April 1, 2022

#BelfastBattleFest: Misinformation - Ukraine, Big Tech and Online Censorship

This is a recording from the Belfast Battle of Ideas, an event that took place in the Crescent Arts Centre in Belfast on the 26 March 2022 in partnership with Imagine! Belfast Festival and the Academy of Ideas.

Misinformation: Ukraine, Big Tech and online censorship

As war rages in Ukraine, the limits of what we can say about such a major, epoch-defining event appear to be determined by a handful of Californian social-media giants. Facebook’s parent company, Meta has already announced the banning of Russian outlets Russia Today (RT) and Sputnik from its platforms. Twitter has declared it will ‘label all posts containing links to Russian state-affiliated media outlets’. It’s not just Silicon Valley getting in on the act. Telegram, a Dubai-based messaging app created by two brothers who left Russia under pressure from President Putin, has threatened ‘to shut down channels related to the war because of rampant misinformation’.

Meanwhile, the UK government has promised a ‘crackdown’ on university lecturers accused of spreading pro-Putin propaganda on social media. More broadly, press freedom has taken a bashing recently: during the pandemic, YouTube and other sites censored TalkRadio for alleged Covid ‘misinformation’, while a recent BBC Stephen Nolan podcast revealed the extent to which Ofcom, the official broadcast regulator, was willing to silence gender-critical views labelled ‘hate speech’.

With the government’s new Online Safety Bill empowering Ofcom to further regulate online companies such as Facebook and Instagram, how worried should we be about new restrictions on free speech? In the face of fears over the online world as a space of anonymity, falsehoods, harms and excess, is it time to accept that some controls are necessary? Or should we defend the web as a space for the free flow of information and views as it was once envisaged?

- James Harkin, Director, Centre for Investigative Journalism; former Director, Institute for Contemporary Arts (ICA); author, Cyburbia
- Jenny Holland, Irish-American freelance writer; formerly at New York Times and Conde Nast; substack newsletter, Saving Culture (from itself)
- Ryan Christopher, Director, Alliance Defending Freedom; co-founder, Humanum Institute

CHAIR: Alastair Donald, co-convenor Battle of Ideas festival; convenor, Living Freedom school

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