Boris Govt Poses as Pro-Free Speech While Moving to Punish Tech Firms for Not Censoring More

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Boris Johnson’s government is claiming to “back freedom of speech to the hilt” even as it moves to prosecute tech bosses who fail to censor “foul content”.

Pressed by Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer on the “inescapable desire” of MPs to clamp down on online abuse and the right to anonymity online in the wake of Sir David Amess’s alleged murder at a constituency surgery, the Prime Minister told the House of Commons that “Of course we will have criminal sanctions with tough sentences for those who are responsible for allowing this foul content to permeate the internet.”

Such sanctions would likely be included in the Online Harms Bill, which had been planned to create multi-billion-pound financial penalties for tech firms which fail to censor to the state’s satisfaction but stopped short of  “senior manager liability” for individual executives, according to The Times.

The focus on online anonymity and how people express themselves on social media in the wake of Sir David’s killing — as opposed to failures in the control of radical Islam and mass immigration — has raised eyebrows even among centre-right, relatively establishment commentators, with even Tom Harwood of GB News remarking that he was “gobsmacked as to why we’re now talking about ‘anonymity online’ more than Islamism,” for example.

Strangely, the move to force an increase in censorship by Big Tech — which has already shown plenty of enthusiasm for banning mostly right-leaning figures online, up to and including the then-sitting President of the United States, Donald Trump — comes as the government is posing as a champion of free speech in the matter of Professor Kathleen Stock, who has been effectively “cancelled” after earning the ire of the trans lobby.

“The Kathleen Stock situation is dreadful. We back freedom of speech to the hilt. This sort of cancel culture is corrosive to democracy and fundamentally illiberal,” a government source said of the academic, a member of the LGB Alliance.

In reality, the Conservatives explicitly rejected an official petition to Parliament for a Free Speech Act under Johnson’s predecessor, Theresa May,  making the self-contradictory claim that “The Government is committed to upholding free speech, and legislation is already in place to protect these fundamental rights, [but] this freedom cannot be an excuse to cause harm or spread hatred.”

This was justified with reference to the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), which provides a notional right to freedom of expression qualified by what its text describes as “such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society, in the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, for the protection of the reputation or rights of others, for preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, or for maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary.”

The British approach to stands in marked contrast to that of Poland, which despite a much less prominent tradition of civil liberties and left-liberal accusations of contemporary authoritarianism has been moving to expand online speech rights, proposing penalties not for tech firms that fail to censor, but for tech firms which censor too much.

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