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June 18, 2022

SAFE BET: Seeking help.
NOT FIT: You have been warned.

IMAGINE you are a chronic addict desperately seeking the address and time of the nearest meeting of Gambling Addicts Anonymous to start recovery at a nearby venue by putting that term into a search engine at a Cardiff Library computer.

Overzealous internet regulators at Cardiff City Council – just like many councils and governments across the country – have built in trigger word safety blocks on their public and work computers (effectively a parental filter for children to “keep them safe” though few seem, to me, quite as authoritarian as Cardiff’s) which prevent users from gambling, buying or selling drugs and viewing pornography.

But these trigger word safety blocks also – paradoxically – either actively do or have the potential to prevent users from accessing help in the form of therapy, self-help and 12 Step groups for the addictions they may be facing. If they were suicidal, they would not be able to access details of helplines or talking therapies, either, if the word “suicide”, for instance, is one of their trigger words. There is no doubt in my mind that the commissioning and buying of new books which you can borrow at public libraries is being led by a woke agenda (shelves heaving under the weight of massive tomes on inclusivity, multiculturalism and diversity strategies written by black lesbians but very few on great British historical military victories written by pale male and stale academics).

This is one of the bizarre consequences (including not being able to access a review of the Spike Lee film BlacKKKlansman to help me decide whether or not to see it in a nearby cinema because KKK is a political trigger sequence of letters considered unfit for users of Cardiff Library by the powers at county hall who fear it may influence us to buy white capes and join the Bedwellty branch of the Ku Klux Klan) of an overzealous internet regulator babysitting you like an infant possibly not realising that by applying blanket blocks on all material relating to these trigger words they are also blocking access to possible therapeutic remedies to help you address and talk about an addiction, tendency to self harm or some other personal problem plaguing you.

The current UK government’s “world-first” (why do I always wince inwardly when I read those words?) Online Safety Bill sets out on a similar mission with a particularly prim and proper, virtuous, morally righteous and devout babysitter’s mien (“Don’t worry Mr and Mrs Humanity, the children will be safe with me and I’ll make sure they get to bed early ready for school in the morning”) to protect us mere mortals from “harm” and “hate”.

Suppose you did not have a computer and/or mobile phone of your own and could only access computers at Cardiff Library, as is the case for many of the city’s homeless people, then you would become conditioned to entirely accept trigger word blocks and over time come to see them as perfectly normal and the internet as a parentally controlled “safe space” as of routine because no alternative is available to you. Your use of words in what you write, too, will be radically different because you would know that certain trigger words may be blocked and could mean your blog, for instance, would be blocked. You would, in effect, be conditioned into an online world of censorship and blocking and grow to see it as normal and everyday.

Cardiff Council will consider your request, if you put it in writing officially via a tortuous intensely unresponsive bureaucratic route, to lift one or more of their blocks if you consider one or more unfair or you feel they have made a mistake and unfairly judged something unsuitable. Don’t forget, either, that internet sites which, for instance, contain the letters KKK in the title or feature these letters in one of the posts on, say, a blog like mine can also be blocked by Cardiff Council within this probably algorithmically AI generated programme inbuilt into their digital system and if you write something on, say, addiction to internet gambling sites in one of your posts and mention, say, a widely used and popular bookmaking site, then your blog could be blocked by the council on the grounds that it promotes gambling when you have, in fact, written critical comments about internet gambling but given access to or included the address of a specific gambling site (I noted once that this site was blocked on these grounds and in order to appeal I would have had to deny being an active promoter of bookmaking or gambling).

This entirely paradoxical, illogical, heavy-handed proactive censorship and draconian blocking of material, not at all reactive or interactive, is THE nightmare vision of the future and THE most worryingly frightening consequence of an “internet police” reporting to Ofcom with greater powers to censor and block under the Online Safety Bill.

Your only hope of challenging it is through an unwieldy administrative process led entirely by county hall digital gurus who, ultimately, decide what you can and cannot see, lifting the block only if and when you can make a convincing case for doing so and there is no saying how long that process may take.

This is rather like a police which routinely blocks you from doing things in the hope that being blocked will become routine and normalised so accepted by you as you become meeker and meeker (wasn’t that what happened during lockdown?). They ban you first then review it later if anyone objects, not the more natural and rational truly libertarian and mature alternative approach which, historically, liberal and evolved mature societies like ours confident in their trust in each other and in our responsible and mature autonomy and agency routinely and normally only ever blocked things only if people complained about them or made a case to block.

TV puritan Mary Whitehouse – who campaigned against “filth” on our screens in the seventies to turn all entertainment beamed into our living rooms into “family-friendly” church congregations or prayer meetings by enthusiastically blocking sex and swearing – is now discredited and mocked by this generation but, bizarrely, she would greatly approve of the Online Safety Bill because it appears to me to actively embrace some of her theories about how people need to be protected by parental blocks and censors to prevent “filth” and degenerate influences.

This is a disturbing and distressing shift towards fascism and it appears, to me, to be being led by radical feminist Foucauldian permissive trans, eco, BLM neo-Marxists who would have opposed Mary Whitehouse’s Biblical conservative family values which would certainly have branded trans activism, for instance, as offensive both to science and religion yet now are queuing up to take offence themselves at slight slights and tepid trespasses by naming innocuous language “hate speech”.

We enjoy apparently increasing freedom, autonomy and individual agency on devices which are our personal property and can set our own filters which our internet service providers specifically engaged commercially in the open market by us with a contract we sign agreeing to pay them regular payments for a defined period of time are legally mandated to keep private and between us and them though this, under the Online Safety Bill, in my estimation, will radically alter for reasons which I cannot see are fair.

There is no autonomy and freedom on public and employer computers for you to do so, however, because the employer and the council or the government own the devices and set the filters.

Welsh government closed all libraries during the COVID-19 pandemic but they are now open to the public with fewer actual computers and new rules limiting you to three hours at a terminal per day when previously it was 20 hours per week with no daily limit. At Cardiff Library, the one hour limit is applied unless you first arrange with a member of staff to set it for three hours and you have to save your work and log on again after each hour. Camden Council in London allows four hours per day and warns you after 45 minutes that your time will end in 15 minutes then offers you the opportunity of extending by another hour (conveniently saving you from having to save your work and log off) by simply clicking a box on the screen.

I pointed this out to James Gorwill, systems librarian at Cardiff Library on Thursday, and asked him if they could arrange for a similar system. He thanked me for what he called my “feedback” and I now wait to see.

Public bodies are now in the habit of calling all public contributions “feedback” as if we are part of one workforce all working together with identical aims (DEFINITELY NOT). This reached its ludicrous zenith when the National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth recently responded to an e-mail query to confirm my fear that access to many records and documents using a remote online account is considerably less comprehensive and generous than if you physically go there in person (not easy with road and rail links so poor). I was then issued with an e-mail written only in Welsh as if it were the dominant language when it most certainly is not asking me to rate from one to ten the response they had given me. It was a routine minor administrative task, for God’s sake, what is there to rate?

The reduction in the number of computer terminals (which has probably prompted the change in rules) was one measure imposed under health and safety emergency powers to maintain social distance and limit public gathering and proximity by Welsh government. It also enabled them to hold a bizarre election in 2019 while presenting to voters as their personal saviours and protectors under extraordinary circumstances which prevented some candidates from actually visiting people on doorsteps and others to mingle at political rallies or gatherings. This was positively and sinisterly undemocratic and has convinced me that my vote is merely an illusion of accountability and democracy in a country languishing in a permanent unchallenged, unconditional one party stasis.

This story taken from the rampantly Welsh nationalist and Welsh language weaponising so-called “newspaper” The Nation, a Gwynedd-based propaganda platform masquerading as a journalistic outlet by purporting to be “by the people of Wales for the people of Wales” (extreme hard-left Yes Cymru activist people for extreme hard-left Yes Cymru activist people many of whom – such as, famously, Bangor’s genderqueer former Mayor Owen Hurcum were not born in Wales but moved here and is quitting to move back to his native England bizarrely was the main option on a Google search. The Welsh Conservatives were trying to eliminate voter fraud by clamping down on who can actually vote but the prevailing Welsh Labour Plaid orthodoxy backed, it appears, by the Electoral Reform Society, is opposed to such moves mainly because it would deny them many votes and have the potential to end the stasis.

Welsh Government must stand up to ‘undemocratic’ mandatory voter ID plans, campaigners say

Crucially, many of these health and safety measures remain in force and, in my opinion, will remain as part of a strict, inhuman regime imposed under emergency powers – even though we are no longer in an emergency – but which, also, has enabled public services (where customer service and personal accountability in commercial settings are never prioritised) staffed by protected unionised public service employees such as library staff to work from home with public buildings closed or open for shorter hours and the services they offer severely curtailed.

My opinion is that public sector cutbacks have been partly explained, excused and justified by a health and safety emergency which was deliberately disproportionately magnified to excuse poorer public services with less buses running fewer routes, shorter office hours at libraries, town halls and civic centres and fewer staff available face-to-face to discuss queries.

This reached its climax during the height of the pandemic when Newport City Council had only one employee remotely answering all telephone calls meaning that the vast majority of calls were never answered. This, I believe, remains the case in too many NHS and public sector settings and, alarmingly, has impacted emergency calls and services.

If you want to block “adult content” on your own device you can but the council, the government and your employer, however, will block it for you automatically because they impose upon you their taste and judgement about what constitutes “harm” and “hate” based upon the prevailing political mantras, world-views and philosophies currently in vogue.

The sinister dangers of the Online Safety Bill are manifold and insidious but they all start with the assumption that an interest in the letters KKK in and of itself renders you obviously a racist bigot and attempts to establish malign motives for curiosity and open, engaged investigation and inquiry.

Our internet titans – platforms like You Tube and many others – are being encouraged by the government to do something similar working on the basis that you DO NOT give the public access to everything and anything then let them decide what is “harm” and “hate” for themselves but instead decide first and prevent access to things.

And the consequence of this heavy-handed pro-active blocking and censorship on some public computers in Wales by government-employed digital safety gurus includes self-help and recovery platforms with vital lifelines in the form of meetings which might offer recovery and rehabilitation routes out of deep despair being actively blocked.

The Free Speech Union, which I am a member of, is fighting to protect our rights as citizens against entirely paradoxical, illogical, heavy-handed proactive censorship and draconian blocking like this.

Two factors are uppermost:

1, Who and how will whoever decides differentiate between “regulated” mainstream journalism and what are called citizen journalists and bloggers (Lady Dorrian jailed Craig Murray for covering the Alex Salmond trial in Scotland because he was not regulated. Will the Online Safety Bill do the same?) .

2, Who and how will whoever decides differentiate between “harmful” content like, debatably, pornographic sites, and therapeutic ones which might feature explicit nudity but lead people to helplines and therapeutic resources?

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