Tyranny in the UK: Concept Creep and the Policing of Words

When “offensive” speech becomes a criminal matter.

According to Reporters Without Borders (RSF), an international non-profit, non-governmental organization based in Paris, when it comes to press freedom, the UK remains one of the “worst-performing countries” in Western Europe.

Why? A number of worrying trends are at play, including a heavy-handed approach towards the press - often in the name of national security - and a climate of hostility towards the media. This hostility is not just directed towards the media, however; it’s also directed towards the general public.

Ostensibly, the UK is a bastion of liberality. However, on closer look, you find a society dominated by PC culture. As writer Brendan O’Neill asks, “which country's police force just called on its citizens to report offensive speech? Not libelous speech or death-threat speech, just plain old insulting speech. Speech that is merely hurtful or hateful. Which nation's cops instructed the citizenry to snitch on haters? North Korea? China? Maybe Turkey?”

No, rather shockingly, it was the United Kingdom, where offensive speech has become a police matter. One would expect this in the likes of Russia, where, in 2017, law enforcement opened 411 criminal cases against internet users in Russia. That same year, in the UK, in an effort to combat social media hate speech, police arrested nine people a day (yes, a day). That’s 63 people each week; 252 people a month; 3024 people in a year.

These people were arrested for posting allegedly offensive messages online. I stress the word allegedly, because some of these “crimes” border on the ridiculous.

In 2018, for example, a 19-year-old woman was arrested for sending a "grossly offensive" message. In reality, the teenager simply posted rap lyrics that included the N-word on her Instagram page. Just a few weeks later, a Scottish man was charged for committing a hate crime. In reality, he taught his pug to do a Nazi salute, then posted the footage on YouTube. Controversial? Yes. Criminal? No.

How did we get to a point where tweets are equated with physical assault?

Two words: concept creep. In 2016, Nick Haslam published a paper titled ‘Concept Creep: Psychology's Expanding Concepts of Harm and Pathology.’ Haslam, a professor of psychology at the University of Melbourne, wrote:

By applying concepts of abuse, bullying, and trauma to less severe and clearly defined actions and events, and by increasingly including subjective elements into them, concept creep may release a flood of unjustified accusations and litigation, as well as excessive and disproportionate enforcement regimes.   The concepts of abuse, bullying, trauma, mental disorder, addiction, and prejudice ... {have been subjected to historical changes}. In each case, the concept's boundary has stretched and its meaning has dilate.”

By offering a case study of each word, Haslam charts the evolution of concept creep. He demonstrates conclusively that each of the six the words have undergone significant semantic shifts. In fact, as Gregg Henriques at Psychology Today writes, the shift has been so profound that “all six (abuse, bullying, trauma, etc.) have been extended both horizontally (so as to include novel phenomena that were historically outside the boundary) and vertically (so as to include increasingly minor cases).”

In other words, the interpretative goalposts have been widened, considerably so. In the UK, this has seen people imprisoned for making racist comments on Twitter or simply making jokes in poor taste. Insulting comments are now considered criminal. If someone calls you a pig on Facebook, just call the police. If you are a Sikh wearing a turban and someone shouts “tea-towel,” why not call the police? Although the term Orwellian has been the victim of severe sematic satiation, there is something Orwellian-y about the idea of the police – the actual police – dictating what constitutes “acceptable” speech. Today, Great Britain, a supposedly progressive mecca, is dogged by regressive, myopic mindsets.

In May of this year, the comedian John Cleese had the temerity to say something on Twitter. Though the actual police didn’t charge him with a crime, the thought police most definitely did. His comments, we are told, were extremely racist. What, exactly, did Cleese say? This: “Some years ago I opined that London was not really an English city anymore. Since then, virtually all my friends from abroad have confirmed my observation. So there must be some truth in it…”

Cleese had the audacity to factually state that today’s Britain is wildly different from Britain of the past. Demographically speaking, present day London is unrecognizable from London of the 80’s. In 2012, the city became the first major Western capital to become majority non-white. Cleese was not being racist; he was being factual. But who cares? Lock the goose stepping bastard up, and lock him up now.

It’s no exaggeration to say the following: Cleese was lucky not to have the police knocking on his door. After all, as the aforementioned O’Neill notes, the UK is a place here “communications laws and public-order legislation can be, and regularly are, used to punish hateful expression… In some parts of Britain the arrest rate for offensive speech has risen by nearly 900% in recent years.” Yes, 900%.

In January of this year, a man was brought in for questioning by police. What was his crime? He liked a tweet that appeared to mock the transgender community.

Let me state that again: he liked a tweet. He did not compose the tweet; he merely liked it. According to Harry Miller, the man brought in for questioning, the Humberside Police wanted to understand his ‘thinking’ and his reasons for liking the limerick, which referred to trans women as ‘stupid,’ on Twitter.

Taking to social media to voice his disillusionment, Mr Miller, who used to work as a policeman, had this to say: ‘a cop said he was in possession of 30 tweets by me. I asked if any contained criminal material. He said “No.” I asked if any came close to being criminal and he read me a limerick. Honestly. A limerick. A cop read me a limerick over the phone.’

After telling the policeman that he did not actually write the limerick, the officer replied: ‘Ah. But you liked it and promoted it.’ Liking a comment is now controversial, if not borderline criminal.

More recently, in June of this year, a disabled grandfather was sacked by Asda supermarket. His crime?

He decided to share an ‘anti-religion’ sketch by Billy Connolly, one of the greatest British comedians of all time, on his Facebook page. According to a MailOnline report, Brian Leach, who had worked at the Asda store for five years, was fired by the supermarket after a colleague complained the comments in the shared video were anti-Islamic. (In the video, just to state, Connolly makes fun of all religions, not just Islam) After the complaint, as the MailOnline reports, Mr Leach deleted the post from and wrote an apology to his bosses and colleagues, Nevertheless, Mr. Leah was left jobless.

In the UK, as you can see, the expansion of concept creep primarily reflects an ever-increasing sensitivity to harm, or, to be more accurate, the perception of harm. And, as well know, perception is highly subjective. PC culture, which now permeates every crevice of British society, reflects a highly progressive (or regressive) moral agenda. At its most malevolent, concept creep pathologizes everyday experiences and promotes a sense of tragic victimhood.

I'd better go. I hear the police knocking on my door.

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