UK: ‘Online Safety’ Law Could Massively Restrict Freedom of Speech, Press

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Britain’s Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, and Media has admitted that the government’s new “Online Safety” bill has the potential to censor news outlets online.

Nadine Dorries MP (pictured above) has announced the Conservative Party government has “every intention” of preventing social media platforms and search engines from being forced to remove content from recognised media outlets that could be perceived as “harmful”.

Currently, news sites have concerns that if they publish a piece about a sensitive subject such as terrorism it could be taken down by new content monitoring social media algorithms which would be unlikely to be able to distinguish between it and a piece of content that promotes terrorism.

The legislation does include an appeals process but, due to the nature of news, media companies are worried that by the time a piece could be restored the story would no longer be relevant, the Daily Mail reports.

A parliamentary committee has recommended to the government that “the news publisher content exemption” in the bill should be “strengthened to include a requirement that news publisher content should not be moderated, restricted or removed unless it is content the publication of which clearly constitutes a criminal offence, or which has been found to be unlawful by order of a court.”

However, even if these changes were made to protect news sites, everyday users would still face censorship for posting content that is lawful but could be interpreted as “harmful“, with social media sites facing heavy fines — up to 10 per cent of their global annual turnover — and possible prison time for executives if they fail to comply with the bill and remove prohibited content from their platforms.

Critics of the bill have warned that social media companies may be overzealous in their censoring of language to avoid the fines, due to its vagueness and the uncertainty around protections for the discussion of contentious issues, such as whether biological males should be allowed in female changing rooms.

There is also concern social media companies whose leadership are of a socially liberal persuasion will jump on the opportunity to censor conservative users under the guise of the duty to prevent “harm” if the bill passes.

Nadine Dorries has nevertheless attempted to frame the Online Safety Bill as a measure to prevent “unelected” Silicon Valley executives from being the “supreme arbiters” of discourse online, suggesting the bill would somehow prevent them from dictating who is “cancelled” and “silenced” — although it is not at all clear that it does anything to prevent tech companies from banning users, censoring their content, or limiting their reach exactly as it does now.

She also insisted that the Conservative Party “would never pursue legislation that threatens freedom of expression” despite the fact that the bill appears to do exactly that.

Speaking to Breitbart London, Ben Harris-Quinney of the conservative Bow Group think tank criticised the Johnson administration’s move to introduce the Online Safety Bill.

“Freedom of speech is an absolute, you are either for it or against it. Most Conservative MPs claim to be in favour of freedom of speech, and yet are supporting legislation which would significantly constrain it,” Harris-Quinney pointed out.

“Mainstream media has asked for an exemption, but the last thing we need is a situation where institutions like the BBC can say whatever they like but the public or independent media cannot. Online outlets, just like any form of media, should be liable for publishing false and defamatory content, but not content that government or social media decides it doesn’t like,” he added.

Turning his focus to the Tories more generally, Harris-Quinney suggested “the public did not elect the Conservative Party to raise their taxes, curtail their freedom of speech, pursue extremist green policies and bankrupt the nation. On most issues they were elected to do the exact opposite of what they are doing.”

“No amount of pointing at Ukraine can distract from the fact this Conservative government is the most left-wing government Britain has ever had and is thusly failing”, he alleged.

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