The UK government has introduced new legislation to control the content on social networks. It will penalize users who post harmful content with imprisonment, and platforms that fail to censor their users with fines of up to $25 million.
The Online Safety Bill was designed to combat ‘hate’ on the Internet and appears to be a response to recent death threats to MPs with the particularity that it would criminalize offenses that are not actual crimes by definition with up to two years in prison.
The British government’s Office of Communications, Ofcom, will regulate the enforcement of the new law and will have the power to levy fines of $25 million or 10 percent of global shares on social networking platforms that fail to censor material deemed harmful.
According to a SkyNews report, the problem with the proposal is the government’s definition of material deemed ‘legal but harmful.’
In a statement, the government explained the scope of the law, “This type of activity can range from online bullying and abuse, to advocacy of self-harm, to spreading disinformation and misinformation.”
The Times, an English newspaper, reported that an example of such activity would include “anti-vaxxers” for spreading information that the state considers false.
The bill is being examined in Parliament by a joint committee of the House of Commons and the House of Lords. They will report their findings on December 10 for formal introduction in Parliament.
Mr. David Davis MP, a free speech campaigner, criticized some aspects of the bill, saying it was a good example of the best intentions ending in the worst results.
“You can be sure that in any area of controversy—political issues, culture wars, or even COVID science—there will be plenty of people complaining and demanding a post be taken down,” Mr. Davis said.
“And with Silicon Valley mega corporations as arbiters of the truth, anything that appears online and can be characterised by someone as misinformation could be censored. The chilling effect on free speech will be terrible,” he added.
However, the government argued that the focus of the law will be the “safety” of users and that it will put more pressure on platforms to enforce these new standards.
“We are making our laws fit for the digital age. Our comprehensive Online Safety Bill will make tech companies responsible for people’s safety and we are carefully considering the Law Commission’s recommendations on strengthening criminal offences,” said the UK government spokesperson.
The Online Security Bill was in response to the recent murder of Conservative MP Sir David Amess. He received multiple online threats from a group of trolls—anonymous users on social networks, sometimes funded by interest groups or governments—such as the case of the Chinese regime’s 50-cent army, who engage in defaming or promoting certain people or events by pretending to be individuals.
The proposal seeks to end the anonymity of these groups by implementing these penalties, although the limits of the legislation may play a role in freedom of expression.