The Online Harms White Paper was published in April 2019 ahead of a Bill coming before Parliament next year. The aim is to make the UK “the safest place in the world to go online”, yet a report from the Free Speech Union written by Dr Radomir Tylecote, says the proposals will seriously infringe free speech. Some of the harms the White Paper identifies are real, including distributing images of child abuse and online activities by terrorists. These can be dealt with by current legislation with more resources for law enforcement.
Some of the “harms” the White Paper describes are vague and subjective, such as “unacceptable content” and “disinformation”. These are to be determined by a future regulator and will likely lead to sweeping censorship. Online Harms does not even properly define “harm”, so the definition risks being outsourced to the usual activists and lobby groups. A proposed new regulator will even have the power to censor lawful content: the government says new regulation should prohibit material “that may directly or indirectly cause harm” even if “not necessarily illegal”. Inevitably the regulator will be captured by the forces of wokery, so we can look forward to the likes of Guido and JK Rowling being censored for inappropriately discussing gender, Covid, or climate issues…
The FSU report says the proposals are partly inspired by Germany’s 2017 “NetzDG” internet law, but Human Rights Watch has called for Germany to scrap the law, saying it “turns internet companies into censors”. President Lukashenko of Belarus, Vladimir Putin’s United Russia Party and Nicolas Maduro’s Venezuelan government have cited NetzDG as the model for their online laws. As the FSU report says:
Our government’s plans also bear a worrying similarity to Beijing’s internet censorship policies. Beijing censors “rumours” because they cause “social harms”. Our government’s proposals describe “disinformation” as “harmful”, and will make “content which has been disputed by reputable fact-checking services less visible to users”, forcing companies to promote “authoritative news sources”. This contradicts our government’s claim that “the regulator will not be responsible for policing truth and accuracy online”.
The dark net will thrive under state enforced censorship and conspiracy theorists will enjoy the cachet of being “banned by the state”. Do we really want to go down this route?
Download the FSU report.