Gov Publish UK Online Safety Bill to Censor “Harmful” Content

After much delay the UK Government will today publish a draft of their new Online Safety Bill (Online Harms), which among other things hands Ofcom a new “ legal duty of care ” that can be used to force websites into removing “ harmful ” internet content. Failing to do so may risk being fined or blocked by mobile and broadband ISPs.

The proposed legislation, which is intended to replace the old model of self-regulation that has struggled to keep pace with the changing online environment (i.e. the Government believes too much “ harmful ” content is allowed to slip through a fairly weak net), faces the unenviable task of trying to strike the right balance between freedom of expression and outright censorship.

Various examples exist for “ harmful ” content (e.g. terrorism, child abuse, self-harm and suicide imagery etc.), such as the rise of the ISIS terrorist group online a few years ago, as well as state sponsored propaganda from hostile countries, online bullying, the spread of COVID-19 related 5G conspiracy theories (encouraging criminal attacks against infrastructure and engineers) and so forth. Social media firms did eventually catch-up, but they’re often late to the party.

Time and time again, some uninformed, uneducated British statesman tries to ‘fix’ something that literally cannot be fixed, nor does it even require ‘fixing’.

Yes, conspiracy theories and hate speech are bad and unacceptable. But to try to ‘scrub’ the web of that content will only lead to further complications. The UK overestimates its influence on the world wide web and this is a blatant example of their hubris. It will not work, and the moment they consult with analysts and knowledgeable persons on the matter, they will either retract their plans for further modification, or simply retract them entirely until the next big scare arises.