Monday, 24 August 2015

TUC Slams Proposed Ban on Social Media

by Les May
FRANCES O'Grady General Secretary of the TUC recently told the BBC that plans drawn up alongside the Trade Union Bill could force unions to give two weeks notice if they plan to use Twitter and Facebook accounts to campaign while members are on strike.  A consultation document linked to the proposed Trade Union bill suggests unions taking industrial action must give notice of 'whether it will be using social media, specifically Facebook, Twitter, blogs, setting up websites and what those blogs and websites will set out'.  Ministers have said that any restrictions will not apply to posts by individuals.

My first thought when a trades union friend told me of this was, 'this is a boat that won't float'.

In 2011 social media were widely credited with being a decisive element in the 'Arab Spring'.  Even a Tory government is unlikely to want to be compared unfavourably with the then Tunisian and Egyptian governments. In the minds of  many people it will seem but a short step to a ban on unions advertising in newspapers or giving interviews to journalists when a strike is pending.

The European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) doesn't only protect human rights it also protects fundamental freedoms. When it was drafted in 1950 by the newly formed Council of Europe (of which the UK is a member) social media weren't even a twinkle in someone's eye. But if unrestricted access to social media is considered to be one of those fundamental freedoms then the UK government could find itself arguing its case in the European Court of Human Rights.

Repealing the 1998 Human Rights Act, which some Tories would dearly like to do, will not help them here because ECHR came into force on 3 September 1953.

Much of the praise for the part played by social media in 2011 appeared to me both uncritical and shallow.  Reliance upon the anonymity of the Internet and World Wide Web is itself a two edged sword because it is easy to create fictitious accounts on Twitter and Facebook which are then used to post misleading information.  The Rochdale Online news site claims that during the 2010 election campaign Matthew Baker was exposed as having a number of accounts on internet forums and using those accounts to support Tory Lite MP Simon Danczuk and attack his opponents and critics.  (I just love the slang term for people who do this, 'sock puppet'.  It's so... appropriate.)

If the government 'consultation' results in legislation I doubt that anti-union campaigners will be able to resist the temptation to 'fit up' unions by concocting fake web sites, blogs, Twitter and Facebook accounts. Wouldn't that make the government look silly in court!

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