Comedy veteran Rowan Atkinson has once again spoken out in defence of free speech, and has blasted online ‘cancel culture’.
In an interview with Radio Times, the Blackadder and Mr Bean actor expressed his concerns over the role social media has had in shaping online debate, and how it fails to allow for respectful disagreement.
Atkinson has spoken out on a number of occasions on the issue of free speech, including in 2012 for the Reform Section 5 campaign, which was spearheaded by The Christian Institute.
He told the Radio Times this week: “The problem we have online is that an algorithm decides what we want to see, which ends up creating a simplistic, binary view of society.
“It becomes a case of either you’re with us or against us. And if you’re against us, you deserve to be ‘cancelled’.
what we have now is the digital equivalent of the medieval mob roaming the streets looking for someone to burn
“It’s important that we’re exposed to a wide spectrum of opinion, but what we have now is the digital equivalent of the medieval mob roaming the streets looking for someone to burn.
“So it is scary for anyone who’s a victim of that mob and it fills me with fear about the future.”
Atkinson’s Blackadder co-star Tony Robinson also commented on the issue in December, saying he is “passionate” about free speech.
“It defends our liberty, and I’m very unhappy with the idea that, just because someone is offended by what I say, I shouldn’t be allowed to say it.”
He added that ‘cancelling’ people is walking a dangerous path, and that society needs to get better at adjusting “the tenor of the debate”.
Atkinson was among a number of well-known actors and writers hitting out at the Scottish Government’s controversial hate crime Bill last year, pointing out that the Bill risks “stifling freedom of expression”.
Around the same time, a video of Atkinson speaking for The Christian Institute’s Reform Section 5 campaign in 2012 was circulated widely online, with over 1 million views in seven days.
In his speech, he fiercely defended freedom of speech, saying: “If we want a robust society, we need more robust dialogue and that must include the right to insult or to offend. Because, as someone once said, the freedom to be inoffensive is no freedom at all.”
Watch the full speech below: