Don’t just pay glib respects. Pay your taxes to protect us

Published by The Sun (20th November, 2015)

It did not take long for the world’s technology giants to react when cowardly gangsters unleashed bloody carnage and terrifying chaos on the streets of Paris last Friday.

First came the spread of news, analysis and rumours on social media, with 7,000 tweets a second at one stage as the world watched in horror at the unfolding tragedy. Then firms such as Airbnb, Facebook, Twitter and taxi company Uber used their huge networks to help get people out of danger and to reassure families and friends.

Great stuff. If only it had stopped there, one more fine lesson in how fast technology is changing our world. Instead, the internet giants and gurus of the digital age could not resist showing off their concern with instant demonstrations of sympathy.

Amazon was among the first, draping its homepage with the stark image of a French flag against a black background and one simple word: Solidarity. Facebook offered a filter to let users cover profile pictures with the tricolour, while YouTube, owned by Google, altered its own logo to adopt the flag’s blue, white and red stripes.

Uber, which ramped up prices during a previous terrorist attack in Australia, changed the colour of the car icons on its app. Apple and Google placed a simple black ribbon on their websites as a mark of respect.

Meanwhile, mega-rich bosses fell over themselves to express support. Tim Cook, the Apple chief executive, tweeted: ‘Nous sommes tour Parisiens’ (We are all Parisians).

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg posted a message on his site, saying ‘every member of our community spreads empathy and understanding on a daily basis’ and that if everyone played their part ‘one day there may no longer be attacks like this’.

What hogwash. What utter hypocrisy. For this was saccharine sympathy from self-serving firms that refuse to play their part in protecting us from such cruel assaults.

If these companies really want to show solidarity with the victims of this latest terrorist outrage, let alone with doctors treating the wounded or members of security forces risking their lives to track down the killers, how about paying their fair share of taxes?

Instead, they are serial European tax avoiders, displaying zero interest in our common good. After all, ask yourself how else Apple became the world’s richest company, sitting on a cash stockpile bigger than the gross domestic product of several European nations?

It is easy to express ’empathy’ with doodles and smooth words. But this is phoney grief when the people running these firms ignore a harsh reality: effective armed forces, police and spies in Europe cost hard cash.

The billionaire bosses don’t seem to care that here, hospitals, doctors and nurses are expensive, or that roads for police cars and ambulances (and Amazon deliveries) need maintenance.

And if they refuse to pay from swelling company profits, then a bigger burden falls on the rest of us to ensure our society is safe, our families protected and our democracy secure.

Indeed with bitter irony, even as French officials swept blood and glass from the streets of Paris, members of the European Parliament issued the latest scathing attack on Amazon, Facebook and Google for obscene tax avoidance.

They accused these massive multi-nationals of paying virtually no tax in European Union nations, thereby denying governments vital funds. Yet their angry fusillade merely echoed frustrated politicians in Westminster and Washington before them.

This scandalous refusal to pay fair taxes is how sanctimonious tech chiefs in Silicon Valley pay for their vast homes, their huge yachts, their hobbies such as space exploration and their image-improving philanthropy.

Facebook, for instance, may be one of the world’s biggest companies but last year, it paid just £4,327 in British corporation tax — less than the average worker hands the Exchequer. Meanwhile, staff here took home an average of more than £210,000 in pay and bonuses.

That pathetic tax payment is insulting, especially in a country still struggling with austerity — as Chancellor George Osborne will underline next week with his spending review. He has just found extra funds for 1,000 new spooks to combat terror plots — but police numbers are falling, Armed Forces cut to the bone and junior doctors in open revolt over working weekends.

This is corporate larceny on a global scale — made more grotesque by slick brands and emoting bosses who claim to stand alongside victims of terrorism and mourning relatives. And I say this as someone who knew one person killed in Paris.

Governments should refuse to have any dealings with these selfish companies, instead of cuddling up to them in an attempt to look cool while spending our taxes on their goods.

Our politicians pontificate and claim progress in preventing tax trickery. But they have proved no match for the armies of expensive accountants and lawyers hired to shift paper profits around the planet.

While complaining ceaselessly of censorship, some social media firms have been used as platforms by bloodstained groups to promote their activities and atrocities.

IS is reported to have possibly 90,000 supporter accounts just on Twitter, spreading sick videos of mass murder, messages of hate and promotional material. It is also active on other social media sites.

These tech firms claim to be responsible. So how come within hours of declaring ‘war’ on the terrorists this week, secretive hacking collective Anonymous had managed to remove more than 6,000 social media accounts associated with IS?

These internet giants pose as paragons of virtue and insist they are changing society for the better. Yet even as they talk of ‘solidarité’ and drape websites with symbols of support for terror victims, they fail to cough up to the costs of stopping such horrific attacks.

The fight against terrorism costs money — and the failure to contribute could cost lives. Perhaps those technology titans could remember this next time before they cry their crocodile tears.

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