The Government’s Online Safety Bill risks undermining free speech, a group of Tory MPs and peers have warned.
Lord Frost is said to be leading a revolt by members of the Conservative Party concerned about the far-reaching consequences of an ill-thought-out bill.
The Christian Institute has previously raised concerns that government efforts to crack down on illegal and harmful content online could have unintended consequences, including censorship of Christian teaching.
Lord Frost told the Daily Telegraph: “The Government would be wise to take a fresh look at the Online Safety Bill before starting discussion in Parliament. Some of its aspects pose a real risk to freedom of expression in this country.
“It clearly hasn’t been properly thought through in all aspects and it would be best to pause, have a deeper discussion and get it right.”
a real risk to freedom of expression in this country
Former Security Secretary John Hayes said: “It is very important, as part of a proper effort to control the excesses of the internet, that we do not allow free speech to be inhibited by awakened prejudices about acceptable viewpoints.”
And MP Steve Baker said: ‘Some people will take offense to more or less anything – does that make it harmful? Once again, we see a lack of clarity that could be deeply dangerous.”
In its editorial, the Daily Mail noted: “The unintended consequence of making social media companies responsible for monitoring ‘legal but harmful’ content is disastrous for freedom of expression.
“Lord Frost has hit the nail on the head. Granting ‘woke’ Silicon Valley executives a charter of censorship makes them the arbiter of which viewpoints are deemed acceptable – and which should be reduced to silence.
The government says its Online Safety Bill, published in May, will establish “a new regulatory framework to tackle harmful content online”.
The ministers say the proposals will restrict what legal content it deems ‘harmful’, with the definition of what constitutes ‘legal but harmful’ to be decided by the government, Ofcom and the Silicon Valley giants.
Institute Director Colin Hart warned that the bill contains only a “very weak and ineffective duty” to respect free speech, and asked: “Where will that leave dominant Christian beliefs about sexual and medical ethics, gender, marriage and parenthood?
“The bill must be amended to include a presumption in favor of freedom of expression. What is free to say on “the street” must also remain free to say online.
“The legislation also proposes a new criminal offense for communications deemed “likely to harm a likely audience”. This may harm the eye of the viewer.
“Any approach that prioritizes the claims of the ‘offended’ is dangerous, especially when the ‘likely audience’ for online content could be anyone in the world. The bill risks enshrining the cancel culture in law.
Online security bill
The government will soon introduce an online safety bill to strengthen internet regulation. There are good reasons for that. Social media companies have been incredibly slow to remove terrorist content. Algorithms push young people towards pro-suicide material.