The EU’s empire of censorship

Brussels’ war on ‘hate speech’ and ‘disinformation’ is a brazen attack on democracy.

Norman Lewis

Topics Free Speech World

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There is another war going on in Europe outside of Ukraine. It is one being waged by the EU elites, over what can be said, heard and thought. This is a war against ‘hate speech’ and ‘disinformation’, which the EU claims pose an existential threat to democracy. In truth, it is the Eurocrats’ censorious designs that are the real danger to Europeans’ liberties.

With the European Parliament elections fast approaching in June, the EU has ramped up its censorship campaign. Last month, several mayors of Brussels attempted to forcibly shut down the NatCon Brussels event. And last week, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen pledged to create a ‘European Democracy Shield’ if she were re-elected for a second term. She says this would combat ‘foreign interference and manipulation’ by establishing a new unit dedicated to detecting and removing online disinformation.

Von der Leyen’s speech follows a similar one made in January by EU foreign-policy chief Josep Borrell. He warned that disinformation is ‘not about a bomb that can kill you, it is about a poison that can colonise your minds… [that] spreads like a cancer and puts the health of our democracies at risk’.

Not to be outdone, Věra Jourová, European Commission vice-president for values and transparency, spoke dramatically of ‘rivers of dirt and hatred and lies’ at a conference organised by the European Digital Media Observatory last week. She also suggested that the EU must increasingly deploy AI to ‘detect manipulation’ and ‘better enforce what is qualified as crime’.

Brussels’ warnings about hate speech and disinformation have become almost apocalyptic. To counter this hysterical narrative, I authored a report for think-tank MCC Brussels, titled Controlling the Narrative: The EU’s Attack on Online Speech. It exposes how, under the guise of defending democracy, the EU elites have launched a crusade against free speech, which actually threatens European democracy. This follows the launch of the MCC’s Brussels Free Speech Declaration earlier this month, which is part of an ongoing fightback against EU authoritarianism.

Crucially, the report points out that the EU’s fight against ‘hatred’ and ‘lies’ has a clear political agenda. With the upcoming election, the EU elites are terrified of any open and unpredictable debate that may raise questions about their right to rule. Especially as polls are currently predicting a surge in support for populist and nationalist parties opposed to centralised EU control. Although Brussels claims its aim is to protect minority groups from harm, its real goal is to control the speech of the majority.

To this end, the EU has effectively created its own ‘Ministry of Truth’. An unholy alliance of unaccountable groups have taken on the task of censoring speech – from the European Commission and its network of unelected ‘experts’ and NGOs to equally unaccountable Big Tech firms and EU courts. All this is backed by a panoply of laws like the Digital Services Act (DSA), the Media Freedom Act (MFA) and the Artificial Intelligence Act (AIA). The DSA, for example, enables the Commission to determine what can or cannot be said on social-media platforms, with huge financial penalties for non-compliance. Similarly, the proposed Child Sexual Abuse Regulation (CSAR), which has the ostensibly noble aim of protecting children, initially proposed giving officials the power to monitor the private messages of every single EU citizen.

This already sprawling censorship network is set to multiply a thousand-fold through the application of artificial intelligence. As vice-president Jourová alluded to, the EU is planning on utilising AI to automate and expand its detection and takedown processes for hate speech. is one such project, with the aim of ‘developing and building trustworthy AI solutions in the fight against disinformation’.

This is bound to be a disaster. AI obviously has no understanding of human communications, context and nuances of meaning. As a result, using AI will necessitate lowering the threshold of what constitutes hate speech. Expanding it to the extent the EU intends also means that humans – the last bastion of reason in this process – will likely be largely removed from the equation, in favour of full automation.

This is not an unfounded fear. Automated algorithms have long been used to detect and remove ‘problematic’ online content. In the first quarter of 2019, Facebook reported that 65 per cent of the content removed from its platform was flagged by machines, with an increase from 51 per cent in the previous months. Similarly, YouTube reported that, in 2017, 79 per cent of the videos removed for violating its policies were initially caught by automated flagging systems. In the second quarter of 2019, this was 87 per cent. By April 2019, 38 per cent of abusive content that Twitter (now X) took action against was flagged by algorithms for human review, instead of relying on user reports. This was 20 per cent the previous year. Adding AI into the mix will undoubtedly increase these percentages enormously.

The message here is clear. Eurocrats don’t trust Europeans to be able to think for themselves. Someone – be it an EU content moderator or an AI system – must decide what is appropriate for them to read, hear and see. All this talk of defending European values and democracy barely disguises the Brussels elites’ contempt for the citizens they rule over.

In reality, the best defence for democracy is always more free speech. Right now, the biggest threat to European democracy is the EU itself.

Dr Norman Lewis is a writer and visiting research fellow at MCC Brussels. His Substack is What a Piece of Work is Man!. Sign the Brussels Free Speech Declaration here.

Picture by: Getty.

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Topics Free Speech World


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