Byline Times has uncovered a disturbing tale of apparent censorship of students protesting against the Prime Minister using Stormzy’s rallying call to the young.
An Instagram account set up by students containing a photo of the words “F*uck Boris” graffitied in the school toilets was shut down after it was identified using software by a “central government social media team”, which then ordered the local MP to contact the school and get the account removed, according to a shocked parent.
The parent of a student close to the incident, who wishes to remain anonymous, contacted Byline Times because they were in “utter shock that this is happening in the UK in 2020” as it “has the look and feel of 1930s fascism”.
Following the General Election last month, the words “F*ck Boris” appeared on a wall inside the toilets at The Gryphon School – a mixed-sex secondary with academy status in Sherborne, Dorset – the parent said. Students at the school then created an Instagram account and uploaded a photo of the graffiti.
“F*ck Boris” was chanted by thousands at last year’s Glastonbury Festival as part of the lyrics to headliner Stormzy’s song Vossi Bop. At the time, Boris Johnson appeared fairly relaxed by the insult, joking that the rapper was actually saying “Back Boris”.
The parent told this newspaper that they had been told by the school that it had been contacted by the area’s newly elected Conservative MP Chris Loder – an alumni of The Gryphon School – who said he had been contacted by the Government’s social media team about the Instagram account. The parent said they were told that Mr Loder demanded that the school had the Instagram account taken down – something the students involved then did.
An email sent by the school’s assistant headteacher, which has been seen by Byline Times, said: “This [Instagram] account had not been stumbled across by our local MP but had been identified by the central Government social media team who have software which identifies accounts such as the one which they had created. They then passed their findings to our local MP who then contacted us.”
The parent who contacted Byline Times said that, following the Instagram account being shut down, the students involved were told by the school that any such future incidents could damage their careers and future prospects.
“This is obviously good advice but, at the same time, it’s quite worrying that it essentially stymies and shuts down any other sort of thinking,” the parent told Byline Times. “I find that quite dangerous and scary, that teenage school kids are being tracked by robots controlled by central Government. It’s a rural school, we’re a nothing town in the middle of nowhere.”
The parent claims that the students were “genuinely quite scared by the fact that they thought they did something quite innocent and actually had the might of central government come down on them”.
“Why and how is central Government able to do this?” they added. “Why are they allowed to keep us under surveillance? Why are they allowed to silence opposition? Why are they allowed direct control over our schools? This is state-sanctioned intimidation and needs exposing.”
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The Gryphon School told Byline Times that it was “made aware of an account using the school’s name and an expletive in a negative reference to a political figure”.
“Due to the school’s name being mentioned we requested that it be removed,” a spokeswomen said. “We also have strict rules around students taking photos in school and posting on social media due to safeguarding. We are of course politically independent and have held a number of political debates for students, to encourage them to take part in the democratic process. Students are of course entitled to express their views and opinions, we just ask that they do not reference our school when doing so.”
The press offices of the Department for Education, No. 10 Downing Street and the Cabinet Office told Byline Times that they had no knowledge of this incident at present. However, an insider suggested that No. 10 Downing Street or the Conservative Party Headquarters (CCHQ) were more likely to be monitoring social media for comments about the Prime Minister. Byline Times has also contacted CCHQ for comment.
Following publication of this article, Mr Loder told Byline Times that a “central government social media team” did not contact him about the Instagram post and that he was “very concerned to see the school was being irresponsibly graffitied and even more appalled to see it posted on social media”. The MP said he contacted the school to inform it of the Instagram post and that the school “quite correctly requested it to be taken down”.
He said that the “claim of government surveillance is completely unfounded” and that he would be happy to meet the parent who contacted Byline Times “to convey his view directly”.
Byline Times is still trying to establish why The Gryphon School was under the impression that social media software, allegedly being used by the central Government, had detected the Instagram account or how Mr Loder came to see the account in the first place.
Have you had a similar experience of social media monitoring of political statements? Contact Byline Times by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org