Not only is the government’s Online Harms Bill set to massively erode online freedoms, they’ve now admitted it will cost billions to implement. The newly-published draft bill’s impact assessment indicates the authoritarian proposals will cost £2.1 billion, with £1.7 of that expected to be spent on content moderation. Costs that will cripple start-up tech companies and increase online monopolies…
Looking at the details of the draft, the bill is arguably worse than initially feared. At the same time as calling for mass restrictions of online content – unless users prove they are not a child – the Bill will create a “duty of care” on digital companies, creating extreme pressure to remove content. Larger social media sites will see this extended to having to act on “lawful but still harmful” posts – mandating the removal of legal speech. What does the government define as “harmful to adults”? Anything that could have “physical or psychological impact”. Guido aims for every story to have a psychological impact on liars, cheats and hypocrites.
For all the PM’s culture war platitudes around free speech, the Bill ties the government in knots. For example, in December Oliver Dowden and Priti Patel held up Youtube as a role model for protecting user safety online by removing Covid misinformation; however when the platform removed TalkRadio’s channel over accusations they were spreading Covid misinformation, the government personally intervened, outraged at the free speech clampdown. This Bill is feeding the beast a whole three-course meal…
The Bill also sets the Tories up for future anger as much of the regulation will fall to OFCOM, who will issue guidance on social media moderation and be able to fine and criminally sanction senior managers. This may just about work if Boris gets his way with Dacre’s appointment, though what is the plan when a future Labour government get to make appointment decisions?
The ASI’s Matthew Lesh tells Guido the bill is “an incoherent train wreck”, which represents “a frightening and historic attack on freedom of speech”
“The Bill needs a serious rethink. There needs to be a mandate on Ofcom that prevents the issuing of guidance that infringes on legal speech, open to arbitrary interpretation under the current proposals. There also needs to be a much greater focus on the perpetrators of unlawful behaviour”
Guido wonders, given we are talking about the world wide web, how this Bill will operate extra-territorially? Will Britain introduce a firewall for censorship like China? Are Guido’s servers in the Land of the First Amendment going to be blocked?