U.K. ‘Celebrates’ Its New Freedom From the E.U. by Pushing Massive Online Censorship Orders
A new policy will require online platforms to eliminate content the U.K. government decides is harmful, or face massive fines and possibly even criminal sanctions.
Lest anybody think Brexit was truly about freeing the United Kingdom from burdensome European regulations, this week the government announced that it was putting its Office of Communications (known as Ofcom) in charge of developing a massive regulatory framework to require further online moderation of content and communications online.
The United Kingdom wants to force online platforms like Facebook, YouTube, and others to have a “duty of care” for their users’ safety, a legal term that obligates the companies to protect its users from certain harms.
Ofcom and the U.K. government are selling this new regulatory regime as a way to both protect children from sex trafficking and abuse and stop terrorist organizations from recruiting online. But what they’re actually proposing is a much broader plan to shape social media communications to their liking. The new policy would also force platforms to tackle online “bullying,” prevent their users from encouraging suicide, and prevent the spread of what the U.K. government deems “disinformation.”
The Online Harms White Paper released last summer is being used as a framework. Here’s what it suggests:
Companies must fulfill their new legal duties. The regulator will set out how to do this in codes of practice. The codes will outline the systems, procedures, technologies and investment, including in staffing, training and support of human moderators, that companies need to adopt to help demonstrate that they have fulfilled their duty of care to their users.
Companies will still need to be compliant with the overarching duty of care even where a specific code does not exist, for example assessing and responding to the risk associated with emerging harms or technology.
There are so many potential problems with this plan that it’s hard to pick a point of entry. The first and most obvious issue is that there is no global consensus as to what constitutes a “harm,” especially when it comes to speech. The U.K. has hate speech laws that wouldn’t fly here in the United States—and a chunk of the
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