Over 130 academics, activists, journalists, and free speech advocates have come together to issue an open letter calling for an end to online censorship. The letter, known as the Westminster Declaration, was signed by prominent figures such as journalists Matt Taibbi, Glen Greenwald, and Julian Assange; psychologists Steven Pinker and Jordan Peterson; and actors Tim Robbins and John Cleese, among many others. These individuals, representing diverse political perspectives, share a common commitment to universal human rights and freedom of speech.
In the letter, the group expresses deep concern over the increasing use of “disinformation” as a justification for curbing free speech. They argue that governments, NGOs, and social media companies are using this rationale to suppress dissenting voices and violate the principles outlined in the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The signatories assert that labeling protected speech as “misinformation” or “disinformation” is a dangerous and ill-defined practice that undermines the fundamental right to freedom of expression.
The letter specifically condemns legislative efforts by governments to restrict free speech, citing examples such as the UK’s Online Safety Bill and ‘Hate Speech’ bills in Ireland and Scotland. These measures are portrayed as direct threats to freedom of expression. Furthermore, the signatories criticize social media companies for censoring, labeling, and banning legitimate content at the behest of governments or NGOs.
The extent of online censorship is revealed in the ‘Twitter Files,’ which became public last year. These documents provide evidence that Twitter colluded with the White House to remove factually correct information about Covid-19, assisted the FBI in hiding content, facilitated the US military’s online influence campaigns, and censored “anti-Ukraine narratives” on behalf of multiple US intelligence agencies. The signatories argue that in many cases, governments indirectly influence platforms to remove content through NGOs and academics.
As a powerful example, the letter highlights how a group of academics funded by the CIA, Pentagon, US State Department, and other agencies urged Twitter to ban users spreading “true content which might promote vaccine hesitancy.” These examples demonstrate that online censorship is not limited to government action but also involves collaboration between social media platforms, governments, NGOs, and academics.
The signatories emphasize that they do not want future generations to grow up in a world where they fear expressing their opinions. They envision a world where ideas can be openly expressed, explored, and debated, in line with the intentions of the founders of democracies who enshrined free speech in laws and constitutions. They call on governments and tech companies to abide by Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which guarantees the right to freedom of opinion and expression.
In conclusion, the letter urges the general public to reject the climate of intolerance that encourages self-censorship and to actively champion free speech. The signatories believe that building an atmosphere of free speech from the ground up is essential for the protection and promotion of a healthy democracy, where all individuals have the right to express themselves and access information freely.
This call to action by a diverse group of respected individuals underscores the urgent need to safeguard free speech in the face of increasing online censorship. It amplifies the importance of upholding the principles of universal human rights and freedom of expression, reminding both governments and tech companies of their responsibility to protect these fundamental rights. By joining forces, the signatories hope to inspire a wider movement that defends and fosters a robust culture of free speech in all spheres of society.