Some Notes On “Cancel Culture”

Toby Young’s Free Speech Union pronounces on Wiley, a musician now primarily famous for conspiratorial anti-semitic rhetoric on social media:

Wiley’s comments on Twitter and Instagram were clearly anti-Semitic. However, he should be given the chance to listen to the opposing view, retract his comments and apologise. Everyone makes mistakes.

It is disproportionate for a person to lose their career merely for expressing an opinion, however unsavoury and offensive.

The FSU opinion was embedded in a graphic Tweeted by Young and also expressed on the FSU Facebook page and Twitter feed. However, the statement has now been deleted, as far as I can see without explanation.

Perhaps the above remains the FSU view, but they don’t wish to say so publicly anymore for some reason; or perhaps they have changed their mind and now believe that Wiley does indeed deserve to lose his career as a result of his opinions after all. Most likely, though, is that the FSU realised that the statement amounted to an incoherent cop-out: if Wiley ought not lose his career as a point of principle, why then does he need to “retract his comments and apologise”? The real sentiment appears to be that “It is disproportionate for a person to lose their career merely for refusing to apologise for an obnoxious opinion”.

The FSU was created by Young after he was obliged in 2018 to step down from a role with the Office for Students, the higher education regulator, following controversy over a history of coarse comments and trolling on Twitter. Young’s pensées (now mostly deleted) included lascivious observations about breasts and a joke about having his “dick” up a woman’s “arse”, and he also replied to a random member of the public who had said that she was upset by a television scene of poverty in Africa with a joke suggesting that he was using the same material for masturbatory purposes.

Since that time, Young has been on a crusade against a trend that has now been crystallised under the term “cancel culture”, a phrase that supposedly indicates a particular brand of progressive intolerance but which actually denotes a perennial phenomenon that has now been democratised by social media. Consequential censure over (alleged) behaviour or opinions is hardly new; the mass media have been doing it since the cancelling of Roscoe Arbuckle (perhaps earlier). The difference now is that newspapers are no longer the gatekeepers, although they retain some control over how social media expressions of outrage are framed. Thus depending on the target, some social media censure will be amplified as being popular expressions of righteous anger and moral disgust, while others will be derided as the effusions of “vile trolls” (who themselves deserve to be exposed and cancelled).

As such, I’m not convinced there is “a new set of moral attitudes and political commitments that tend to weaken our norms of open debate”, as claimed by the authors of the famous recent letter published by Harper’s. Rather, there’s a new set of media platforms open to all within a context of heightened consumer choice and leverage, as well as the easy availability online of private personal information. The issue, then, is structural, with social media and the internet providing new opportunities for a wider range of bad-faith actors to weaponise the self-righteousness of crowds. At the same time, though, other bad-faith actors, some of whom have profited from an online outrage economy, would like nothing more than to stigmatise accountability as totalitarian “cancelling”.

People need to take seriously the importance of looking into an allegation critically before they decide whether or how to amplify it. And they should ask themselves whether their keenness to denounce someone as part of a popular “pile on” is matched by a willingness to take a less easy stand against a false allegation. They should also maintain a sense of proportionality, particularly when a non-celebrity faces censure; progressives perhaps more than anyone ought to be wary of creating a climate in which bosses police their employees’ social media output. There should be natural scepticism and caution when gratuitous personal intrusion is involved, or when the person leading the charge appears to be exulting in their power to inflict personal destruction. These, I think, are the “moral attitudes” that are required for a reasonable way forward.

Celebrities Drop Libel Action Two Months After Media Report They Had Won “First Round”

From the Evening Standard:

TV stars Rachel Riley and Tracy-Ann Oberman have dropped a High Court libel claim against a barrister over a Twitter post and agreed to pay some of her legal costs… Jane Heybroek was sued after she retweeted a link to a blog in January last year.

…The law firm representing Countdown star Ms Riley and actress Ms Oberman said in a statement: “Tracy Ann Oberman and Rachel Riley chose not to proceed further after the Judge had determined that the opinion expressed was capable of being defamatory, in circumstances where Jayne Heybroek claimed that she had promptly deleted her Tweet.

“Their libel insurers did not see any advantage in pursuing a case over the liability of a retweet that was deleted so quickly and therefore paid a very modest sum.

“Regrettably the defamatory tweeter lives in South America and has no visible assets. There are bigger fish to fry, in the pursuit of those who choose to maintain a serious libel.”

Heybroek’s legal bill was apparently £65,000, so is unlikely to have been covered by the “very modest sum”.

The law firm was Patron Law, and Oberman and Riley were represented by Mark Lewis. Lewis had previously told the media that he was preparing “legal action against up to 70 individuals for tweets relating to [Oberman and Riley’s] campaign against antisemitism”, and with this context in mind some social media users inferred that Heybroek must have RTed anti-semitic content. However, the complaint was actually about Heybroek having RTed a link to a webpage that contained scathing and accusatory commentary about Oberman and Riley’s online interactions with a third party, including allegations about their intentions and the supposed consequences of their actions.

Heybroek, who is a Buddhist (“self-confessed”, as oddly described by Mail Online), denies any anti-semitic motivation, and such a claim was not part of the case. It is of course possible to criticise how someone is allegedly conducting a campaign against some social evil without therefore being in sympathy with that evil.

The judge’s determination “that the opinion expressed was capable of being defamatory” was reported in May under the headline “Rachel Riley and Tracy-Ann Oberman win first round of High Court libel battle”. This gave the misleading impression that their case had been shown to be self-evidently strong and was now proceeding towards near-certain victory. However, Heybroek was quoted as saying that she was “satisfied with the outcome of this hearing as it has removed some of the more hyperbolic contentions being made”, which is hardly consistent with such a headline. The “win” simply meant that that the hearing had found the case was not so trivial that it should be thrown out without a trial, but that was never a likely prospect. Legal Futures reported in more detail at the time, and the full ruling can be read here.

It is not clear from the statement quoted by the Evening Standard why the extent of “the liability of a retweet that was deleted so quickly” was not determined by the libel insurers earlier than now.

As it happens, I have seen Mark Lewis in person a couple of times. One occasion was in a pub called Penderel’s Oak in Holborn, London, on 16 May 2013, at a party organised by the Libel Reform Campaign to celebrate the passing of the Defamation Act 2013. The event marked the success of what they described as a four-year campaign “to reform the repressive, centuries-old libel laws”. Lewis had defended a cardiologist named Dr Peter Wilmshurst in a case brought by a US medical device company.

Lewis also represents now John Ware, as discussed here.

(Some links above H/T Tim at Zelo Street)

A Note on “48 Hours of Silence”

From the BBC News, on Monday morning:

A 48-hour boycott of Twitter by some of its users, protesting at the platform’s alleged lack of action on anti-Semitism has begun.

It was triggered by the actions of grime music artist Wiley, who shared several posts on Twitter on Friday.

Some of the tweets were deleted, but Twitter was criticised for taking time to act and leaving some tweets up.

…Those taking part in the boycott include MPs David Lammy and Rosena Allin-Khan, singer Sophie Ellis-Bextor, actor Jason Isaacs, broadcasters Rachel Riley and Maajid Nawaz, Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, and entrepreneur Lord Sugar.

Ordinary users of the platform were also exhorted to participate in the “48 hours of silence”. As far as I can see, no-one chose to actually deactivate their account for the duration.

I doubt that anyone much would notice or care whether or not I’m Tweeting, and I had some misgivings about this particular form of protest. However, some users I respect were participating, and I’m in general agreement that Twitter ought to do more to remove hateful content, and so I decided to go along with the effort by declining to Tweet – although I did keep an eye on what was being posted.

As a one-off, I hope the protest has some impact, although a boycott that has an end date before demands are met is obviously no more than a symbolic gesture. It is not, though, an exercise I would be inclined to repeat. The fact is that Twitter is now the global public square, and if good faith users absent themselves, then bad actors (including elements in the mainstream media) will fill the vacuum with trash (of course, some bad actors also took part in the boycott for show, but that’s always the case with any issue). The only weapon against most of this is the circulation and amplification of good information.

Also, some people go on Twitter for personal support, writing or speaking about their health struggles, bereavements, or other problems, and it’s a hard thing if they are denied words of encouragement from a wider community. It also seems to me invidious that high-profile professional commentators should continue to enjoy media amplification through broadcasting and the press while ordinary people are asked to forego using the most far-reaching social media platform to talk about current affairs.

Of course, Twitter has to balance its dual role of communications infrastructure and publishing platform, and it will always be open to criticism. Not so long ago Twitter was being accused of overzealousness, and last month a number of British conservatives protested against this by establishing accounts on Parler – a rival platform that takes a rather more laissez faire attitude to hateful content as a matter of principle.

Former Sun Political Editor Still Being Challenged On Deleted “Hijacked Labour” Story

An aggrieved exchange on Twitter between former political editor at the Sun Tom Newton Dunn and Jacobin magazine’s Dawn Foster, after Newton Dunn commented on a complaint by Jess Phillips MP about a fake screenshot doing the rounds:

Newton Dunn: This wouldn’t happen if @Twitter took responsibility for its content, like broadcast, print and digital media must.

Dawn Foster: Is that why your article republishing the antisemitic and racist “Hijacked Labour” interactive was taken down?

Newton Dunn: You really don’t know what you’re talking about Dawn. Thought you knew better than to repeat untrue slurs.

Newton Dunn’s complaint was met by onlookers with howls of incredulity, with users posting screenshots of the deleted Sun article from December.

The article, headlined “Hijacked Labour: Ex-British intelligence officers say Jeremy Corbyn is at the centre of a hard-left extremist network”, was about a interactive online chart that purported to show discreditable connections between a vast number of people, including left-wing activists actually opposed to Jeremy Corbyn and weird “guilt-by-association” links that brought in the likes of the actor Matt Berry. Dawn Foster was one of those whose name was included. The links were so diffuse and random that it was useless for any kind of analysis, and anyone with a half-decent crank radar would have disregarded it after a moment’s perusal. The Sun, however, judged that it might influence the election, and so Tom Newton Dunn ran a piece about it, including a low-resolution screenshot that could not be scrutinised.

What did for the scoop was that the chart also contained annotations about a number of those featured on it, directing readers to links and further reading. Many of these were innocuous, but among them were links to the neo-Nazi Aryan Unity website and to an antisemitic conspiracy site called the Millennium Report. Suddenly realising that we could now make a similar chart of our own that would link the Sun with the far-right with just one degree of separation, the decision was taken to pull the article.

Clearly, though, the episode is not going to go away – an account of it even features prominently on Newton Dunn’s Wikipedia entry, although he’s tried to have it suppressed, calling it a “falsehood”. But without a corrective, complaining that critics don’t know what they are talking about is simply obfuscation. My advice would be for Newton Dunn to provide a full account. How did the “Hijacked Labour” website come to his attention? Was he aware that the material had just previously been hosted on a website called “Traitors’ Chart” (moved across just days before the Sun story was published, and references to it elsewhere deleted, probably to conceal a provenance trail)? And did he check out the claim that the chart was indeed the work of “ex-British intelligence officers”?

On this last point, we know that the definition was stretched: Newton Dunn presented as the spokesperson for the chart a man named Mark Bles, who was formerly in the SAS. The SAS, though, is not an intelligence agency. How did Newton Dunn confirm the credentials or even existence of Bles’s collaborators? For all we know, Bles may have been taken in by fantasists and grifters. (1)

Some time ago, the Sun ran a bogus front-page splash claiming that Alan Sugar was the target of an Islamist conspiracy; when the paper was forced to acknowledge it had been taken in by false information it ran an piece about its source, which deflected some of the blame. Something similar may be Newton Dunn’s best bet.

As well as the deletion of the Sun story, the “Hijacked Labour” website also itself deleted the chart, I believe to avoid ongoing scrutiny and perhaps legal problems. It was replaced with the following message:

The Hijacked Labour Network has been taken down for rebuilding to reflect changes in the Labour Party following the 2019 UK General Election. The Network shall be republished in the first quarter of 2020 as an open project. We thank the many people who have commented upon its contents and especially those who have suggested more details and personalities for inclusion.

I noted this on Twitter last month, writing:

The true authors of the conspiracy chart promoted by Tom Newton-Dunn at the Sun remain in the shadows, although clues are out there. Their promise to have created an updated chart by now after withdrawing their earlier version has failed to materialise.

Days later, the website notice changed:

The Hijacked Labour Network has been taken down for now following the 2019 UK General Election and the installing of Sir Keir Starmer as Labour Party leader. The Network has now done its job, most satisfactorily. We thank the many people who have commented upon its contents and especially those who have added to the Network by reacting to it and via tip-offs.

The timing of this amendment indicates that the website’s creators are even now keeping an eye on what is being said about them.

UPDATE: As I noted previously, the chart had one high-profile supporter in the person of Giles Udy, author of Labour and the Gulag: Russia and the Seduction of the British Left. on Twitter, Udy described the chart as “one of the most significant pieces of research I’ve seen for a while”, and the Tweet was apparently still online on 2 July, when it was referred to scathingly by Daniel Finn, a writer for Jacobin. However, Udy has since deleted it.


(1) I made a complaint to IPSO about this; their response was that SAS members may do “covert intelligence gathering”, and therefore the headline was not misleading. They also rejected my objection to the reference to “intelligence officers” in the plural, although their reasoning was incoherent – they pretended to believe that my complaint was instead about the reference to Corbyn in the headline and so was covered by “say”.

Of course, even if ex-intelligence agents were involved, we should ask why they are “former” rather than simply assume that that their ex-jobs indicate exceptional competence and access to privileged information.

A Note on John Ware, the Media and Libel

From John Ware, in the Daily Mail:

There’s an unwritten code that says we journalists should never sue – because however offensive or defamatory criticism of our journalism may be, we hold free speech sacrosanct.

But on much of the internet, basic standards of accuracy and fairness have disappeared. Political and media ‘activists’ often fabricate facts, disregard truths and tell lies. At the moment, they get away with it.

Unlike journalists in the mainstream media, they are not held to account by professional bodies or even by the law of libel. And it is having a corrupting effect on the way we communicate with each other.

…They seem to think that using a blog or Twitter to brand someone a ‘rogue journalist’ or a ‘liar’ or fundamentally dishonest is somehow OK.

But it is not OK – and I hope the success of my proceedings against them will encourage them to think before they blog.

Ware has also written a similar piece for the Jewish ChronicleThe headline of the Daily Mail article refers to “Labour’s vile attack dogs”, the word “vile” being the traditional tabloid epithet for uncivil social media comments of which they disapprove.

As has been widely reported, the Labour Party recently agreed to make an out-of-court libel settlement to Ware and others after having attacked a BBC Panorama documentary about allegations of antisemitism in the party. The decision to settle was made by new party leader Keir Starmer – it was criticised by his predecessor Jeremy Corbyn, and Ware is apparently of the view that Corbyn’s opinion is itself also libellous.

Ware’s citation of the term “rogue journalist” in the above appears to be a reference to an pamphlet critical of the documentary published online by Paddy French, a former ITV Wales journalist who now runs the Press Gang website. I’ve read it, and it makes several references to “rogue journalism” (the personalised form “rogue journalist”, though, does not appear). According to French, Ware is seeking £50,000 in damages, and the case will be heard in the autumn. He is asking for donations to a defence fund.

Without endorsing the pamphlet’s contents, I saw nothing that suggested to me that it was written in bad faith, and as such it seems to me that Ware would do better by answering it point by point rather than taking the matter to court. Perhaps the term “rogue” itself is the point of contention, but while the descriptor is derogatory it doesn’t really mean anything specific. French is being represented by Bindman’s, a firm I can recommend. (1)

On Ware’s more general point, there is certainly a lot of nonsense published by “alternative media”, some of it malicious and some of it dumped online by bad actors who want to undermine and neutralise the mainstream media for their own propaganda reasons. There are also many social media “commentators” who are very ready dismiss a story published by a mainstream outlet out-of-hand based on a preconception about bias or ownership – a lazy approach I hope I’ve always avoided despite having strong criticisms about particular stories and their authors. In my view, overarching theories of MSM bad faith are no substitute for critical engagement with the details presented in a particular story, and such theories fail to acknowledge checks and balances within journalistic processes.

Having said that, though, there are stories and journalists in the mainstream media that are “fundamentally dishonest”, as well as biases and vested interests that tip over from commitment to a particular perspective into a tendency to distort. Sensationalism remains an important part of the business model, especially in the age of clickbait. As such, we should should be wary of rhetoric that tends towards the wholesale delegitimisation of anyone outside the industry who makes substantive criticism that touches on journalistic integrity.

Imagine where this could lead: the logical endpoint would be that if you dispute how you are presented in a news story or a reject a quote attributed to you, then the journalist could say “you are calling me a liar” and sue you. You would then have to prove that you had been misrepresented, while facing the prospect of ruinous costs.


(1) Ware is being represented by Mark Lewis, who came to public prominence a few years ago representing phone-hacking victims, most notably the family of Milly Dowler,  and he takes credit for having “closed down the News of the World”. He also famously represented Jack Monroe against Katie Hopkins, who had mistaken Monroe for someone else in online comments (Hopkins could have apologised and settled for a nominal amount, but decided it was more on-brand to dig in). For a time he was associated with the press reform group Hacked Off!, but he publicly broke with them in June last year. His allegation is that “they use genuine victims” of press misconduct, although there was no indication that he was speaking out on behalf of anyone in particular.

In 2018 Lewis was fined by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal for sending “sending offensive and profane messages to users on Twitter and Facebook”; however, the tribunal accepted in mitigation that he was responding to users who had been abusing him, and that his judgement at the time was impaired by medication.

Telegraph and Spectator Mislead on Parliament Committee’s Russia Report

From the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament’s Russia Report:

There have been widespread public allegations that Russia sought to influence the 2016 referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU. The impact of any such attempts would be difficult – if not impossible – to assess, and we have not sought to do so. However, it is important to establish whether a hostile state took deliberate action with the aim of influencing a UK democratic process, irrespective of whether it was successful or not.

This amounts to a common-sense general observation, rather than some specialist “intelligence” assessment based on privileged information. Despite this obvious context, though, it has suited the purposes of some media outlets to extract the first two sentences and present the report to the public as some sort of intelligence service finding that demonstrates that there was no Russian attempt to influence the Brexit vote, or, if there was such an attempt, of necessity it can never be detected.

Thus the front page of the Daily Telegraph announced that “Long-awaited report… says there was no influence on Brexit”, while Brendan O’Neill at the Spectator‘s interpretation was that

There is still no hard evidence that Russia interfered in the EU referendum. What’s more, it would be ‘difficult — if not impossible — to prove’ the existence of Russian meddling… The quote… comes from the Intelligence and Security Committee’s long-awaited Russia report, published this morning.

It is difficult to accept that this misreading is in good faith: the Report makes it clear that evidence pertaining to the “existence of Russian meddling” has not been sought, but that an attempt should be made to “establish” whether or not it occurred. What cannot be determined, though, is the effect of such action. This is true of a great deal of advertising and political messaging, and in the case of Brexit the way people chose to vote (or not) was determined by a wide range of factors. The theory that “Russia” explains what happened is clearly excessive, but there is no need to rule out the possibility of any influence whatsoever.

O’Neill’s position is ideological – the possibility of Russian influence is a “conspiracy theory”, and the success of the Brexit vote can be explained simply in terms of a virtuous majority who dislike the European Union in principle, in contrast to a “Remainer elite”.

For the Telegraph, in contrast, there is also a political imperative – thus the article’s headline and lede are that

Russia ‘tried to meddle in Scottish Vote’

Russia tried to ‘influence’ the result of the Scottish independence referendum but not the Brexit vote…

The basis for this is a section in the Committee’s report which notes “There has been credible open source commentary suggesting that Russia undertook influence campaigns in relation to the Scottish independence referendum in 2014”. However, this is mentioned as a reason for why the EU referendum should be looked at as well, not as a contrast to it, as misrepresented by the Telegraph.

The Scottish Conservative MSP Murdo Fraser is now calling for “a full inquiry into ongoing Russian interference in Scottish politics”, although he has not (as far as I know) expressed any related criticism of Boris Johnson for suppressing the Committee Report for so long, nor has he delved into the “open source commentary” that the Report cites, and which shows that this isn’t even a new story: it refers readers to “the study by Ben Nimmo – #ElectionWatch: Scottish Vote, Pro-Kremlin Trolls, 12 December 2017.”

Another “look over there!” allegation of Russian interference was made by Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab as a spoiler ahead of the report’s publication. This concerned trade negotiation documents that were leaked online last summer – the Telegraph ran an article based on them in August, and they did the rounds online for a few months before the Labour Party decided to make them a discussion point ahead of the December election. At this point the Telegraph hypocritically accused Labour of benefiting from a Russian leak, and Raab’s intervention was simply a resurrection of the same story. I discussed this a couple of days ago.


It appears that O’Neill’s quote is actually from a press release that was published alongside the Report itself, which is why he has “proved” rather than “assessed”. Either way, though, there is no excuse for his misreading of the wider argument:

The actual impact of such attempts on the result itself would be difficult – if not impossible – to prove. However what is clear is that the Government was slow to recognise the existence of the threat – only understanding it after the ‘hack and leak’ operation against the Democratic National Committee, when it should have been seen as early as 2014. As a result the Government did not take action to protect the UK’s process in 2016. The Committee has not been provided with any post-referendum assessment – in stark contrast to the US response to reports of interference in the 2016 presidential election. In our view there must be an analogous assessment of Russian interference in the EU referendum.

Dominic Raab Plays the Media on Labour, Russia and Leaked Trade Documents

From the Daily Telegraph:

Russians ‘played Jeremy Corbyn as a useful idiot’ to publicise classified documents

The former Labour Party leader presented the trade documents during an election rally last year

Jeremy Corbyn was unwittingly used as a “useful idiot”, a leading international affairs think tank has claimed after the Government said it was “almost certain” Russians attempted to interfere in last year’s election.

The former Labour leader was facing a fresh backlash on Thursday night over his decision to promote classified UK-US trade documents as evidence that the Conservatives were seeking to “sell off” the NHS.

In a statement released on Thursday, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab revealed that the Government had concluded that “Russian actors” had tried to “amplify” the papers after they were “illicitly acquired” and later posted on the website Reddit.

The headline references to “useful idiots” are sourced to “Keir Giles, a senior consulting fellow at Chatham House” (despite the lede, there’s no indication that he’s speaking here as a representative of the think tank) and Tom Tugendhat MP.

The implication appears to be that unless we are 100% sure that documents of public interest have not been leaked with the assistance of a foreign power then we should all pretend that that we don’t know they exist. However, that was certainly not the attitude of the Daily Telegraph when the paper ran a business story based on what we may assume were same set of documents a year ago, headlined “Leaked documents expose lack of progress in US-UK trade talks”- months before Labour were even aware of their existence. This earlier story was noted by Scram News in December, just after the Telegraph ran a piece headlined “Labour told to ‘come clean’ about how it obtained leaked government documents after report links them to Russia”.

The “report” in the December Telegraph headline was issued by “online cartographers” Graphika; for some reason it is no longer available, but it mostly focused how the leaked documents were promoted on social media during October, still prior to Labour’s interest. Citing an article in Vice, Graphika also suggested that the documents most likely came to Labour’s attention via an anonymous email. The framing of the Graphika report as a sensational exposé of Labour was Conservative Party spin, amplified by compliant hacks who were themselves acting as “useful idiots”.

Given that the row was months ago, why then is it suddenly current again now? The obvious explanation is that Raab recycled the old story as a diversion from the imminent publication of the Intelligence and Security Committee report into”alleged Russian interference in the 2017 general election and the 2016 Brexit vote”. The report has long been suppressed by Boris Johnson, whose efforts have at last been scuppered by the unexpected failure of his preferred candidate Chris Grayling to secure the position of committee chair.

Raab’s strategy here was an insult to the intelligence, but that’s no bar to setting the media narrative and most outlets were more than happy to take his lead and rehash the story without much indication that it was warmed over. ITV even went so far as to doorstep Corbyn at his home, although the task was delegated to a junior journalist who has just recently completed the ITV training scheme. No other broadcaster apparently thought it was worth a similar effort.

This ITV journalist was recognised online as Fred Dimbleby of the journalistic Dimbleby dynasty; he started the nine-month placement in August, but despite there being no guarantee of a job at the end of the training period it appears that he has been allowed to stay on. The futile stunt was widely criticised on Twitter, especially after Corbyn’s wife Laura Alvarez objected to the intrusion – thus the Evening Standard obliged with an article headlined “David Dimbleby’s son Fred trolled online after Jeremy Corbyn quizzed on doorstep over Russian election interference.” However, the piece distinguished between “an onslaught of abuse” and alleged threats (not directly evidenced) on the one hand and “high profile Twitter users” (i.e. blue ticks) who “also commented, but did not attack the journalist directly”.

Newcastle University’s Civic Journalism Lab Scrubs Reference to Hosting Conspiracy Theorist

22 June: a Tweet from Newcastle University’s Civic Journalism Lab (Civic J-Lab):

Free online masterclass in mobile journalism @UniofNewcastle with Anna Brees, this Wednesday 4pm (UK time) – everyone welcome, whether you’re a journalist or someone who does “acts of journalism”. Register here: [link]

A Tweet by Brees herself is embedded after this text, in which she refers to “a free training event this week thanks to @UniofNewcastle”.

The Civic J-Lab Tweet has since been deleted, but it currently remains visible on Google Cache. This also shows that the Lab’s Tweet received a scathing response from Nick Waters, an investigator with Bellingcat:

Hi @CivicJLab: how familiar are you with Brees’ form of “journalism”? Have you checked her past work? I suggest it might be something you would would want to do. I would also strongly suggest she is not someone who should be teaching any form of journalism.

“Bob from Brockley” then followed up by drawing attention to Tweets commending her work posted in the name of David Icke.

Brees claims that the BBC has falsified reportage on the Syria conflict, but she is also notorious for promoting exotic conspiracy theories referencing the Illuminati and the American “Pizzagate” and “Qanon” fantasies (although more recently she seems to have gone off “Q”). Last year I noted how she had republished a book by a man who says he was abused while in care as a child in the 1960s, her edition gaining extra publicity due to a new chapter accusing former Prime Minister Edward Heath of being one of the abusers.

According to Private Eye magazine (1525, p. 14), which drew attention to Civic J-Lab deleting social media posts, the event in Newcastle went ahead as planned. However, Brees’s profile was greatly raised the very next day, when the media noted an online interview she had conducted with the musician Robbie Williams. The Metro report is representative:

Robbie Williams suggests debunked Pizzagate conspiracy theory is true in bizarre interview

Robbie Williams has suggested the Pizzagate conspiracy theory hasn’t truly been debunked in a bizarre new interview. The 46-year-old sat down for an interview with journalist Anna Brees, and in a teaser clip from the second part of the interview, the Rock DJ singer appears to question the validity of a conspiracy theory alleging that several high-ranking Democratic Party officials and U.S. restaurants were involved in an alleged human trafficking and child sex ring.

Brees is quoted as describing all this as “one of the most brave and insightful interviews of his career”.

So why has Civic J-Lab deleted its Tweet advertising her event? There is no need to remove a Tweet just because an event is in the past, and the inference must be that they now find association with Brees to be embarrassing.

Prior to her interview with Williams, Brees recently spoke with the rent-a-quote Conservative MP Andrew Bridgen on “corruption within the govt and media”, and she is currently cultivating links with school lockdown sceptics such as a GP named Rick O’Shea (her stance here has cost her some support among left-leaning conspiracy theorists). Other notable figures recently added to her YouTube archive include the physicist Joshua Silver, the high-profile anti-lockdown activist Simon Dolan, and a former Royal Marine commando turned author named Chris Thrall. (1)


(1) Thrall has his own podcast, and as with Brees its media profile was recently raised due to an interview with Robbie WIlliams, in which Williams declared the end of his longstanding “feud” (i.e. mutually beneficial performative showbiz spat) with the musician Liam Gallagher. Thrall has also helped to promote Brees’s own interview with Williams, stating that the Pizzagate conspiracy theory was “widely ACCEPTED” rather than debunked. Thrall also used the QAnon hashtag in his Tweet.