Groups on the social media platform – where thousands of Covid anti-vaccines gather and hold protests – have started to branch out to discuss coronavirus and vaccine conspiracy theories and have started to justify the reasons why they no longer pay their bills.
Many mistakenly believe that they will not be prosecuted for canceling their payments, in part thanks to misinformation spread by an influencer on the platform with a significant number of followers who claim that the shutdown of the paying housing tax will pressure the government to remove the coronavirus law. .
The woman, who is not named by is, runs a Telegram group with 8,000 people, and its content is frequently shared on other Covid vaccine channels on the platform.
She also posts content on YouTube and hosts in-person events. Another influencer who promoted that people should stop paying their bills was deleted by Instagram.
An expert said is “This is a very bad idea”, explaining that companies could take civil action for unpaid sums, which could lead to the seizure by enforcement agents of people’s property in the event of non-payment of their invoices . The non-payment of the housing tax can even lead to a prison sentence.
The influencer claims on Telegram follow the popular conspiracy trope that everything about the state is corrupt, and one way to challenge the government is to stop funding it, in this case by not paying the housing tax or other unrelated bills. in the state.
is contacted the woman for comment.
The woman charges users £ 75 for one-hour one-to-one calls, or a minimum of £ 20 for Zoom group calls, and claims she has not paid her own municipal tax, water, water and gas bills. energy or television in a year, but claims that she is still able to use the services.
is spoke with someone in the group who said they had not paid their municipal tax bill since December of last year.
They said an official came to their home recently to investigate the matter, but mistakenly believed authorities could not pursue the case if she refused to share her name.
One person posted on the influencer channel: “I got rid of the TV license after watching [your posts].
“Since then, I have passed my information on to my father who owns a property and he forced his tenants to stop paying council tax. I have learned more here over the past week than I expected so thank you.
Another posted: “The £ 67 water bill… is not paid today !! My first time not to pay. By sending them the bank transfer credit form with three stamps and other words.
Another wrote: “I returned all my letters, called the bank for refunds, only the credit card to go left. “
A YouTube video that the Telegram influencer uploaded in August also promotes her claims that she is not paying vital bills in order to undermine the government, and is still live on the platform at the time of. writing this article.
is shared several of the woman’s videos with YouTube, who said, “While YouTube is a platform for free and creative expression, rules are in place to help keep people safe on the site.
“We take this responsibility very seriously, which is why we strictly prohibit videos that encourage violence or criminal activity. After review, we removed a video from this channel for violating our hate speech guidelines. “
The woman posts what appear to be user testimonials thanking her for her service which they say has saved them thousands of pounds.
But these actions have consequences. “If you just don’t pay your household bills and reverse the debits, then these companies will take civil action for the unpaid amounts,” said Maria Mulla, senior sales lawyer at No5 Barristers’ Chambers. is.
She said: “People who use a television to watch live television and do not pay for a television license face prosecution, a court appearance and a fine of £ 1,000. If someone refuses to pay the fine, they can be sent to jail.
If a person does not respond to a civil action regarding unpaid invoices, a default judgment will be issued against them, which “will adversely affect your credit rating and authorize the opening of enforcement proceedings, for example. which an enforcement agent can enter your property and seize your cherished property and possessions, ”explained Ms. Mulla.
Not paying council tax can be even more serious. The local authority will issue a summons which, if it remains unpaid, will result in a liability conviction against the person who has not paid the invoice.
“A district court can then sentence you to 90 days in jail for each unpaid liability order,” Ms. Mulla said.
“My advice is to pay your bills! No one is above the law. “
None of these sanctions are mentioned in the Telegram group or in the influencer posts.
Many anti-Covid vaccine protesters say not paying the bills is now part of their “goals” to govern themselves and break away from what they describe as the “regime”.
Others claim it is “the best way” to demonstrate civil disobedience. “Let your council know that you don’t pay until the Corona virus law is repealed,” says one group.
One of the influencer’s dangerous claims on Telegram is that no one pays their water bills because tap water is “infected” with fluoride and is dangerous to people’s health. Independent fact-checking and campaigning organization Full Fact debunked this in 2019, saying there is no evidence that the natural mineral in water has negative effects on human health when is consumed at levels permitted by the United Kingdom.
The woman behind the group also has an Etsy store where she sells anti-Covid and anti-containment products. One t-shirt has the words “unmasked, unmasked, unvaxed and fearless”, while another says “free from stupidity”.
Anti-disinformation experts have condemned social media companies and online platforms for allowing such dangerous information to flourish online.
“By failing to take a serious stand against disinformation, social media companies have allowed anti-vaccine and conspiracy theorists to such an extent that it is frankly not surprising to see individual actors doing stunts and such eccentric scams ”, Imran Ahmed, director general of the Center. to counter digital hatred, Recount is.
He went on to say that social media has great power in establishing societal values and norms, as the dominant forum of communication and connection for most people.
“As stewards of these spaces, the tech billionaires have utterly failed to uphold any sort of normal or reasonable standard of social decency. Over time, this results in a race to the bottom in the morals of actors of bad faith.
“We didn’t find ourselves in this situation overnight. This is the inevitable end point of an ungoverned and unregulated “Wild West” online world. It is time for governments to step in and fix the problem before it gets even worse.
is contacted Telegram for comment.