Do you want Nick Clegg to be the supreme censor of what you write online? Because it could be the accidental effect of the government’s new online security bill.
It could make the former deputy prime minister – now a multimillion-dollar-a-year Facebook executive – the overall arbiter of whether your views are okay or “legal but harmful,” and therefore likely to be censored.
Protecting people online is undoubtedly a major issue that defines this era of politics.
The generation heading into the workplace and higher education today is one of the first to have grown up entirely online.
It is quite clear that we must meet the challenges of the Internet.
Anyone who has only spent ten minutes online will know the problems that need to be tackled.
Since the stakes are so high, it is essential that we get the big calls right.
DAVID DAVIS (pictured): Protecting people online is undoubtedly a major issue, which defines this era of politics
Comments in response to my tweets, for example, can range from preachy to sociopathic. I tend not to read them.
However, some colleagues are faring much worse, especially female parliamentarians and those from ethnic minorities.
For some, the problem is so serious and so traumatic that they have been forced to stop their careers.
The Online Safety Bill, which the government will present to Parliament in the coming weeks, will not solve this. But this will have potentially disastrous results.
The government’s plan is to force platforms such as Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Instagram to remove content that is not illegal but still deemed harmful.
Government press releases talk about removing material that encourages suicide, promotes eating disorders, or exposes children to pornography.
Worthy goals. No one would argue that we shouldn’t tackle these challenges.
But the bill also gives Silicon Valley‘s unelected tech giants — led by the likes of Nick Clegg — the power to decide exactly what content crosses the line between safe and harmful.
The implications for free speech are potentially disastrous. Do we really want twenty-something prodigies sitting in a lavish California office 5,000 miles away deciding whether a 1970s comedy routine crosses that line?
Or decide whether those who question the consensus on Covid policy are raising concerns or pushing misinformation?
Or if a public figure writing about transgender issues has moved on to hate speech?
These are matters of nuance that we cannot outsource to big tech fanatics and their fashionable opinions.
What might be considered “harmful” to one group of users may be quite acceptable to another.
Yet the two can co-exist on the same platform – and should be allowed to do so.
Are we really suggesting erecting digital Berlin walls to prevent part of society from seeing something that might – only might – upset them?
If he is not careful, Downing Street risks introducing a government-sponsored online cancel culture through the backdoor.
DAVID DAVIS: The government’s new online safety bill could make the former deputy prime minister (Nick Clegg, pictured) – now a multimillion-dollar-a-year Facebook executive – the umpire general whether your views are acceptable or ‘legal but harmful’, and therefore subject to censorship
Incentives are perverse. There is nothing in the bill to punish companies that have erred on the side of removal, for taking too strict a view of harmful content. Yet for platforms that host legal but harmful content, the penalties on offer are enormous.
The risk is obvious – that companies take an extremely cautious approach to deciding what content can stay online. And freedom of expression will be the victim.
I know all too well what a massive overreach these West Coast bullies have.
In October last year, I spoke at a Big Brother Watch event at the Conservative Party Conference. I have spoken against national vaccine passports, challenging the supposed wisdom of introducing such a policy.
Big Brother Watch uploaded a video of my speech to their YouTube channel – and it was quickly taken down by YouTube management! I have been accused, quite outrageously, of spreading “medical misinformation”.
After the initial shock of censorship passed, I went through the video line by line, reiterating everything I had said. Everything got up. It was accurate, fair and based on the latest scientific evidence.
Eventually, after being challenged, YouTube turned around and my speech was re-uploaded.
But it made it clear that big platform providers can’t trust our freedom of speech. If I hadn’t been a well-known MP, would objections have been heard so quickly, if at all?
Challenging conventional wisdom is a fundamental premise of science, as is maintaining a constant vigorous debate. When YouTube deleted my speech, they shut down that debate.
The past few days have seen the promotion of Nick Clegg to president of global affairs at Meta, Facebook’s new name.
In this role, he will direct “all political matters” including, ultimately, what is legal but harmful.
So it’s worth knowing about Clegg’s background in this area.
During the debates around the Leveson investigation into the conduct of the press, Clegg pushed for stricter state regulation of newspapers.
A totally reckless move that would have eroded freedom of the press in the UK.
Current government proposals see Ofcom take on the role of regulator to protect people when they are online.
We can’t expect much help from its unelected and largely irresponsible bureaucrats who, as we know from experience, are just as sensitive to political fads as the West Coast tech moguls.
Last year, Ofcom was criticized for taking the same view as YouTube and branding anyone skeptical of the UK’s pandemic response as spreading “misinformation”.
How can we trust the tech giants to respond properly to these calls if even the regulator does not respect free speech?
Ofcom is totally unequipped to deal with the difficulties of regulating the online world and should not be allowed anywhere in this area.
So what is the way forward?
The easiest way to deal with online crimes is for Parliament to decide whether or not they should be made illegal.
Websites promoting self-harm towards children should be illegal in my opinion. And platform providers can be trusted to uphold the law, because if they get it wrong, they can be challenged in court.
Parliament should have a new bill each year to consider these issues. There will be many potential new offenses to consider, and Parliament can do this, carefully, in public, with proper challenge and debate. And the whole process will be democratic.
As it stands, however, the Online Safety Bill is a disastrous bill that will inadvertently introduce a censor’s charter. This will leave Big Tech as the global arbiter of truth and free speech.
If you’re ideologically aligned with the West Coast Democrats who run these companies, you might be okay with that.
But for the rest of us here in the freethinking world, we should resist any movement that closes the debate or tells us what we should think.
We need to make massive changes to the Online Safety Bill.