LISTEN: Donelan “Not Ruling Out” Online Safety Bill Amendments

With the Online Safety Bill is back in parliament next week, Conservative rebels have picked an amendment to give Ofcom the powers prosecute social media executives – with jail time as a possible sentence – as their latest battle. When the amendment was put to Culture Secretary Michelle Donelan by the BBC’s Newscast, she said she was “not ruling out” any changes, adding she would take a “sensible approach”.  Considering Labour and 36 Conservative MPs are backing the amendment, it’s not like she had much of a choice in the matter…

We then got a glimpse of what the bill might mean for debate on the internet. When asked whether Andrew Bridgen’s recent tweet – which Donelan implied was antisemitic – would be allowed, she responded:

“There is a triple shield of protection for adults under the bill now, so if it strays into illegal, which we know a lot of antisemitism can stray into, then it would go. If it is a breach of their terms and conditions, which all of the major platforms have antisemitism as a breach of terms and conditions, so it should have gone. The problem we’ve got at the moment is these platforms they play loose with their terms and conditions”

To paraphrase, the bill leaves it to Silicon Valley to decide which opinions are acceptable.


mdi-timer 13 January 2023 @ 08:46 13 Jan 2023 @ 08:46 mdi-twitter mdi-facebook mdi-whatsapp mdi-telegram mdi-linkedin mdi-email mdi-comment View Comments
Online Safety Bill Back in Committee for Surgical Changes

Guido treads warily here. MPs and clerks have been at this Bill for five years with several secretaries of state and governments galore. Last week, its 243 pages were at Report stage – actually heading to the floor of the House with a number of sinister clauses in it – when Secretary of State Michelle Donelan ordered it back into committee for surgery. All  provisions curtailing the idea of “legal but harmful” speech or “lawful but awful” communications were to be cut out from the Bill.

Has that happened? Has it been cleaned up, cleaned out, cleaned?

On Minister Scully’s account, it wasn’t clear to the back of the room. As a text-to-speech device, Paul Scully will benefit from an upgrade. The urgent monotone, the quick-fire of drafting terms – it’s not easy to keep up for those who haven’t been toiling in this particular vineyard as long as he.

However, the Oppositions gave clarity. On the account of the SNP’s Kirsty Blackman and Labour’s Charlotte Nichols, it is now a completely different Bill: “It is not an online safety Bill, it is a child protection Bill.”

That sounded quite good. Ah, but no. The Bill now failed to create a safe internet. And safety was paramount.

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mdi-timer 13 December 2022 @ 14:30 13 Dec 2022 @ 14:30 mdi-twitter mdi-facebook mdi-whatsapp mdi-telegram mdi-linkedin mdi-email mdi-comment View Comments
Sketch: Donelan’s Defensive DCMS Committee Debut

Minister Michelle Donelan made her debut appearance in front of the DCMS select committee and received a warm welcome in the form of a pleased-to-meet-you battering from the chair, Julian Knight. Perhaps he was exasperated, perhaps he’s had enough of ministers, perhaps the Audit Office report on a DCMS fiasco was the last straw. He bunched his knuckles, put out a finger and piled in.

£120 million of public money had been spent on the inexplicable and unpardonable nonsense of Unboxed, the rebranded Festival of Brexit. People remember WW1 Remembrance, he said. They remember the 2010 Olympics. They remember the Queen’s Jubilee. But Unboxed? People had barely heard of it, and its “engagement” figures were lamentable.

He very nearly asked her to apologise for it. But he had much else with which to chastise her.

The minister had gone into hedgehog mode. She was defensive. She was covering for officials. She hadn’t learned any lessons. We couldn’t afford it then and certainly couldn’t now. She wouldn’t tell us who the officials were who designed the mess of it. She implied that her critics didn’t understand what they were talking about. She hadn’t listened to the Committee who’d said all along it was going to be a disaster because it had no idea behind it.

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mdi-timer 6 December 2022 @ 17:20 6 Dec 2022 @ 17:20 mdi-twitter mdi-facebook mdi-whatsapp mdi-telegram mdi-linkedin mdi-email mdi-comment View Comments
Will the Online Safety Bill Protect the Kathleen Stocks Of the World?

The Online Safety Bill is coming back for its Report stage on Monday. Secretary of State Michelle Donelan said again in DCMS questions this morning that she has removed the “legal but harmful” clause and protected free speech. Online-harm activists don’t like it one little bit, though free-speech enthusiasts should take no comfort from that. The Bill puts into legal jeopardy anything that creates “a material risk of significant harm to an appreciable number of adults in the United Kingdom”.

Significant harm? What constitutes “significant harm”? Precedent tells us “harm” is very much in the heart of the beholder.

Say that a private citizen posts:

Biological sex trumps gender ID. Transwomen are transwomen – not actual women.

And an activist reports the post to Ofcom – or to the publishing platform, or to the court, in a private prosecution – saying,

This hateful speech has damaged the core of my identity. It has attempted to erase my very being. I feel not just disparaged but annihilated. Half of all trans children who are denied will attempt suicide. I am now in danger of killing myself.

How can that not be interpreted as “significant harm”? The question is – under this Bill, will Kathleen Stock (the university lecturer hounded from her job by woke activists) be able to question gender ideology on social media?

Reading the Bill, Guido suggests she will not. Activists will claim harm. And even if Ofcom prevaricates, the owner of the platform will fear for being fined 10% of its worldwide income. It will censor the posts of private citizens and all posts like it “to prevent harm”. So – that’s the Stock question. It needs more than a stock answer.

UPDATE: The reservations expressed in Guido’s items on this subject were the result of reading the Bill as published on the internet. The Secretary of State’s version relies on consolidating her proposed Amendments with the text of the Bill – something that won’t happen until the relevant amendments have been passed, we all assume, on Monday.

Secretary of State Donelan has been in touch to say that her Amendment striking out Clause 151 removes the vestiges of “legal but harmful” from the Bill. The text of the Bill – still posted on the internet – says that an offence would be committed if anyone sent a message that risked causing “harm” to “a likely audience”. With  Monday’s amendment, 151 is omitted and there will be no grounds in it for activists to pursue minority opinion-holders in the courts or through any administrative processes in Ofcom.Read More

mdi-timer 1 December 2022 @ 12:30 1 Dec 2022 @ 12:30 mdi-twitter mdi-facebook mdi-whatsapp mdi-telegram mdi-linkedin mdi-email mdi-comment View Comments
Donelan’s Online Safety Bill Still a Threat to Free Speech

Next week the infamous Online Safety Bill returns to the Commons. The government has ditched the “legal but harmful” clause but has replaced it with… something worse.

The new wording requires social media moderators who have “reasonable grounds to infer” that content will create “serious distress” to remove that content. Taken together, “Reasonable grounds to infer” and “serious distress” are a significant step into the shadows..

Back in May this year, a Government “communications offences factsheet” told us that the criteria for “legal but harmful” were: 

  • Is harm intended to the likely audience?
  • Is there a reasonable excuse?
  • Is it a matter of public interest?

Thus, under the previous “legal but harmful” proposals – political cartoons were exempt. Also, the statement “I don’t believe trans women are women” was exempt. The guidance said “There is no intended harm and neither was there a substantial risk of serious distress.”

The new wording creates a demand for “seriously distressed” people – for fervent believers in their religion, gender identity, personal ideology to express anguish. How can moderators look at social posts from, say, the trans lobby saying, “You have erased our existence!” and not infer “serious distress”? Guido is pretty certain that if a demand for hysteria is created, the supply will rise to meet it. 

UPDATE: The department has been in touch to say our report ignores the Minister’s announcement on the morning of publication that the proposed new offence of causing “serious distress” is to be removed from the Bill, as are the provisions regarding “legal but harmful”.

And it is true that the words “legal but harmful” and “distress” no longer appear in the Bill. If the Minister is to be credited on winding the wording back, Guido is happy to do so.

However, the drafting changes leave the Bill fully inhabited by the spirit of both “legal but harmful” and “distress”. Clauses 151 and 154 say that an offence is committed if there is a real and substantial risk of “harm.” “Harmful” is to be defined by the Secretary of State – although under the law as it stands, “harm” is defined by whoever feels themselves harmed – a category that, in modern discourse, includes “serious distress”.

Note also that the harm doesn’t need to be realised. Courts can step in if there is a risk of harm (the spirit of “infer” is still lively).

The department will say that these provisions have been in the Bill from the start – which may be true but is hardly a great defence.

mdi-timer 29 November 2022 @ 09:17 29 Nov 2022 @ 09:17 mdi-twitter mdi-facebook mdi-whatsapp mdi-telegram mdi-linkedin mdi-email mdi-comment View Comments
Harper: Government Will Strike Balance to Prevent Free Speech Clampdown in Online Safety Bill mdi-timer 27 November 2022 @ 09:05 27 Nov 2022 @ 09:05 mdi-twitter mdi-facebook mdi-whatsapp mdi-telegram mdi-linkedin mdi-email mdi-comment View Comments Previous Page Next Page