Irony Overload: Labour MP Yvette Cooper wants to save us from online anti-Semites and other virtual haters
Yvette Cooper wants to set you free from fake news, horrible words and unpleasant images online. The UK Home Affairs Select Committee, which Cooper chairs, challenged directors of big social media companies – Facebook’s Simon Milner, Google’s Peter Barron and Twitter’s Nick Pickles – to explain why their businesses engage in “commercial prostitution” by allowing ad placements alongside nasty videos made by, amongst others, neo-Nazis and white supremacist David Duke, whose video Jews admit organising white genocide Labour MP Cooper called antisemitic and shocking. “I think most people would be appalled by that video and think that it goes against all standards of common decency in the United Kingdom,” said Cooper.
The charge is that in equipping nasty videos with ads, the likes of YouTube (owned by Google) is funding hate because the publisher takes a slice of the ad revenue. But if hate’s not a crime, the problem is one of taste not law?
Overlooking the sensational news that a Labour MP is now an expert in spotting anti-semitism, and just marvel at an MP of any hue deciding and defining the limits of good taste.
Google’s Matt Brittin told the committee, “I want to start by saying sorry” for allowing tax-payer funded Government adverts to feature alongside extremist material on YouTube. Cooper seized on it. “They are right to apologise for failing to stop extremists making profits from hatred, and for making profits themselves from advertising on these videos,” she said. “They need to say whether they will be paying back any of that advertising revenue. And to answer our questions on what more they are doing to root out extremism or illegal activity on YouTube. Because they are still failing to do enough to remove illegal or hate filled content from YouTube.”
And there it was again, that casual merging of what is illegal and what is legal and nasty. Not all unpleasant things are criminal, nor should they be made so.
Bannon helped Cooper out. “There is no clear definition of hate speech in British law,” he explained at length. “We have our own guidelines around hate speech. The guideline that we follow, which is very close to the law, is that a general expression against a country, for example, wouldn’t qualify as hate speech, but if you are promoting or advocating violence against a particular group based on their race or ethnicity, that would constitute hate speech. … I am not going to defend the content of the video; I found it abhorrent and offensive. However, the important question, which relates to wider issues of freedom of expression, is whether that content is illegal and whether it breaks our guidelines. Our policy and legal experts arrived at the conclusion that it didn’t. I think everyone in this room would agree that it was deeply distasteful.”
Cooper replied: “How on earth is the phrase, ‘Jews admit organising white genocide’, as well as being clearly false, not a statement that is a malicious or hateful comment about a group of people solely based on race, religion or the other protected characteristics that your own guidelines and community standards say are unacceptable?’
Guidelines are not laws, Yvette. Google is free to set its own rules. As is the Commons. So when Labour MP Tam Dalyell, aka Sir Thomas Dalyell of the Binns, 11th Baronet (9 August 1932 – 26 January 2017), warned in dead-tree magazine Vanity Fair of a “cabal of Jewish advisers” unduly influencing Tony Blair, he wasn’t censored and banned. When Tam told the Zayed Centre, an organisation “established in fulfilment of the vision of his highness Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan” – that “there were 400,000 Jews in Britain who enjoyed a very strong and stunning influence” he was not sacked.
The then Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, whose Jewish ancestry (one grandparent too many, apparently) caused Dalyell to sense something sinister in his blood, offered the grown up response: “These remarks are too unworthy to be worth a comment.”
When old-Etonian Dalyell died, tributes were fulsome. Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale said: “The Labour movement has lost a giant… As Father of the House his wisdom was passed on to countless MPs.” Current Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said the Jew-sniffer had been a “good friend and comrade”. Other “friends” of Corbyn work at Hamas, whose mantra is the annihilation of Jews. As one Guardian writer notes, “Corbyn has associated with the worst type of antisemites: Holocaust deniers, men who think Jews made bread from Christian blood or were behind the 9/11 atrocities. No blood libel was too bloody for them. He keeps saying he’s not a racist, but he’s happy to keep racist company.”
James Bloodworth wondered: “Why is no one asking about Jeremy Corbyn’s worrying connections?” Having stated his belief that Corbyn is no anti-Semite, Bloodworth looked at context:
Corbyn wrote a letter defending Stephen Sizer, the vicar disciplined by the Church of England for linking to an article on social media entitled 9/11: Israel Did It. [He] Presented a call-in programme on Press TV, a propaganda channel of the Iranian government which was banned by Ofcom and which regularly hosts Holocaust deniers.
Is Corbyn advertising these people by being among them? Should he be blocked from doing so, lest his meeting with bigots be seen as an endorsement in the same way anyone watching an advert for Marks and Spencer’s on a jihadi recruitment drive fall into thinking M&S is enlarging its underwear range and selling thermal suicide vests in all sizes? Should Labour Party members get their money back when the context gets nasty?
Or are well robust grown ups, who enjoy freedom of expression and the right to offend, who baulk at the idea of State censors demanding we adhere to their interpretation of “common decency”, those prudes who trammel free speech and treat people as a problem to police and patrol?
Let’s trust that we are.