Priti Patel and Nadine Dorries have reportedly written to the Cabinet arguing that sweeping new powers are required to force internet companies to monitor for “legal but harmful” user content, something that is dangerously vague and intrusive.
Matthew Lesh, of the Institute of Economic Affairs, is right when he says
“The Online Safety Bill is going from bad to worse. The Home Office demand for social media companies to proactively monitor legal speech is a recipe for censorship on an industrial scale. It will mean that Meta (Facebook) and Google will be required to read private messages between consenting adults. This is deeply disturbing and will result in a less safe and free internet. The state should not be requiring monitoring and the removal of legal speech. These duties will also impose huge costs on start-ups and smaller companies, deterring tech investment and solidifying Big Tech dominance.”
During the pandemic Big Tech has run riot stifling legitimate debate on the grounds of public health concerns, if this continues and spreads into general censorship it will be disastrous. The problem is politicians generally are so fed up with the abuse they get on social media they are angry enough to overturn the widely accepted free speech norms of the free world for a more authoritarian approach.
Everyone agrees monitoring for illegal content like child sexual exploitation is a desirable priority. Monitoring legal content that might vaguely be harmful is entirely different and the Home Office is wrong to deliberately conflate the issues. We would be on a slippery slope to laws protecting the “dignity of the state” and stifling criticism of politicians. In many authoritarian countries insulting government officials is an offence. It is not unimaginable that in the near future Jolyon Maugham would be organising a fundraiser seeking to bring a case against Guido for “harming” Prime Minister Starmer if this legislation goes through…