BY PAUL NEWALL
The First Amendment of the US constitution should be adored. Granted that when the original US constitution was written, it was fanciful and flawed. Slaves for instance were regarded as two thirds of a human being which wasn’t quite as racist as you might think being as there were as many white bond slaves in this era as there were black African slaves. This was later corrected by the Thirteenth Amendment after a great deal of soul searching and a brutal civil war that was in part fought on the issue. The First Amendment was signed into effect in 1791 as part of the Bill of Rights and it gave absolute free speech up to but not including inciting mayhem or violent crimes.
In our country we have Article 10 of the Human Rights Act – on the face of it a very similar chunk of legalese but it’s not quite the same as the First Amendment because restrictions are malleable and are left to the discretion of the Government. The practical upshot of this malleability is that the right to free speech can be amended according to what the Government considers to be reasonable. And it’s quite within its rights to define certain kinds of speech to be deemed “Hate Speech”.
So why does any of this matter?
2019 has seen a variety of attacks on free speech and the difference between the US and here has been noticeable. Crowdfunder platform Patreon in tandem with the payment processor PayPal purged several conservative and centrist YouTubers in January. Most of the purging was done for retrospective breaches of their revamped terms of service. The British victims have no method of recompense in British courts, but American victims are preparing to go to court in a bootstrapped complaint of breach of the First Amendment and quoting Antitrust laws. Arguments have already been won subject to appeals, that electronic media and social network platforms are public places and are therefore subject to First Amendment rights. The antitrust argument is being proffered because Silicon Valley companies appear to be working as a cartel to expel unwanted views from the public square.
It is the fingerprints of Emmanuel Macron that are all over Article 13, a new EU copyright directive that will kill off any video sharing or memes that don’t have express copyright use permission. The EU is attempting a huge power grab on the ability of dissidents to use parody or commentary to lampoon or criticise the powers that be. This week saw mainstream politicians cooing over the Facebook banning of half the UKIP social media team plus Tommy Robinson. The political elites of Europe want an end to any discussion of their policy, and you may love or hate Mr Robinson but where his rights have gone then yours will surely follow as the bar for hate speech is incrementally dropped as time goes on. Bear in mind that the Metropolitan Police service has an electronic media hate unit that numbers 900 personnel – at a time when Londoners should be issued with stab vests on account of the lawlessness on the capital’s streets.
The People’s Republic of China has a system where long before they arrest you, even small infractions against the state are punished by economic sanctions including a reduced social credit rating. Is this where we should be heading?
Our European friends are sleepwalking into a Kafkaesque dystopia and it’s not going to get any better without them taking some drastic action. Meanwhile we need to create a British Constitution for a post-Brexit age. And copying and pasting the US constitution would be a very good start.
Paul Newall is a child of the 1960’s from a traditional Labour-supporting household. Paul dabbled with Trotskyism in the 1980’s but then “grew up and thanks to having responsibilities I slowly migrated across the political spectrum until instead of hating Maggie Thatcher I admired her for beating my side in the miners’ strike”.