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Thursday, May 30, 2024
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HomeCulture WarRussell Brand’s ‘refuge’ Rumble, and the anatomy of a smear campaign

Russell Brand’s ‘refuge’ Rumble, and the anatomy of a smear campaign

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YESTERDAY we supported the Times when it highlighted the attack the Attorney-General had made on a free press. 

It said that Victoria Prentis KC had sent an advisory note to editors in which she warned about the reporting of allegations against Russell Brand.

We pointed out that this attack on a free press was also an attack on free speech, which can take many forms. Kathy set this out in detail here. 

Ironically, the same paper on the same day carried out a classic attack on free speech. It added to what is an ongoing smear campaign against the website Rumble. (Like YouTube, this is a platform where users can watch, share and upload videos. But crucially Rumble counters mainstream views while YouTube promotes them.) This Times article really is a work of genius.

The newspaper headline read: ‘Brand’s refuge could be forced offline’ and the online headline: ‘Rumble: platform hosting Russell Brand may be forced offline.’ 

I don’t watch Rumble myself. As a rule, I like to lower my consumption of social media so it would take a lot for me to sign up to anything new. However, the mainstream attack and smear campaign against Rumble is both crude and obvious.

The piece raises alarm bells in its opening paragraph, when it puts the term ‘free speech’ in scare quotes: ‘The “free speech” website that hosts Russell Brand could be forced out of the UK under new online safety laws, experts have said.’ Scare quotes – what a laugh! In one of the few statements of fact, the report says that ‘under the Online Safety Bill, which is due to become law next month, Rumble will be regulated by Ofcom because it is accessible in the UK’.

It cites two ‘experts’ predicting that Rumble might not like the terms of the new Online Safety Bill and therefore pull out of the UK. 

Tell me more. Just what are the ‘experts’ predicting might happen at some point in the future, and since when is such a prediction news? 

The quotes come from Lord Allan of Hallam, a former Facebook executive who has advised on the Bill, and Professor Lorna Woods, an internet law expert who was one of the Bill’s architects.

Lord Allan with his crystal ball: ‘You can’t get out of this by saying “I’m a crazy American platform, that’s not ok” and that somehow you get a free pass. They don’t get a free pass. Their whole philosophy is freedom of expression . . . a kind of “screw you”. So when they get a letter from Ofcom saying, “Here are all the things you’re going to have to do”, it seems to me the most likely reaction is going to be they’re going to say, “Well, we won’t operate in the UK any more”.’ (Indeed if this is Rumble’s reaction, one might muse that was the entire point of the Bill in the first place.) 

Professor Woods said Ofcom had the ability to disrupt or block Rumble if it did not comply. She had her tea leaves out, telling us, ‘In theory Ofcom will engage with them, and say, “You’re not complying with rules”, and Rumble will grandstand before the press, as we’ve seen, and try to ignore what Ofcom does.’ Interesting. 

At this point you will say, ‘But Laura, don’t worry. As per ordinary journalistic standards, surely the Times went to Rumble itself and got a quote from the horse’s mouth?’ Nope. What the Times did do was quote Rumble’s reply to Dame Caroline Dinenage’s previous demand for it to suspend Brand. Quite the trick, that. 

The piece ends with a quote from Ofcom. A spokesman said: ‘Ofcom is preparing to regulate online safety by ensuring that tech companies have effective measures in place to protect their users, particularly children. As well as establishing these standards, we will engage regularly with . . . services to [understand] what they are doing to protect their users and push them to make improvements where needed.’

What a work of art this ‘journalism’ is from the Times. Get a couple of ‘experts’ in and get them to predict how a law might operate and get them to guess the reaction of the company you don’t like and want to smear, and run the whole piece on that. 

Get a quote from Rumble themselves? No chance. Just run that statement they made in relation to being targeted by an MP, and the piece might look like proper journalism. Don’t forget to add in the usual bogeymen such as Andrew Tate, Alex Jones and now Russell Brand, and job done. No need ever to look at Rumble or indeed question a mainstream narrative again. 

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