists who posted JK Rowling’s home address on Twitter will not be prosecuted. Scots feel shut out of the trans debate, said Finance Secretary Kate Forbes.
Another book has been cancelled at the behest of junior members of the company that was due to publish it. Mark Piggott wrote in the Times that his book was memory-holed because of its supposedly racist and sexist content.
Picador has cancelled all of Kate Clanchy’s books and will stop distributing her work by “mutual consent”. Clanchy’s Orwell Prize-winning book Some Kids I Taught and What They Taught Me was criticised by woke idealogues last year for not using the correct terminology about children of colour. She apologised, as did her publisher, and almost every child she’d worked with, including several refugees, wrote letters in her defence. But she has been cancelled anyway.
Madeline Grant, writing in the Telegraph, said “we may come to look back on this time as a cultural wasteland – full of caution, self-censorship and ‘corrective’ remakes. Unable to make anything new, we settle for destroying the old.”
Our US affiliate has warned that the attempt to remove critical race theory from American schools is being used as a cover to remove a raft of books from school libraries. Wendy Kaminer said in Spiked that the campaign was becoming “dangerously censorious” and imitating the tactics of the cancel culture it ostensibly opposes.
Microsoft’s new spell checker highlights politically incorrect words as you type, suggesting alternatives. Save the Children has said it will stop using a font designed by Eric Gill, the artist whose sculpture outside the BBC was recently attacked by a protester.
Musicians are increasingly cancelling their own work over fears about outdated lyrics, reports Alicia Adejobi.
Online Speakeasy: Toby Young in conversation with Harry Miller, free speech warrior
Join us for our first Online Speakeasy of 2022 with Harry Miller on Tuesday January 25th. You can register here.
Harry Miller is a businessman and former police officer. In 2019 he was investigated by Humberside Police for having retweeted a comic verse about trans women. The visiting constable told him “we need to check your thinking” (although the officer disputes that) and recorded Harry’s tweet as a ‘non-crime hate incident’. Harry challenged this, taking his case against Humberside Police and the College of Policing to the High Court. He then took the College of Policing to the Court of Appeal to challenge their “Hate Crime Operational Guidance” and won a significant victory for free speech in December 2021.
Join Toby and Harry to discuss the importance of these legal judgments for future free speech campaigns.
If you missed it you can watch our In-Depth event on revisiting the Equality Act here. Our experts for the discussion were Toby Young, General Secretary of the Free Speech Union, Professor James Allan, Dr Wanjiru Njoya and Dr Anna Loutfi. The event focused on the Equality Act and whether or not it’s time to revisit it in order to protect free speech.
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