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Warning: sharing a spiked article could get you in trouble with the government

An explosive new report reveals that the British state waged a sinister surveillance campaign against critics of lockdown.

Fraser Myers

Fraser Myers
Deputy editor

Topics Covid-19 Free Speech Politics UK

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The Covid lockdowns of 2020 and 2021 were an unprecedented assault on liberty – not only on our freedom to go about our daily lives, but also on our freedom of expression and our freedom to dissent. Just as we were ordered to ‘stay at home’ for months on end, we were also told to stop asking questions about the draconian restrictions.

Today, a report by Big Brother Watch has revealed the alarming lengths the UK government went to in order to hush up its critics. We now know that three government bodies, including a shady Ministry of Defence unit tasked with fighting ‘information warfare’, surveilled and monitored UK citizens, public figures and media outlets who criticised the lockdown – and spiked was caught up in that net.

This mini Ministry of Truth was composed of the Rapid Response Unit (RRU) in the Cabinet Office, the Counter Disinformation Unit (CDU) in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the army’s 77th Brigade. The 77th Brigade exists to monitor and counter so-called disinformation being spread by adversarial foreign powers. But, as a whistleblower from the unit told Big Brother Watch, ‘the banner of disinformation was a guise under which the British military was being deployed to monitor and flag our own concerned citizens’. The other bodies worked together to monitor ‘harmful narratives online’ and to push back on them, by promoting government lines in the press and by flagging posts to social-media companies in order to have them removed.

The public figures targeted by these shadowy units included Conservative MP David Davis, Lockdown Sceptics founder Toby Young, talkRADIO’s Julia Hartley-Brewer and Mail on Sunday columnist Peter Hitchens. All of whom had warned about the consequences of lockdown and had raised questions about the UK government’s alarmist modelling of the virus.

Documents obtained by Big Brother Watch, using subject-access requests, reveal that Peter Hitchens was flagged for, among other things, sharing a spiked article. A cross-Whitehall disinformation report from the RRU in June 2020 notes that, ‘The spiked article was shared on Twitter by Peter Hitchens, which led to renewed engagement on that specific platform’. The RRU also monitored the level of public agreement, noting that ‘some highly engaged comments’ agreed with the article, while others were critical.

What this amounts to is a sinister campaign of surveillance and censorship against the critics of lockdown. From the moment the government shut down society in spring 2020 it also tried its best to shut down debate and dissent. Anyone who raised concerns about lockdown’s impact on our liberties, our health or our economy was treated as a public-health hazard – as the enemy within.

We desperately need a reckoning with lockdown, and with the lockdown on dissent that accompanied it.

Fraser Myers is deputy editor at spiked and host of the spiked podcast. Follow him on Twitter: @FraserMyers

Picture by: Getty.

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

Topics Covid-19 Free Speech Politics UK

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