The Westminster Declaration, born out of a June 2023 meeting in London of free-speech advocates, calls for governments to dismantle the Censorship Industrial Complex and that both governments and Big Tech uphold Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which states:
Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 19, United Nations, 10 December 1948
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In March, Michael Shellenberger and Matt Taibbi testified during a Congress hearing about the Censorship Industrial Complex. It’s a collaboration of organisations comprised of government agencies, non-governmental organisations and Big Tech companies working together to suppress disfavoured views and disfavoured people.
Of course, any corporately funded organisation including members of Congress, news media, and non-governmental organisations (“NGOs”) have tried to dismiss it claiming that no such collaboration exists. It is merely people doing research into and trying to correct misinformation, disinformation, and malinformation, they claim.
Yesterday, Public announced that a group of 138 scholars, public intellectuals, and journalists from across the political spectrum have issued a strong call in The Westminster Declaration’, warning the public of the Censorship Industrial Complex and urging governments to dismantle it in the name of the “first liberty,” freedom of speech.
Among the 138 signatories is Wikileaks founder Julian Assange who embodies wholesale government surveillance and political persecution, made possible by the collaboration with corporate media, of those the state disfavours.
The Declaration was born out of a meeting of a group of free speech advocates from around the world who met at the end of June 2023 in Westminster, London.
“We write as journalists, artists, authors, activists, technologists, and academics to warn of increasing international censorship that threatens to erode centuries-old democratic norms,” the Declaration states.
As we are all well aware, the abuse of the terms “misinformation,” “disinformation” and other ill-defined terms has resulted in the censorship of ordinary people, journalists, and dissidents in countries all over the world.
“Such interference with the right to free speech suppresses valid discussion about matters of urgent public interest, and undermines the foundational principles of representative democracy,” the signatories quite rightly state.
They describe the “Censorship-Industrial Complex” as global large-scale coordinated efforts by government actors, social media companies, universities, and NGOs that are “increasingly working to monitor citizens and rob them of their voices.”
(Related: The Citizen’s Starter Kit to the top 50 Organisations in the Global Censorship Cartel and The Intercept that funded Government/Big Tech Censorship begs for Donations after FTX Grants are put on hold)
Often, this Complex operates through direct government policies. The Declaration gives the following examples:
- Authorities in India and Turkey have seized the power to remove political content from social media.
- The legislature in Germany and the Supreme Court in Brazil are criminalising political speech.
- In other countries, measures such as Ireland’s “Hate Speech” Bill, Scotland’s Hate Crime Act, the UK’s Online Safety Bill, and Australia’s “Misinformation” Bill threaten to severely restrict expression and create a chilling effect.
The collaborative censorship efforts also operate through more subtle methods, such as:
- Visibility filtering, labelling, and manipulation of internet search engine results.
- De-platforming and flagging on social media.
The Declaration goes on to say that as the Twitter Files revealed, technology companies often perform censorial “content moderation” in coordination with government agencies and civil society. Soon, the Declaration warns, the European Union’s Digital Services Act will formalise this relationship by giving platform data to “vetted researchers” from NGOs and academia, relegating our speech rights to the discretion of these unelected and unaccountable entities.
Some politicians and NGOs are even aiming to target end-to-end encrypted messaging apps like 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.
“Under the guise of preventing harm and protecting truth, speech is being treated as a permitted activity rather than an inalienable right,” the Declaration states. Adding that “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.”
Speech protections are not just for views we agree with; we must strenuously protect speech for the views that we most strongly oppose. Only in the public square can these views be heard and properly challenged.
Free speech is our best defence against disinformation.
We do not want our children to grow up in a world where they live in fear of speaking their minds. We want them to grow up in a world where their ideas can be expressed, explored and debated openly – a world that the founders of our democracies envisioned when they enshrined free speech into our laws and constitutions.The Westminster Declaration
The signatories issue a warning that in the course of human history, attacks on free speech have been a precursor to attacks on all other liberties. “Regimes that eroded free speech have always inevitably weakened and damaged other core democratic structures. In the same fashion, the elites that push for censorship today are also undermining democracy. What has changed though, is the broad scale and technological tools through which censorship can be enacted.”
Free speech is essential for ensuring our safety from state abuses of power – abuses that have historically posed a far greater threat than the words of lone individuals or even organised groups. For this reason, the signatories make the following calls to action:
- We call on governments and international organisations to fulfil their responsibilities to the people and to uphold Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (“UDHR”).
- We call on technology corporations to undertake to protect the digital public square as defined in Article 19 of the UDHR and refrain from politically motivated censorship, the censorship of dissenting voices, and censorship of political opinion.
The group asks us, the general public, to join them in the fight to preserve our democratic rights. Legislative changes are not enough, they state. “We must also build an atmosphere of free speech from the ground up by rejecting the climate of intolerance that encourages self-censorship and that creates unnecessary personal strife for many. Instead of fear and dogmatism, we must embrace inquiry and debate.”
Read The Westminster Declaration HERE.
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