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The Westminster Declaration: Luminaries Warn that Online Censorship is Rapidly Destroying Freedom

With new declaration, Luminaries Warn that Online Censorship is Destroying Freedom

October 19, 2023: Since the COVID pandemic, authoritarians in the US and around the world have cynically used claims of “disinformation” to censor ordinary people and stifle dissent about everything from the efficacy of masks and vaccines to the war in Ukraine, the Middle East situation, and Hunter Biden’s laptop.

Whatever your political bent, this new form of speech control is a threat to you.

Only by debating freely in a rapidly fragmenting world can we resolve differences without resorting to violence.

To that end, a group of 136 academics, historians and journalists from the left, right and center of the political spectrum have come together to warn President Biden that this rapidly growing censorship regime “undermines the foundational principles of representative democracy.”

In their “Westminster Declaration,” released Wednesday, the international group points out that the best way to combat actual disinformation is with free speech.

“Open discourse is the central pillar of a free society, and is essential for holding governments accountable, empowering vulnerable groups, and reducing the risk of tyranny … We do not want our children to grow up in a world where they live in fear of speaking their minds.”

The eclectic group that has signed the declaration to fight censorship includes Canadian psychologist Jordan Peterson, UK biologist Richard Dawkins, NYU social psychologist Jonathan Haidt, Julian Assange, the Australian founder of WikiLeaks, actor Tim Robbins, evolutionary biologist Bret Weinstein, economist Glenn Loury, filmmaker Oliver Stone, whistleblower Edward Snowden, British comedian John Cleese, Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek, British journalist Matt Ridley, Stanford professor Jay Bhattacharya, Harvard professor of medicine Martin Kulldorf, Australian journalist Adam Creighton, French science journalist Xavier Azalbert and German filmmaker Robert Cibis.

Image Above: Since the COVID pandemic, authoritarians around the world have used claims of “disinformation” to censor people and stifle dissent about everything from the efficacy of masks and vaccines to the war in Ukraine. (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Also among the signatories are two of the independent journalists responsible for the Twitter Files, Michael Shellenberger and Matt Taibbi, who testified before Congress about what they call the “Censorship Industrial Complex,” were slimed by Democrats as “so-called journalists,” and singled out by the FTC in a threatening letter sent to Twitter (now known as X) owner Elon Musk.

To underscore the perceived threat, while Taibbi was testifying in Washington, DC, the IRS came knocking on his door at his New Jersey home.

The Westminster Declaration comes as the European Union attempts to impose an expanded censorship regime on social media platforms and search engines, including X, Google and Facebook, using “vetted researchers” from selected NGOs and academia.

The Westminster group says they are all “deeply concerned about attempts to weaponize the words ‘misinformation,’ ‘disinformation,’ and other ill-defined terms.

“This weaponization has resulted in the censorship of ordinary people, journalists, and dissidents in countries all over the world …
“Across the globe, government actors, social media companies, universities, and NGOs are increasingly working to monitor citizens and rob them of their voices,” said the signatories.

They cite examples of censorship crackdowns around the world:

* In India and Turkey, authorities have “seized the power to remove political content from social media.”

* The legislature in Germany and the supreme court in Brazil are “criminalizing political speech.”

* Ireland’s “Hate Speech” Bill, Scotland’s Hate Crime Act, the UK’s Online Safety Bill, and Australia’s “Misinformation” Bill all “threaten to severely restrict expression and create a chilling effect.”

In the US, more subtle methods of censorship prevail, including visibility filtering, labeling, and manipulation of search engine results.

“Through deplatforming and flagging, social media censors have already silenced lawful opinions on topics of national and geopolitical importance. They have done so with the full support of ‘disinformation experts’ and ‘fact-checkers’ in the mainstream media, who have abandoned the journalistic values of debate and intellectual inquiry.”

Agencies designed to combat the threat of foreign disinformation, such as the US Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, are “increasingly being turned inward against the public. Under the guise of preventing harm and protecting truth, speech is being treated as a permitted activity rather than an inalienable right.”

The signatories also warn that politicians and NGOs want to target encrypted messaging apps such as WhatsApp, Signal and Telegram.

“If end-to-end encryption is broken, we will have no remaining avenues for authentic private conversations in the digital sphere.”

The declaration contends that censorship is ultimately counterproductive: “It sows mistrust, encourages radicalization, and de-legitimizes the democratic process.

“In the course of human history, attacks on free speech have always been a precursor to attacks on all other liberties, and regimes that seek to destroy free speech have always also sought to destroy democracy. In this respect, the elites that push for censorship today are no different. What has changed, though, is the broad scale and technological tools through which censorship can be enacted.”

The signatories call on tech companies to refrain from censorship, and on governments and NGOs to respect free speech as protected by the UN Declaration of Human Rights.

They also implore an increasingly complacent public to reject the “climate of intolerance that encourages self-censorship … Instead of fear and dogmatism, we must adopt investigation and debate.”

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and other heads of state also were sent the declaration.

The free speech lawsuit Missouri v. Biden has been at the forefront of exposing an entrenched censorship scheme cooked up between the federal government and Big Tech.

More than 60 officials or agencies — including the FBI — stand accused of violating the First Amendment by pressuring Facebook, Twitter and Google to censor users for alleged misinformation or disinformation.

The Post was a victim of the vast “censorship enterprise” when our Hunter Biden laptop exposé was suppressed by Facebook and Twitter in October 2020.

In the weeks before the presidential election, the FBI had prebunked The Post’s story, warning the social media companies, with varying degrees of specificity, to watch out for a “dump” of Russian disinformation likely in October and relating to Hunter Biden.

Polls have shown that the suppression of The Post’s reporting may have changed the outcome of the election.

Source: New York Post


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