International Declaration of free speech and debate for discovery of truth
A group of 138 individuals, including journalists, academics, technologists, celebrities, and thought leaders, have signed the Westminster Declaration, urging governments, tech companies, and the public to protect free speech and open discourse. Notable signatories include Julian Assange, Edward Snowden, Tim Robbins, Oliver Stone, Glenn Greenwald, Jordan B. Peterson, John Cleese, Richard Dawkins, Jeffrey Sachs, and Steven Pinker.
The declaration expresses concern over the increasing international censorship that threatens democratic norms. It condemns labeling protected speech as “misinformation” or “disinformation.” Signatories who criticized official COVID-19 counternarratives include Jay Bhattacharya, Martin Kulldorff, Aaron Kheriaty, and Robert Malone.
The declaration points out that the misuse of terms like “misinformation” and “disinformation” has led to censorship, suppressing valid discussions on critical topics, undermining representative democracy’s principles, and violating free speech rights. It cites domestic and international laws, including the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and highlights instances where free speech has been threatened by public and private actors worldwide.
The Westminster Declaration identifies a “censorship-industrial complex,” involving public, private, and academic entities, which monitors and suppresses citizens’ voices. It mentions the role of agencies like the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency and mainstream media fact-checkers. Legislation like the U.K.’s Online Safety Bill and Australia’s Combating Misinformation and Disinformation Bill is criticized for potentially restricting expression.
The declaration argues that social media platforms, under the influence of this complex, use subtle methods like visibility filtering and labeling to silence lawful opinions, with the support of “disinformation experts” and “fact-checkers.” The EU’s Digital Services Act is mentioned as formalizing this relationship.
Signatories stress that free speech includes protecting offensive speech, as open discourse is essential for accountability, empowerment, and preventing tyranny. They believe robust debate is the best safeguard against misinformation and disinformation.
The declaration calls on governments and international organizations to uphold Article 19 of the UDHR, tech corporations to protect the digital public sphere and refrain from politically motivated censorship, and the public to join the fight for democratic rights.
The signatories emphasize the importance of building a culture of free speech, rejecting intolerance and embracing inquiry and debate. They assert that censorship in the name of preserving democracy is counterproductive and undermines the democratic process. The declaration highlights free speech as the foundation of equality and justice campaigns throughout history, advocating for the right to ask questions and open debate.