"UK Files" Reports Show: Both Left and Right Can Be Targets of Censors
American audiences may struggle with the particulars, but leaked Labour Party documents detail how "anti-disinformation" can be weaponized in all directions
Just as some denizens of George Orwell’s Animal Farm were more equal than others, Britain’s Center for Countering Digital Hate stands out among the fast-growing list of organizations dedicated to the global elimination of wrongthink, commonly described using terms like disinformation, hate, and lies.
Recently the target of a lawsuit by X, the CCDH was and is a conspicuous recurring character in the Twitter Files, where among other things it organized a relentless campaign against Robert Kennedy, Jr. and others deemed purveyors of vaccine disinformation. Recently, they also appeared in articles bemoaning a judicial decision enjoining the government from engaging with platforms on digital censorship.
CCDH reports and correspondence are distinguished by a unique tone of fevered indignation, as if members were consumed with rage at a world that hadn’t yet deleted disfavored accounts. Their methods, issuing bullhorn demands for total social defenestration through a vast and cleverly courted network of mainstream press allies, represent a perfected template for the modern “anti-disinformation” organization: moral absolutists unafraid to use accusations of bigotry as a political weapon.
When British investigative journalist Paul Holden approached Racket with a story based on leaked documents showing the secret history of the CCDH, I was intrigued, but it wasn’t until I saw the first drafts that I realized the story’s importance. Holden is in possession of a wealth of internal correspondence about Britain’s Labour Party, in character and politics a near-exact analog to our Democratic Party. These “UK Files” detail the relationship between Britain’s leading “centrist” political faction and one of the most aggressive pro-censorship organizations in the Western media world, and offer insight into Labour’s intramural campaign to label former leader Jeremy Corbyn guilty of antisemitism.
Holden, who has experience diving into document-heavy public corruption investigations, discovered in these files communications going back years about a series of high-wattage British news controversies which, I must warn Racket readers, will not mean much at first glance to American audiences. But they hold enormous significance even for us, as they detail how the CCDH, its lead organizer/hatchet-man Imran Ahmed, and key figures in the conservative wing of the Labour Party learned to get ahead by pushing dubious news scandals against political enemies.
What you’re about to read is correspondence between British political operatives who discuss how to use fake news to destroy opponents, while hiding behind a disguise as an operation supposedly fighting fake news. Three tactics stand out:
Accusations of bigotry and homophobia, used to silence political opponents on the group’s left;
Use of guilt-by-accusation narratives to attack the reputations of both conservative and leftist politicians;
Close coordination with dependably incurious mainstream media organizations.
The first cases you’ll read about in Holden’s reports involve a Tory parliamentarian named Grant Shapps, who was falsely accused of being caught doing sock-puppet editing his own Wikipedia page.
Later, the same group that pulled off that media deception targets left-wing supporters of Corbyn in Liverpool, who are accused of attacking a centrist holdout MP named Angela Eagle with homophobic slurs and tossing a brick through her window. The stories are false, but effective in the short run in defaming and de-fanging a group of Corbynites.
These episodes are the proof of concept these same actors will eventually use to crush Corbyn, whose seemingly inevitable rise to Downing Street would ultimately be derailed by accusations of antisemitism and bigotry.
It's crucial to understand that the affairs detailed here weren’t obscure back-page events in England, but serious scandals Fleet Street made instantly recognizable to the average Briton, using headline catchphrases like “Brickgate.” An analogous tale here might be the furor over supposedly abusive tweets by Bernie Sanders supporters, the alleged preference Vladimir Putin had for Sanders, or the coordinated wipeout of Democrat Tulsi Gabbard.
Throughout the Twitter Files period, it’s been a great source of frustration that a lot of the information we released that in normal times would have been alarming to people of all political persuasions, was easily dismissed as just more fodder for culture war. The importance of certain revelations could have been driven home to wider audiences if we’d found more documents in the Twitter Files showing suppression of movements like the Sanders campaign. However, it was and is just inescapable fact that rightist populist movements attract the bulk of the attention of the “anti-disinfo” sector in America.
That’s part of what makes Paul’s series so important: he proves that these techniques can be used in all directions.
Groups like the CCDH often paralyze left-leaning political figures and media commentators by making them afraid to be lumped in with anti-vaxxers or Trump supporters. Only a few sharp reporters like Branko Marcetic of Jacobin, have had the vision to understand that “They’ll come for us next.” Marcetic noted that the Ahmed, who’s spent years accusing others of conspiracy theories, once asserted an incredible Unified Field Theory of bigotry in a 2019 Medium post, claiming everyone from Donald Trump to Jeremy Corbyn to Leavers to the gilets jaunes and the “alt-right” were a single “political movement” allied by “hate,” describing Boris Johnson and Corbyn as “two privately-educated white men with a history of bigotry”:
It’s just a coincidence that all of the very different actors and parties Ahmed named happen to be critics of the same brand of neoliberal politics Ahmed and his Labour cohorts represent. Marcetic correctly pointed out that the CCDH method depends on quantity of media attention, that for instance “amid the tidal wave of media coverage” about Corbyn’s alleged antisemitism, “it must have meant there was something there.” The same tactics have been used repeatedly in the States through other organizations targeting figures ranging from RFK Jr. to Trump to Bernie Sanders to Joe Rogan, but with a few exceptions, left-leaning figures have tended to genuflect to these reputational a-bomb tactics rather than take them on.
Stripped of partisan wrangling, the tale of groups like the CCDH is less about censorship than new forms of authoritarian politics, enabled by a sophisticated digital smearing machine, dissected in Holden’s reports. I hope that Americans seeing irrefutable evidence of a Labour faction’s cynical use of “anti-disinformation” against their own will help break the illusion that this is solely a right-wing issue.
We’ll make sure any idiosyncrasies of British politics that appear in the text are explained for New World audiences, and make Paul available for Q&A at some point. Until then, thanks to Racket readers for their patience while we work on these releases.