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Anti-Maskers And Lockdown Sceptic Groups Are Using Smiley Face Emojis To Signal Their Opposition To Rules

Those who disagree with wearing facemasks are encouraged to display a smiley face emoji as part of the #SmilesMatter movement (PA)

4 min read

People opposed to compulsory face coverings and nationwide lockdowns are using smiley face emojis to “passively” communicate their views.

The #SmilesMatter movement, popularised by Irish author and commentator Ivor Cummins, encourages people to display a smile emoji in their social profiles or wear it on their person to signal that they are opposed to compulsory face coverings.

It is currently mandatory to wear a face covering on public transport, in transport hubs, in shops and many other indoor settings across the four UK home nations unless you are officially exempt.

In England, police and Transport for London (TfL) officers have powers to issue a £200 fine to those who don’t comply, with the amount doubling for each subsequent offence up to £6,400.

Mr Cummins, who boasts hundreds of thousands of followers across Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, is a vocal critic of lockdown measures who frequently argues that the data does not back restrictions implemented by various governments worldwide.

Many of his claims, and those of other lockdown critics, have been challenged by the fact checking website Full Fact, which suggested their arguments had some scientific basis but lacked “vital context”.

The concept for #SmilesMatter was reportedly sent to Mr Cummins by an unnamed follower in an email, which he subsequently shared on Twitter. 

“I do not have the courage you have to publicly stand up or to partake in civil disobedience activities such as protesting when you are not permitted to or not wearing a mask on the tube,” the email read.

“However, if I saw a sea of yellow badges on a train, that would definitely give me the confidence to remove my mask and show my solidarity with those that oppose the measures.”

A website promoting the initiative had since been set up, describing #SmilesMatter as a “worldwide grassroots social movement focused on PEOPLE, not pathogens.”

Describing its goals, the website reads: “Not everyone else around you is happily wearing a mask. Many around you might even be willing to remove their mask in solidarity if they knew they weren’t alone in their beliefs.”

“But when everyone uniformly wears a mask out of fear (whether that be fear of the virus or just of social shunning) – how can you know who’s “on your side”?”

World Health Organisation recommendations to curb coronavirus include mask wearing. Guidance on their website states: "In areas where the virus is circulating, masks should be worn when you’re in crowded settings, where you can’t be at least 1 metre from others, and in rooms with poor or unknown ventilation."

Since March, social media companies have attempted to crack down on content that could directly pose a risk to people’s health or well-being amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

According to guidance published by Twitter, where the hashtag started, content posted with “intent to influence people into acting against recommended guidance” or content that contains “denial of established scientific facts about transmission” is not permitted on the platform.

A Twitter spokesperson said the link to the #SmilesMatter website has been marked as unsafe across Twitter, under its unsafe links policy. 

Facebook has been contacted regarding the presence of the #SmilesMatter movement on its platforms.

Elsewhere, the video sharing site YouTube has faced backlash after it shut down the channel for TalkRADIO “for violating community guidelines”.

The platform has also implemented policies specifically banning misinformation relating to the coronavirus pandemic, which includes “content that spreads medical misinformation that contradicts local health authority information or World Health Organization (WHO) medical information about COVID-19”.

TalkRADIO had recently interviewed a number of lockdown sceptics and dissenting experts, including Mr Cummins and Oxford epidemiologist Professor Sunetra Gupta.

In a statement, the station said: “We urgently await a detailed response from Google/YouTube about the nature of the breach that has led to our channel being removed from its platform.

“TalkRADIO is an Ofcom-licensed and regulated broadcaster and has robust editorial controls in place, taking care to balance debate. 

'We regularly interrogate government data and we have controls in place, use verifiable sources and give space to a careful selection of voices and opinions.”

Ivor Cummins has been approached for comment. 

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