It’s the stuff usually associated with oppressive authoritarian regimes, but polling shows it’s creeping into the collective Britain psyche, right nowby Martin Boon / October 4, 2017 / Leave a comment
It’s not every day that Theresa May channels her inner Thomas Hobbes, but with Leviathan-esque élan, her recent call for internet companies to take down extremist online content within two hours of it reaching cyberspace was a timely intervention. It’s not hyperbolic to link the government’s mission to eliminate Jihadist material with the primary responsibility of government to protect its citizens—not only from foreign foes but each other—as the recent attacks in Westminster, Manchester and elsewhere so tragically demonstrate.
Britain, it appears from a Policy Exchange report published in September, is the click-capital of Europe for Jihadist material. It is also the fifth most frequent location from which content is accessed, behind those great upholders of democratic principles, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and oh, the USA.
No wonder the Prime Minister is agitated. The Jihadists are sending over 100 new pieces of content every week, with willing volunteers in Britain evidently ready to take up arms against us. Not much to ask, one might suppose, for those companies with the ability to control the content on their platforms to pro-actively locate and delete it, when lives are so clearly at stake?
Luckily for Theresa May, the under-pressure Prime Minister can push this particular agenda confident that the public are behind her. Others would do well to notice—the Home Secretary, Amber Rudd certainly has. Only yesterday, she urged the Internet companies “to rid your platforms of this vile terrorist material that plays such a key role in radicalisation. Act now. Honour your moral obligations.” Strong stuff.
Labour’s counterparts would also be well served to fall in behind the Tory duo on this—for the evidence is unrelenting. In ICM’s research to inform the Policy Exchange’s report, two in three said the internet should be a regulated space; four in five think extreme material should be removed as quickly as possible; three-quarters think that companies that provide online content have responsibility for taking it down; and two in three think those same companies are not doing enough to combat online radicalism.
If this single-minded public view is insufficient to grab the attention of Corporate Policy Directors sitting in their Grand Designs offices in Silicon Valley and elsewhere, then they should peek at the hidden depth in this dataset, where more detailed public attitudes reside.
This is a British public theoretically willing to sacrifice personal freedoms in return for guaranteed personal safety; potentially scaling back things like freedom of expression, of assembly and prohibition from torture. Yes, you read that last one right—maybe they think the consequences would only apply to those wanting to do harm, ergo, it’s ok to torture the terrorist thin end of the wedge.
Let’s not think we’re only talking about a deluded or insignificant chunk of far-right antagonists, either. When asked, a third of the British public (33 per cent) say they are willing to give up “a lot” of their freedom linked to prohibition of torture or inhuman treatment. If you add in those only willing to give up just “a little” of it (15 per cent), the number jumps to 48 per cent. Half of us, basically, willing to relent on torture. Nor is this sentiment contained geo-demographically. It cross-cuts gender, age, region and religion—Muslims included.
It’s the stuff usually associated with distant and oppressive authoritarian regimes, but it’s creeping into the collective Britain psyche, right now.
As public sentiment goes, it’s understandable, too, testament to a climate that terrorists actively want to create, and are successfully managing through Swamcast technologies that disseminate their material, which is then underpinned by social media messaging.
Maybe now the internet companies will get the message that the politicians mean business. And if that doesn’t work, then the public are perfectly happy for recalcitrant internet companies to be shut down if they persistently fail to react quick enough, or fined for failing to remove extreme content with their executives criminally prosecuted. If nothing else does, that should clinch it. Or else torture might.