Center for Countering Digital Hate
|Formation||October 19, 2018|
|Founder||Morgan James McSweeney|
|Purpose||Lobbies big tech companies for internet censorship measures against rival political actors.|
|Directors||Kirsty Jean McNeill|
Siobhan Marie McAndrew
|Affiliations||Labour Party (New Labour-associated Labour Together faction)|
The Center for Countering Digital Hate, also known as the CCDH, is a limited company in London founded in October 2018. The founding director of the organisation was Morgan James McSweeney, a political activist on the Blairite-wing of the Labour Party, as secretary of Labour Together and LabourList. The main spokesman for the CCDH is the CEO Imran Ahmed, who co-authored the book The New Serfdom: The Triumph of Conservative Ideas and How to Defeat Them with Labour MP Angela Eagle and works as a political advisor to Labour MP Hilary Benn.
The organisation campaigns for internet censorship to be enacted against rival political actors, lobbying American “big tech” firms such as YouTube, Facebook, Amazon, Twitter, Instagram and Apple to “deplatform” individuals so that they cannot present their views to the general public. The CCDH’s most high profile political censorship campaign so far has been against prominent British conspiracy theorist David Icke. Other targets of CCDH campaigns have included the left-wing politician and broadcaster George Galloway and the right-wing media personality Katie Hopkins.
- 1Internet censorship campaigns
- 2Directors and associates
- 5See also
- 8External links
Internet censorship campaigns
Campaign against Galloway and Hopkins
The first significant campaign by the CCDH to enact censorship of prominent British public figures with rival political views began in January 2020; the targets for this campaign were Katie Hopkins, a right-wing commentator, and George Galloway, a veteran left-wing politican and broadcaster. The most prominent figure at the forefront of this was Rachel Riley, who directly lobbied “big tech” companies, along with the CCDH, to have these individuals removed from major social media platforms. Similar censorship methods had already taken place in regards to American figures, such as conspiracy theorist Alex Jones in 2018, who was completely removed from all “big tech” platforms. According to media reports Riley and CCDH CEO Imran Ahmed had a “secret meeting” with Twitter‘s Soho, London based office, demanding the removal of Hopkins and Galloway from their platform. Riley, a minor celebrity in the United Kingdom is best known for co-hosting the game show Countdown, however, she has an active Twitter account, coming to political prominence along with other UK-based minor celebrities such as David Baddiel, for Jewish advocacy in the debate over antisemitism in the UK Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn and claims to have been the victim of online trolling by pro-Palestinian left-wing Labour activists. Reily has herself courted controversy and accusations of online trolling by pro-Corbyn and Labour left activists for content she has posted on Twitter.[nb 1]
At the meeting with Twitter representatives on 29 January 2020, Ahmed and Riley stated that their demand was to exclude “hate actors from public discourse”. Hopkins, who first came to public prominence in the United Kingdom due to featuring as a contestant on The Apprentice and had gone on to have a career as an often controversial media commentator, supports right-wing populism in general, including advocacy on her Twitter account for Brexit and American president Donald Trump. While, George Galloway, a veteran left-wing activist, broadcaster and former Labour MP, has used his Twitter account to advocate for the Palestinian cause, criticised the Israeli government and defended the Corbyn-led Labour Party from claims of antisemitism by critics such as Riley. Ahmed and Riley presented to Twitter a number of posts by Hopkins and Galloway which they claimed were in breach of Twitter’s community guidelines, demanding that they stop their “ability to use the platform to spread hate” and deplatform them from Twitter to elimate “hate actors from public discourse”. Ultimately, the CCHD’S attempt to censor Galloway on Twitter failed, but Hopkins had her account suspended for a week before being allowed to return in February 2020. The British Islamic community group 5Pillars, while criticing Hopkins for anti-Muslim sentiment, publically opposed the CCDH censorship bid, claiming that her example was being used by Reily and Ahmed as a stalking horse for wider social media censorship which would be also used against pro-Palestine activists under the guide of “opposing antisemitism” (citing the attempt to censor George Galloway).
Campaign against David Icke
After their failure to enact social media censorship against Katie Hopkins and George Galloway earlier in the year, the CCDH moved on to a new target in April 2020. David Icke, a leading British conspiracy theorist, had gained renewed media attention during the COVID-19-associated lockdown in the United Kingdom. Icke had posted a number of controversial videos to his YouTube account, which included an interview with Brian Rose of London Real where Icke posited a conspiracy theory which attempted to link the erection of 5G masts to the COVID-19 pandemic. During the British lockdown, the CCDH began to present itself as “countering COVID-19 misinformation” and promoted various posts on its website and social media to this end attempting to direct public opinion on the subject. The CCDH released a 25-page pamphlet attacking Icke entitled “#DeplatformIcke“ and began a campaign to enact social media censorship of him and his views, using the hashtag “#DeplatformIcke“. The CCDH demanded the total removal of Icke’s online presence from “big tech” platforms such as YouTube, Facebook, Amazon, Twitter, Instagram and Apple, portraying him as a “hate actor” on their website.
The #DeplatformIcke pamplet that the CCDH sent out to “big tech” giants demanding censorship was co-signed by various groups and individuals (the CCDH claimed 800 people), in particular the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Antisemitism (Andrew Percy and Catherine McKinnell both signed), as did Damian Collins, Conservative MP who was the former chair of the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee under Theresa May. The Jewish lobby group, the Community Security Trust also supported the letter demanding that Icke be censored with Dave Rich calling for Icke’s “hateful and dangerous conspiracy theories to be removed from mainstream social media platforms.” Icke, a prolific content creator had a large public audience with over 1 million followers on YouTube, as well as on Facebook and Twitter, many of his books are sold on platforms such as Amazon, where he discusses his ideas. Two of the websites, YouTube and Facebook, enacted the censorship at the behest of the CCDH and deleted his accounts from their website: Facebook deleted his account on 1 May 2020, stating as the reason “health misinformation that could cause physical harm”, YouTube followed on 2 May 2020 stating “YouTube has clear policies prohibiting any content that disputes the existence and transmission of Covid-19 as described by the WHO and the NHS.” While both of Icke’s personal accounts were deleted from the two websites, both allowed other uploaders to host Icke-related content unrelated to COVID-19. Ahmed and the CCDH praised compliance with the censorship demands, but continued to demand that complete internet-wide censorship be enacted against Icke and a shadow ban of all his content be enforced.
Directors and associates
The organisation was founded by Morgan James McSweeney (born April 1977) on 19 October 2018 and he was the first Director of the group, originally known as Brixton Endeavours Limited. Prior to founding the CCDH, McSweeney, born in Cork, Ireland, was the campaign director for Labour MP Liz Kendall‘s failed campaign for the party leadership in 2015; she was one of the representatives of the New Labour and Blairite faction within the party. Since 2017, he had become the secretary of Labour Together, a New Labour-leaning faction within the Labour Party under the directorship of Trevor Chinn, a leading Labour Friends of Israel donor and advocate, as well as an executive committee member of BICOM. Labour Together were generally hostile to Jeremy Corbyn‘s leadership of the party. McSweeney resigned his position as CCDH Co-Director in April 2020 to focus on his work as the campaign manager for Keir Starmer‘s ultimately successful bid to become the new leader of the Labour Party.
Aside from McSweeney, the organisation was joined by three other Co-Directors in September 2019. This included David Craig Roberts (born January 1965), a Sailsbury-based Labour activist who provided media support for Ed Balls‘ failed leadership bid in 2010; he resigned from the CCDH in February 2020 and took a step back from public politics in general. In addition to this are the currently sitting Co-Directors; Irish-born Dr. Siobhan Marie McAndrew (born March 1978), a sociology lecturer for the School of Sociology, Politics and International Studies at the University of Bristol and Kirsty Jean McNeill (born February 1980), a Labour Party political activist and former speech writer for Gordon Brown who sits on the boards of the Labour Women’s Network, the Holocaust Educational Trust (founded by the controversial Greville Janner) and the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust.
The group’s offices are headquartered at Langley House, East Finchley, London. The main spokesman for the CCDH is the CEO Imran Ahmed, who co-authored the book The New Serfdom: The Triumph of Conservative Ideas and How to Defeat Them with Labour MP Angela Eagle and works as a political advisor to Labour MP Hilary Benn. Another prominent spokesperson is Linda Papadopoulos, a Canadian pop psychologist. The CCDH has attracted a number of celebrity ambassadors such as Sadiq Khan (the Labour Party’s mayor of London), Rachel Riley, Gary Lineker and Eddie Izzard. According to their own website, the CCDH organisation has also been endorsed by other political individuals and groups such as Nick Lowles of Hope not Hate, Fiyaz Mughal of Tell MAMA and Sara Khan of the Commission for Countering Extremism (set up by Theresa May in the aftermath of the 2017 Manchester Arena bombing).
“Don’t Feed the Trolls“
The CCDH first garnered media attention by publishing a 12-page pamplet “Don’t Feed the Trolls: How to Deal with Hate on Social Media” in 2019, signed by the CCDH’s CEO Imran Ahmed and the Canadian pop psychologist Linda Papadopoulos. According to the pamphlet, aside from Ahmed and Papadopoulos, the following individuals were also involved in the writing of the report; Morgan McSweeney, Siobhan McAndrew, Rachel Riley, Dave Rich (of the Jewish lobby group, the Community Security Trust), Dr. Daniel Allington (of King’s College London, prominently associated with discourse on antisemitism in the UK Labour Party), Simon Clark (of the Center for American Progress), Euan Neill (of the Commission for Countering Extremism), Randeep Ramesh (of The Guardian), Hannah O’Rourke (of Labour Together and former intern to Labour MP Tristram Hunt), Will Somerville (of the Migration Policy Institute, a Washington DC-based pro-immigration lobby group), Dr. Kate Ferguson (of Protection Approaches, an NGO which focuses on “identity-based violence and mass atrocity crimes”), Dr. Robert Ford (of the University of Manchester) and Jonathan Sebire (of Signify, which has portrayed the rise of populism and Brexit as the result of “subversion by social media”).
The central thesis of the “Don’t Feed the Trolls” pamphlet is that what the CCDH describes as internet trolls operate through manipulating social media algorithms and if a tweet or Facebook post receives engagement (whether positive or negative) then it is seen by a wider audience, particularly if the feedback is from a high profile account. The pamphlet advises those who are on the receiving end of the messages not to respond, block the user, do not hightlight being targeted and take time off social media. The pamphlet cited as ideological inspiration the works of several American-based sociologists, psychologists and political thinkers, including Cass Sunstein‘s Going to Extremes: How Like Minds Unite and Divide (2009) and On Rumors: How Falsehoods Spread, Why We Believe Them, What Can Be Done (2011), Jonathan Haidt‘s The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion (2012), George Lakoff‘s Don’t Think of an Elephant! Know Your Values and Frame the Debate: The Essential Guide for Progressives (2004) and Nancy Rosenblum‘s A Lot of People Are Saying: The New Conspiricism and the Assault on Democracy (2019).
The CCDH published a report demanding internet wide censorship against promienent British conspiracy theorist, David Icke in May 2020. The organisation entitled their 25-page pamphlet “#Deplatformicke: How Big Tech powers and profits from David Icke’s lies and hate, and why it must stop“. There was a significant crossover in authorship between it and the previous “Don’t Feed the Trolls” writing. Those listed as having contributing include the aforementioned Imran Ahmed, Linda Papadopolous, Daniel Allington, Robert Ford, Siobhan McAndrew and Jonathan Sebire. Individuals involved in the creation of the previous pamplet also publically pushed for the censorship of Icke citing the #DeplatformIcke writing; this included Rachel Riley and Dave Rich of the Community Security Trust.