Under the Online Safety Bill, Britain could become less free

Editorial: So far as free speech is concerned, the danger is the ‘chilling effect’ the legislation will have on online freedom of expression

Wednesday 11 May 2022 21:30
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<p>Ambitious to the point of folly, the bill seeks to make Britain the safest place in the world to be online</p>

Ambitious to the point of folly, the bill seeks to make Britain the safest place in the world to be online

Strange to say, but Britain’s proposed new online safety legislation, now embarking on a difficult journey through parliament, has something in common with the last days of communism in Hungary. By the late 1980s, censorship in the former people’s paradise had broken down so badly that there was no longer any central control over what could be published, performed or broadcast.

Far from liberating journalists and producers, however, this meant that people no longer knew where they stood, and those involved in any kind of journalistic or creative activity, or in any of the government departments, could be their own censor. Much effort was wasted on writing anodyne material that was still deemed by some bureaucrats to be seditious, with other officials letting all manner of anti-Soviet diatribes into the public domain with a cheery wave. Chaos reigned.

So too with the Online Safety Bill. Ambitious to the point of folly, it seeks to make Britain the safest place in the world to be online. That is a noble aim; but how to do it? One way not to do it is to force every company, large or small, to be responsible for everything that is carried on its platforms.

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