- Background The Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) is a London-based nonprofit organization that “works with practitioners in diverse fields, such as political science, [behavioral] psychology, neurology, the law, countering violent extremism (CVE), counterterrorism and child protection, to develop strategies that strengthen tolerance and democracy, and counterstrategies to new forms of hate and misinformation” on the […]
The Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) is a London-based nonprofit organization that “works with practitioners in diverse fields, such as political science, [behavioral] psychology, neurology, the law, countering violent extremism (CVE), counterterrorism and child protection, to develop strategies that strengthen tolerance and democracy, and counterstrategies to new forms of hate and misinformation” on the Internet. Led by founder and CEO Imran Ahmed, CCDH advocates for the censorship and de-platforming of purveyors of such “hate and misinformation” from major social media outlets. CCDH’s definition of what actually constitutes “hate and misinformation,” is generally restricted to statements and opinions articulated by perceived enemies of the political left.
The Center was established in 2018 as Brixton Endeavors Limited and was renamed as CCDH in August 2019. The organization also has an office in Washington, D.C. and was recognized as an official nonprofit group in the U.S. in 2021.
Ties to Leftist Politics
- CEO Imran Ahmed previously served as a senior political advisor for Hilary Benn of the House of Commons from 2012-2016 and worked with British politician Angela Eagle in 2016. Ahmed and Eagle co-authored a 2018 book entitled The New Serfdom: The Triumph of Conservative Ideas and How to Defeat Them — a work that advocates for socialism and rejects conservative views, especially those of free-market economist F.A. Hayek and former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
- Chairman of the Board Simon Clark served as a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress from 2018-2022 and was a London Committee Member of Human Rights Watch from 2007-2014.
- Board Member Damian Collins is a Member of Parliament and former Chair of the House of Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee. Collins’ involvement with that Committee was featured in a 2019 documentary called The Great Hack — a film which alleges that Donald Trump’s victory in the 2016 U.S. Presidential election as well as the U.K.’s vote in favor of the Brexit referendum to leave the European Union were both heavily influenced by “Russian interference” and the work of the now-defunct British consulting firm Cambridge Analytica.
- Board Member Kirsty McNeill served as an advisor to former Labour Party British Prime Minister Gordon Brown.
- Board Member Ayesha Saran serves as the Migration Program Manager for a “social justice” group called Barrow Cadbury Trust.
- Former Board Member Morgan McSweeney left CCDH in 2020 to become Labour Party Leader Keir Starmer’s Chief of Staff.
- CCDH also received endorsements from other radical British politicians like London Mayor Sadiq Khan and Jonny Oates of the House of Lords.
“Don’t Feed the Trolls”
In 2019, CCDH released a publication entitled Don’t Feed the Trolls: How to Deal with Hate on Social Media. This pamphlet serves as a guide to identifying “issues of common agreement between [Internet] trolls and populist politicians, such as a revulsion for ‘political correctness’ or ‘corrupt’ traditional elites, [as] a way to start discussions that resonate with wider swathes of the public but can then be used by bad actors to inject hate.” The guide also explores the mindset of such “trolls” and explains how to properly respond to them online. Included in the guide are several quotes from a “trolling playbook” of a “White Nationalist Group” as well as popular content of the “Alt-Right.”
“Dealing with Hate & Misinformation around COVID-19”
Amid the spread of the global coronavirus outbreak in 2020, CCDH initiated a campaign that focused on “Dealing with Hate & Misinformation around COVID-19.” Specifically, the organization identified four types of actors chiefly responsible for spreading such “hate and misinformation,” which, by CCDH’s calculus, included virtually any statement questioning either the efficacy or the safety of the COVID vaccines. The following four items and their accompanying bullet points are taken directly from the CCDH website:
1) Hate actors:
- Blame out-groups for genesis and transmission of SARS-CoV-2;
- Instrumentalise fears that developing countries will not respond as effectively as Western countries to oppose future migration and re-opening of borders;
- Cast aspersions on loyalty of foreign-origin citizens, e.g. by highlighting failure to comply with national rules or claiming they are exploiting the crisis.
2) Economically-motivated actors:
- Cast doubt, using conspiracism and faux-populist/ anti-expert tropes, on governments and the scientific establishment in order to sell products they produce.
3) Fringe political actors:
- Undermine governments’ and scientific establishment’s credibility;
- Inculcate conspiracism.
4) Misinformed citizens
Among the CCDH projects that have specifically sought to censor and ban “misinformation” regarding COVID-19 and the COVID vaccines are the following:
- #Don’t Spread the Virus: “Don’t Spread the Virus is an evidence-driven approach to countering the scourge of misinformation on Coronavirus online, on social media and messaging apps. Follow the guidance, which is endorsed by the UK Government, to drown out misinformation with information that keeps us safe.”
- Stop the Spread of Misinformation: “The anti-vaxx [vaccine] industry earns at least $36 million annually by profiting at the expense of public health…. Tech companies told us they will remove vaccine misinformation and superspreaders for breaching their rules. But when push comes to shove, they fail to act. We’re calling on Big Tech to commit to taking the action they promised. They must stop the spread of lies about vaccines that stop us from containing COVID.”
- Fix Instagram: In a CCDH letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, a group of signatories wrote collectively: “Dear Mr Zuckerberg, We the undersigned call on you to fix Instagram’s broken algorithm, which is publishing hate and misinformation to millions of users. The rollout of vaccines across the world has put an end to the coronavirus pandemic in sight. Yet misinformation about Covid and vaccine lies threaten to prolong the pandemic, costing lives. The new report from the Center for Countering Digital Hate and Restless Development finds that Instagram is promoting dangerous falsehoods about the Covid vaccine and the virus. Through your Suggested Posts and Explore features, millions of people are being directed to lies and conspiracy theories, proven to make them less likely to protect their own health and the health of their loved ones, putting all of society at greater risk.”
In its effort to censor alleged misinformation concerning COVID-19, one of CCDH’s principal targets has been the former British soccer player and alleged “conspiracy theorist” David Icke. Following CCDH’s campaign to de-platform Icke, which included its release of a 25-page publication calling for his expulsion from all major social media platforms, Facebook and YouTube removed Icke’s accounts from their respective websites by May 2020. Six months later, in November 2020, Icke was likewise banned from Twitter for allegedly spreading COVID-19 misinformation among his nearly 382,000 followers.
In July 2021, U.S. President Joe Biden cited a CCDH report as the source of his claim that a handful of “just twelve people” on Facebook were responsible for “killing people” in enormous numbers by spreading falsehoods about COVID-19 vaccines.
Accusing conservatives of having “instrumentalised” COVID-19 “to inculcate hate across a number of national, racial and religious categories, as well as to drive opposition to migration” to the West from Third World countries, CCDH further alleges: “Hatred has not been limited to [being aimed at] Chinese people; hate actors in the UK are already using terms such as #GermJihad and Alt Right actors are using solidaristic impulses in the British public to stimulate nationalistic/ xenophobic narratives.”
CCDH Programs to Censor Free Speech vis-a-vis Climate Change, Election Integrity, & the Definition of Racism
Additional noteworthy initiatives of CCDH include the following, which seek to restrict the range of acceptable opinions regarding such issues as climate change, election integrity, and the operational definition of racism:
- The Toxic Ten: “The science is undeniable — human activity is warming our planet at an ever-accelerating rate and leading to catastrophic climate change. Yet, ten publishers — The Toxic Ten — are spreading baseless, unscientific climate denial on their own websites and across social media. They are responsible for 69% of all interactions with climate denial content on Facebook. It’s a climate denial propaganda machine funded in part by Google via ad revenue, and spread across the world via social media, in particular Facebook, who allow them to pay to promote their denial. We are calling on Facebook and Google to stop promoting and funding climate denial, start labelling it as misinformation, and stop giving the advantages of their enormous platforms to lies and misinformation.”
- Facebook: Keep Your Promise. Label Climate Change Misinformation: “Facebook is failing to label half of the content from leading climate deniers as misinformation. This includes posts that call climate change a ‘hoax’ and call it ‘alarmist climate propaganda.’ Facebook promised to tackle climate misinformation and is failing to keep that promise.”
- Google Lied: “In October , ahead of the U.N. COP 26 climate summit, Google pledged to stop displaying ads on climate change denial content. But new research by the Center for Countering Digital Hate shows that Google Ads are still running on 50 new climate denial articles…. Google appears to recognise that they have played a part in making climate change denial a profitable business, and yet they have not followed through with real action. Google must do much more to stop the spread of climate denial and enforce their policies now.”
- No2Misinfo: “Dear Mr Pichai (CEO, Google), We, the undersigned, call on Google to stop funding election misinformation. Trust in democracy is under threat. Misinformation about mail-in ballots could suppress voter turnout in the US elections, while conspiracy theories about electoral fraud and the rigging of the election undermine trust in the democratic process. This risks a break in the peaceful transfer of power.… In your policies you claim that you will not monetize websites which ‘make claims that are demonstrably false and could significantly undermine participation or trust in an electoral or democratic process.’ But you are failing to enforce your own policies…. By placing Google Ads on misinformation websites, you undermine democracy through the spreading of falsehoods…. Please help protect democracy and stop placing adverts on websites which publish election misinformation.”
- Ban Racism Now: No Yellow Cards: “We’re calling on social media platforms to ban every perpetrator of racist abuse. No second chances, no yellow cards — all those who shared racist abuse online must be immediately banned for life.”
CCDH’s Call for Twitter to Ban Conservative Katie Hopkins
In January 2020, CCDH leaders met with Twitter officials concerning Katie Hopkins, a conservative British political commentator, and called for Hopkins to be deprived of her “ability to use the platform to spread hate.” Following that meeting, Hopkins’ Twitter account was temporarily suspended for a week. Then, in June 2020, Twitter announced that Hopkins was being permanently banned from the platform for violating its “hateful conduct” rules. At that point, Twitter removed Hopkins’ account, which had over 1.1 million followers, without referencing any specific example of a violation which would have prompted the ban.
Additional Conservative Targets of CCDH
Notable targets which CCDH has attempted, with the help of Google, to blacklist for being critical of various leftist causes such as the Black Lives Matter movement, the climate change agenda, and COVID-19 “misinformation,” include:
- American Greatness
- American Thinker
- Breitbart News
- The Daily Wire
- The Federalist
- Gateway Pundit
- Media Research Center
- Townhall Media
Funding Sources for CCDH
Another key funder of CCDH is the Oak Foundation, which supports a wide variety of left-wing causes, including: (a) efforts to oppose the enforcement of U.S. immigration laws; (b) voter-registration and -mobilization efforts targeting demographic groups that tend to support Democrats; and (c) left-wing environmental groups. Moreover, the Oak Foundation has notable ties to the Chinese Communist Party, as reported by Breitbart.com: “In 2018, the Oak Foundation donated $1 million to an organization called the ClimateWorks Foundation, ‘to support the greening of the Belt and Road Initiative.’ The Belt and Road initiative is one of the Chinese Communist Party’s most ambitious projects, a vast global infrastructure project aimed at linking Europe, Russia, Africa, the Middle East, Asia, the Indian Subcontinent, and the South Pacific in a trade network that starts and ends in China. The project comprises ports, railroads, airports, tunnels, dams, power stations, and entirely new cities, all aimed at centering the world’s trade routes on China through a combination of rail, sea, road, and air routes.”
Center for Countering Digital Hate