Secretive government units in the UK have been using the façade of “tackling fake news” to conceal the mass online monitoring of the British public.
That is, according to the arresting new findings of a Big Brother Watch investigation.
In its newly published “Ministry of Truth” report, the civil liberties campaign group reveals that so-called anti-fake news units have been set up in the Cabinet Office and DCMS under the guise of tackling misinformation, to track political dissent on social media.
Whitehall officials working in the units have been collecting and analysing comments criticising the government made by the likes of politicians, academics, activists, journalists and even members of the public.
This shadowy monitoring was particularly prevalent during Covid-19(84).
For instance, UCL academic Dr Alexandre de Figueiredo, who researches vaccine confidence, was flagged by a contractor to the Counter Disinformation Unit at DCMS because he argued that mass vaccination of children had risks, including to confidence in vaccines.
Outspoken journalist Julia Hartley-Brewer appeared in a unit report for tweeting about her interview with a woman who had suffered due to the care home policy during lockdown.
And even Conservative MPs, such as David Davis, were featured in a “vaccine hesitancy” report, compiled by the Rapid Response Unit at the Cabinet Office, for arguing that vaccine passports were discriminatory.
The British army has played a part in this mass monitoring too, according to a whistleblower from the Army’s 77th Brigade, which conducts information warfare. Soldiers from the 77th Brigade collated tweets from British citizens about Covid-19 at the start of the pandemic and passed them onto the Cabinet Office.
Sign up for our FREE Reaction Weekend Email
Read the week's best-read articles on politics, business and geopolitics
Receive offers and exclusive invites
Plus uplifting cultural commentary
According to Big Brother Watch, these secretive government units have been working in cahoots with big tech. The Counter Disinformation Unit at DCMS “has a special relationship with social media companies it uses to recommend content be removed.”
The findings expose “an alarming case of mission creep” and “misuse of public money and even military power,” says Silkie Carlo, Director of Big Brother Watch.
Tory MP David Davis was, unsurprisingly, quick to condemn this authoritarian government activity, too. Findings of the investigation “should set alarm bells ringing for anyone who knows the dangers of the overmighty state,” he warned, adding: “Journalists, politicians and members of the public should all be free to air their views without examination by Government agencies.”
Write to us with your comments to be considered for publication at email@example.com