A Labour MP has come up with such a terrible idea even Jacob Rees-Mogg is supporting it

Lucy Powell and Jacob Rees-Mogg

A Labour MP has had a truly terrible idea. In fact, it’s such a bad idea that even Jacob Rees-Mogg is supporting it. Lucy Powell is planning to introduce a bill to “tackle online hate, fake news and radicalisation”. So far, so good. But in order to do this, she believes the answer is to ban “secret” online groups with over 500 members.

The bill is being launched with crossbench support. Amongst its supporters are Rees-Mogg, Nicky Morgan and Anna Soubry.

Secret groups

Secret groups are closed groups that exist on platforms such as Facebook. They don’t show up in searches and can only be accessed by people in the group. Writing in the Guardian, Powell explained that:

Because these closed forums can be given a “secret” setting, they can be hidden away from everyone but their members. This locks out the police, intelligence services and charities that could otherwise engage with the groups and correct disinformation.

Luckily social media users exercised their freedom of speech to tell her why this is such a bad idea:

Other people pointed out how ridiculous the notion was given the nature of many private groups:

Meaningless words

Powell’s bill plays into the use of meaningless words like “extremism” and “radicalisation”. Extremism is not defined under UK law. But it is widely known that it includes environmental campaigners, anti-fascists, and anti-arms trade protesters. The UK police run a domestic extremist database. Those included on it include journalists, politicians and protesters who’ve committed no criminal offence.

Many political groups organise using closed Facebook groups. As the Network for Police Monitoring (Netpol) pointed out:

And as many people pointed out, there is an issue with who gets to decide which groups are acceptable:

The media is so wonderful. Honest.

In her speech to parliament, Powell stated:

Our newspapers, broadcasters and other publishers are held to high standards, yet online groups, some of which have more power and reach than newspapers, are not held to any standards, nor are they accountable.

It is, however, somewhat ambiguous as to what those “high standards” are. Following the spike in hate crime during and just after the Brexit referendum, the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance accused the tabloid press of using “offensive, discriminatory and provocative terminology”.

A point many on social media also noted:

And as others highlighted, hate is not confined to closed groups:

A truly terrible idea

From the practicalities of enforcement to ideology, this is a truly terrible idea. Online hate needs to be condemned and addressed. But banning groups and censorship is not the answer. Powell needs to rethink. If nothing else, Rees-Mogg’s support of her bill should tell her everything she needs to know.

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