An experiment by the civil rights group Big Brother Watch has proved that politicians are walking into an anti-free speech trap that would censor their own comments. The government is intent on pressing ahead with the Online Safety Bill – set to be published next week – creating a new category of regulated “legal but harmful” speech which would hit the very politicians forcing through the change. They will be censored by their own legislation.
Using dummy accounts Big Brother Watch posted historic comments to Facebook which had been made Boris, Nadine Dorries and Angela Rayner, all three of which were removed for being offensive: Boris’s ‘burka letter boxes’ column quote; Nadine’s “nail your balls to the floor” tweet; and Raynor’s “shoot your terrorists and ask questions second” joke.
Despite appeals, all three posts remained removed from the platform…
The stunt by Big Brother Watch should alert MPs up to the damage this bill is set to do to free speech, something the government paid theoretical lip service to while eroding it in practice. Mark Johnson of Big Brother Watch says:
“These comments by high profile politicians are unpleasant and have been rightly criticised, including by ourselves. However, unpleasantness alone is not a legitimate basis for censorship. This experiment clearly demonstrates that such controversial yet lawful speech is destined for unprecedented censorship under the Online Safety”
“The Online Safety Bill would replace Britain’s carefully balanced right to free speech with the changing, censorious terms and conditions of foreign companies. The Prime Minister and the Culture Secretary should take stock of Facebook removing their own statements and drop powers to target so-called ‘legal but harmful’ speech from the Bill.”
Will DCMS finally wake up and smell the authoritarian coffee?