‘Prosecute anti-vaxxers’ (Photo: D. Sinova – Pool/Getty Images).
Radhakrishna N S
By Amit Roy
IT IS one thing for individuals to say they don’t want to take the Covid vaccine, however wrong that decision might be.
But for conspiracy theorists to spread or retweet misinformation with a view to discouraging others from taking the jab should surely be treated as a criminal offence.
Shouldn’t such people be prosecuted in the way that they would be if they were terrorists grooming gullible people?
I accept the two are not quite the same thing, but free speech cannot be used as an excuse to harm other people’s lives.
The home secretary Priti Patel was absolutely right in telling social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube that they have a responsibility to take down anti-vaccination content and wider misinformation about the coronavirus pandemic.
During a visit to a vaccination centre in north London, she said: “I would say to social media companies, ‘do your own bit, take responsibility, pull down misinformation and disinformation,’ and ‘there’s no harm in them actually linking a lot of their stuff to the NHS and gov.uk’.”
In the past few weeks, there have been many discussions on why there has been a problem with vaccine take-up in some sections of the ethnic minorities.
Everyone is agreed that it would be counterproductive to make vaccinations compulsory. But that does not mean conspiracy theorists should be free to allege vaccines affect fertility, change human DNA, put a microchip into people, contain “halal” products or similar nonsense.
Back in November last year, the Metropolitan Police assistant commissioner, Neil Basu, had said there should be a discussion about whether it was “the correct thing for society to allow” people to spread “misinformation that could cost people’s lives”.
He stopped short of endorsing a new law, but suggested: “There is a debate for society to have about free speech and responsibility and people who are spreading misinformation that could cost people’s lives… whether that is the correct thing for this society to allow to happen.”
Officials said one reason for his concern was that Islamist and far-right groups were using false claims about coronavirus to radicalise followers.
I am pleased the celebrity video put together by Adil Ray, encouraging Asians and people from African-Caribbean backgrounds to take the vaccine, is going to be given wider circulation.
The government should persist with messaging targeted at ethnic minorities. But it should now go beyond that and take active steps to prosecute the anti-vaxxers. The basic principle is that conspiracy theorists should not abuse democratic freedoms to harm others.