Home News SARAH VINE: How long until web giants start censoring your news?

SARAH VINE: How long until web giants start censoring your news?


What an exhausting and baffling week it’s been. Even I can’t get my head around the new Covid rules – and I’m married to a Cabinet Minister, so God knows how the rest of the country must feel.

But perhaps the biggest mystery has been the disappearance of a story about Hunter Biden, son of presidential candidate Joe.

On Wednesday, the New York Post revealed various sordid details about Hunter’s private life, including the suggestion that Biden Snr might have met an official from Burisma – the Ukrainian energy firm his son worked for – while he was Vice-President.

Perhaps the biggest mystery has been the disappearance of a story about Hunter Biden, son of presidential candidate Joe (pictured at a rally in Michigan)

Perhaps the biggest mystery has been the disappearance of a story about Hunter Biden, son of presidential candidate Joe (pictured at a rally in Michigan)

Given the seriousness of the allegations, you might have expected them to dominate the news. Oddly, they didn’t. Thanks in no small part to the intervention of Twitter and Facebook.

No sooner had the story gone live than Twitter told users the link to the newspaper site was ‘unsafe’ and blocked them from sharing it in tweets or private messages. 

Facebook downplayed the report on news feeds pending ‘independent verification’ by ‘fact checkers’ – in both cases effectively suppressing the report.

Their actions did not go unnoticed. The internet was alive with furious accusations of censorship. CEO Jack Dorsey was forced to apologise, calling his company’s actions ‘unacceptable’.

Silicon Valley has made no secret of its loathing of Donald Trump. The place is teeming with bleeding heart liberals who sneer at his support base from the lofty comfort of their Palo Alto mansions

Silicon Valley has made no secret of its loathing of Donald Trump. The place is teeming with bleeding heart liberals who sneer at his support base from the lofty comfort of their Palo Alto mansions

Facebook remains defiant: several days later, it is still deliberately throttling the story, subject to more ‘fact checking’.

Why does any of this matter? Because this is yet another example of how soft power in the hands of a few wealthy, unelected individuals is slowly but surely undermining – and ultimately aiming to replace – the democratic processes which are so key to a free and fair society.

Web giants such as Facebook, Twitter and Google are the ultimate examples of this. They wield huge power without any responsibility. 

They publish all manner of harmful, bogus and downright vile material with impunity, claiming that their status as ‘platforms’ – as opposed to ‘publishers’ – protects them from the rules that govern mainstream media.

Yet when it comes to something that runs fundamentally counter to their own agenda – in this case a story casting doubt on the propriety of a Democratic candidate – they suddenly develop a conscience, citing safety and accuracy as concerns. Funny that. 

In the case of Clegg, there is something distasteful, not to say dishonest, about a man who singularly failed to secure power by open democratic means – the good people of Sheffield kicked him out as an MP in 2017 – and acquired it instead surreptitiously via the back door

In the case of Clegg, there is something distasteful, not to say dishonest, about a man who singularly failed to secure power by open democratic means – the good people of Sheffield kicked him out as an MP in 2017 – and acquired it instead surreptitiously via the back door

Silicon Valley has made no secret of its loathing of Donald Trump. The place is teeming with bleeding heart liberals who sneer at his support base from the lofty comfort of their Palo Alto mansions.

Facebook vice-president Nick Clegg branded him ‘abhorrent’. It’s a sentiment I don’t entirely disagree with. But it is not up to any individual to decide whether he gets a second term; it is up to the American electorate.

And it is simply not right that their ability to make that decision should be skewed by unaccountable tech giants. 

In the case of Clegg, there is something distasteful, not to say dishonest, about a man who singularly failed to secure power by open democratic means – the good people of Sheffield kicked him out as an MP in 2017 – and acquired it instead surreptitiously via the back door. 

He and his cronies want Biden to win, believing – as all illiberal liberals do – that they know best, and the end ultimately justifies the means. 

And the usual rules of honesty, transparency and fair play don’t, ultimately, apply to them. And the truth is, they don’t.

It’s increasingly apparent that whoever controls social media, controls America. Unless people realise this – and stop playing the game according to their rules, we might as well just accept it. 

And that includes Britain. Because as with all these things, if it’s happening over there, it’s only a matter of time before it happens over here.

I can’t say the news that next year’s exams are going to be delayed by three weeks was greeted with much elation in my house. My son is in his GCSE year, my daughter’s doing her A-levels. 

Like thousands of other teenagers, both have missed so much school that it’s hard to see how they will achieve anything like their true potential. And for this age group, there are no second chances – these results will determine the rest of their lives. 

Then again, as my daughter points out, what’s the point of paying all that money to go to university if you’re just going to be locked up? If that’s how my two feel, imagine what less fortunate youngsters must be going through. 

I’m sorry, Mr Williamson, but it’s going to take a hell of a lot more than a few weeks’ extra time to put this one right.

 A witness in the Manchester bombing inquiry said she saw the killer acting weirdly – but didn’t make a fuss because she was afraid of being accused of racism. I can’t imagine the guilt she must feel, but who can truly blame her? 

It is impossible to criticise anyone who is not white without being accused of prejudice. It’s the same problem that led to all those girls being abused by Asian grooming gangs. 

The authorities were too frightened to admit the truth, which is there are good and bad people of all colours and creeds. When you deny that fact, it’s not just free speech that dies, but people too.

The first thought that popped into my mind when I saw those pictures of her gallivanting around Venice with a 23-year-old gondolier called Riccardo was, blimey, Melanie Sykes is what age?

The first thought that popped into my mind when I saw those pictures of her gallivanting around Venice with a 23-year-old gondolier called Riccardo was, blimey, Melanie Sykes is what age?

If women ruled the world…

Every single one of us would get to look like Melanie Sykes at 50. 

The first thought that popped into my mind when I saw those pictures of her gallivanting around Venice with a 23-year-old gondolier called Riccardo was, blimey, Melanie Sykes is what age? 

She looks about 34 – and she rocks a silk kimono, as proved by this photo she posted from her hotel on the same trip.

Either way, her age didn’t bother young Riccardo – proof that, as Groucho Marx didn’t quite say, a woman is only as old as the man she feels.

Trolled – for daring to be a friend

On Monday, I shared a BBC panel with Labour’s Jess Phillips. There was some disagreement, of course, but in other areas there was a surprising amount of constructive discussion. 

Afterwards she joked that viewers might have been disappointed we hadn’t argued more. 

I only mention this because Nobel Prize winner Malala Yousafzai has been horribly trolled on social media for showing support for a Conservative friend at Oxford University. 

How heartbreaking that a woman who survived the hatred of the Taliban should be subject to the same kind of blind bigotry in the UK – simply for daring to choose friendship over politics. 

I only mention this because Nobel Prize winner Malala Yousafzai has been horribly trolled on social media for showing support for a Conservative friend at Oxford University

I only mention this because Nobel Prize winner Malala Yousafzai has been horribly trolled on social media for showing support for a Conservative friend at Oxford University 

What fresh hell is this?

From November 7, people in Scotland are being urged to dial 999 if they see a parent smacking their child. Why? 

It won’t stop real offenders, who invariably carry out their abuse behind closed doors. 

It just means innocent, frazzled mums will be hauled through the courts because a busybody spotted them giving their hysterical toddler a slap on the legs in Sainsbury’s. 

All it does is make politicians feel better about themselves – while doing nothing to tackle the real causes of systemic child abuse. 

Racing driver Lewis Hamilton has put his dog, eight-year-old Roscoe, on a vegan diet. 

‘Three months ago, I decided to transition him to a vegan diet,’ Hamilton told his Instagram followers. 

‘It has changed his life. He now doesn’t have any breathing issues, his throat is no longer restricted, and he doesn’t overheat like he did before and he loves to run. He also has no allergy issues.’ 

Poor thing. Bet he wishes he were a sausage dog. 

Can anyone explain the logic of closing gyms but encouraging people to eat pub food in a health crisis that disproportionately affects the overweight? Thought not…

Queuing for the Post Office last week, the woman in front of me was keeping her baby busy by playing peekaboo. 

She, like everyone else, was wearing a mask – and the thought suddenly struck me: today’s generation of newborns is going to grow up thinking wearing face masks is normal. How terrifying and how depressing. 

Why does Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham, 50, insist on dressing like a teenage boy? 

He obviously thinks it makes him seem cool, but in fact he just looks like a pound-shop Noel Gallagher.

Why does Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham, 50, insist on dressing like a teenage boy?

Why does Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham, 50, insist on dressing like a teenage boy?

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