Facebook removes Save Our Rights UK Covid denial videos

Social media site pulls videos by group that Tory MP told to persist with its anti-lockdown activities

Videos published by a “coronavirus denier” group that was told by the Conservative MP Sir Desmond Swayne to persist with its anti-lockdown activities have been removed from Facebook after the social network concluded they posed a risk of “imminent physical harm”.

More than 60,000 people followed the Save Our Rights UK group, which drew wider attention on Thursday after it emerged Swayne had used a November interview to make baseless claims that NHS figures had been manipulated to exaggerate the scale of the coronavirus crisis.

After the Guardian identified videos on the page that promoted the conspiracy theorist Piers Corbyn’s claims that vaccinations were “just to make money and to control you”, as well as an interview in which it was claimed that coronavirus was a hoax linked to the QAnon conspiracy theory, Facebook said it had taken them down because they “violated our Covid-19 misinformation policies”.

A spokesperson said: “We remove Covid-19 misinformation that could lead to imminent physical harm, including false information about approved vaccines.” It said it removed 12m pieces of such content between March and October last year.

The video linking the pandemic to QAnon was also removed from YouTube, which said it “violated our misinformation policy”.

The video removals will further increase pressure on the government to take sterner action against Swayne. The former minister has been spoken to by the Conservative chief whip, Mark Spencer, but has so far avoided more serious punishment.

They also highlight the range of extreme views being disseminated online by fringe groups, which operate away from mainstream attention but may overlap with figures who have greater influence on the national debate.

In another Save Our Rights UK video, the group organiser Louise Creffield speaks to Karol Sikora, an oncologist who has been a prominent critic of lockdown policies and written columns for the Daily Mail, Daily Express, the Sun and the Daily Telegraph. During the interview, posted in October, Sikora says: “I’m a great proponent of what you’re doing.” He did not respond to emails seeking comment.

The group had already published an interview with the conspiracy theorist and antisemite David Icke, in which he claimed “we’re not dealing with random events, we’re dealing with a script”, and a video in which Creffield’s Save Our Rights co-founder, Vincent Dunmall, said masks “affect your immune system”, adding: “I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s why they’re asking us to do it.”

Dunmall said he had spent time with Icke, who he described as “a decent man”, but he would challenge him if he expressed antisemitic views. “Whilst giving him a platform to speak about what he feels, we at Save Our Rights are operating the same free speech situation as we did with Mr Swayne,” said Dunmall. “Just because we interview someone does not mean we represent all their interests or beliefs.”

Much of the group’s website appears carefully calibrated to appeal to mainstream lockdown sceptics, as is some of the language used by Dunmall, a van company owner, and Creffield, a former member of the executive committee of the Brighton Kemptown Labour party and former employee of the MP Lloyd Russell-Moyle.

But it is also a platform for some conspiracy theories of the most extreme kind, including anti-vaccine misinformation and claims – voiced by Dunmall himself – that celebrities including Madonna have been part of a longstanding effort to manipulate the public. It works in partnership with individuals and fringe groups who have propagated conspiracy theories such as the QAnon claim that a hidden global elite have been engaging in ritual child abuse.

On its website, Save Our Rights lists four other groups under the banner of its “Unite for Freedom” protests, which have been addressed by conspiracy theorists including Icke. They include Stop New Normal – Save Lives, a Covid denial group set up by Piers Corbyn, and Event 202, founded by Mark Steele, one of Britain’s foremost proponents of the conspiracy theory that 5G causes Covid-19.

A fourth group is Earth United, run by conspiracy theorists in Canada and South Africa, which pushes 5G conspiracy theories and QAnon claims that tyrannical global corporations track every child from birth and are planning a world war as a final step to taking away all rights.

Dunmall said they were put up for a protest and not taken down, adding: “To join with other collaborations in a protest at the same situation does not always mean we share the same personal views.”

Dunmall also spoke in January at a rally in Nottingham – promoted but not organised by Save Our Rights – alongside Richard Thompson, one of four men arrested earlier this year after allegedly filming inside hospitals and bailed with restrictions on approaching any hospital.

While Swayne has been widely criticised since the interview came to light, Dunmall continued to back him. “It’s about time someone in the house stood up for the many people suffering,” he said.

Contributors

Ben Quinn and Archie Bland

The GuardianTramp

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