.@toadmeister I do believe in free speech and always championed it when Culture Sec. What I don’t believe in is the freedom to post beheading videos and child sexual abuse online https://t.co/7uIB9rBqCt
— Sajid Javid (@sajidjavid) April 8, 2019
The proponents of the “Online Harms White Paper“ are trying to frame it as a child protection and anti-terrorism measure. Guido is willing to accept that is the government’s intention and that it is under pressure from the newspaper industry to hit the global platforms. Almost every day News UK and Associated Newspapers titles run a shock horror story about Facebook or Twitter or one of the other social media platforms. Often it is focused on child protection – children committing suicide, children being groomed, children falling for scams, children seeing an advert for a high sugar product. Do not underestimate how much pressure this puts ministers under when there is a “something must be done” clamour.
According to the government the something that must be done is the creation of yet another quango, an online regulator. Dubbed by Toby Young “iPlod“.
Guido has no doubt as to the harms done by child sexual abuse or terrorist propaganda online, it is however already the case that these things are illegal. Introducing a new law will not change the enforcement problems, which go unaddressed in the White Paper. The best form of child protection is preventing your children having access to this material. Why does your 7 year-old child need a smart phone? Why is your daughter on Snapchat, an app originally designed to enable the sending of a quick nude picture that will selfie-destruct after a maximum of 10 seconds. New legal controls are no substitute for parental control.
The online harms that the White Paper has trouble defining include cyber-bullying and trolling, both of which it says are unacceptable. People being rude to one another online does not require a legislative response. The police have better things to do than arrest people for being rude on Twitter.
There is also the collateral damage to press freedom from a new regulator, Toby Young argues in tomorrow’s Spectator cover story that the White Paper if it became law “iPlod” would mean that any companies “that allow users to share or discover user-generated content or interact with each other online” will be “in scope” so that includes newspapers and magazines. This is arguably state regulation of the press by the back door and has no place in a free society. Sajid should be opposing it as vigorously as he opposed Labour’s attempts to set up a state press regulator, not championing it.