The Mail on Sunday previewed some of the excesses of the government’s efforts to combat disinformation contained in a report from Big Brother Watch. They even called in the military.
The revelations shed light on the state’s free speech interventions – including the Army’s shadowy 77th Brigade, tasked with combatting disinformation. Instead of focussing on propaganda coming from Russia or China, the government kept tabs on its critics and those sceptical of lockdowns. David Davis, Peter Hitchens and Julia Hartley-Brewer were amongst those monitored – hardly pressing threats to national security.
A whistleblower from the 77th Brigade quoted in the report added:
“It was about domestic perception, not national security. By being so fixed on the wrong targets, 77x became more akin to a tool for bad information than an antidote to it… It seemed to me that the government geared the counter-disinformation operation not to serving and protecting citizens, but to serving their own careers and influence.”
Peter Hitchens had warned about censorship of his online content. It seems he may have had a point…
There are at least four further Whitehall arms dedicated to social media monitoring:
All of this state social media spying doesn’t come cheap. Big Brother Watch identified £2.3 million in contracts for the CDU, £2.5 million in contracts and £1.3 million in staffing for the RRU and an annual budget of over £6 million for the Intelligence and Communications Unit. This doesn’t include a staggering £65,000,000 in RICU contracts for social media monitoring and PR campaigns…