The UK’s since long discussed Online Safety Bill was announced in the Queen’s speech. The law is meant to protect people from harm and scam on social media but has already led to a discussion about freedom of expression. Social media firms will be forced to take down harmful content quickly or face heavy fines. The legislation especially stresses the importance of keeping children safe and says “democratically important” content should be preserved.
Home secretary Priti Patel added the scam provisions would help fight “ruthless criminals who defraud millions of people”.
But one of the big discussions will be the difficult border between removing harmful content and freedom os speech.
The government says that there should be fast-track option to appeal if for instance journalistic content is removed citing that it could be harmful. This option to appeal sounds as if the government has been looking at the Facebook Oversight Board appointed by CEO Mark Zuckerberg to fend of criticism that the social media company’s management acts as a censor taking down content and violates freedom of speech.
The Oversight Board’s first really complicated issue has been the management’s suspension of US ex-president Donald Trump’s accounts at Facebook and its Instagram. The Oversight Board agreed with them management that it was motivated to suspend the accounts in connection with the mob’s storming of the US Capitol as Trump’s statements could inspire more violence but the board said the management should within six months evaluate if it should open the Trump accounts.
Ruth Smeeth, chief executive of London-based freedom of speech organisation Index on Censorship, was not impressed calling the bill a “censor’s charter… outsourced to Silicon Valley”. Her statement indicates a future discussion about how decisions of national importance can be taken by US-based big tech companies.
The discussion on how to balance protection against harmful content and feedom of speech will continue. The basic idea with the bill was presented two years ago. Next step is that it will be examined by the Parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, whose chairman said it would be pressing for the legislation “to be given top priority”.