Buried behind the Brand-related headlines yesterday, the British House of Lords voted to pass the controversial “Online Safety Bill” into law. All that’s needed now is Royal assent, which Charles will obviously provide.
The bill’s (very catchy) long-form title is…
A Bill to make provision for and in connection with the regulation by OFCOM of certain internet services; for and in connection with communications offences; and for connected purposes.
…and that’s essentially it, it hands the duty of “regulating” certain online content to the UK’s Office of Communications (OfCom).
Ofcom Chief Executive Dame Melanie Dawes could barely contain her excitement in a statement to the press:
“Today is a major milestone in the mission to create a safer life online for children and adults in the UK. Everyone at Ofcom feels privileged to be entrusted with this important role, and we’re ready to start implementing these new laws.”
As always with these things, the bill’s text is a challenging and rather dull read, deliberately obscure in its language and difficult to navigate.
Of some note is the “information offenses” clause, which empowers OfCom to demand “information” from users, companies and employees, and makes it a crime to withhold it. The nature of this “information” is never specified, nor does it appear to be qualified. Meaning it could be anything, and will most likely be used to get private account information about users from social media platforms.
In one of the more worrying clauses, the Bill outlines what they call “communications offenses”. Section 10 details crimes of transmitting “Harmful, false and threatening communications”.
It should be noted that sending threats is already illegal in the UK, so the only new ground covered here is “harmful” and/or “false” information, and the fact they feel the need to differentiate between those two things should worry you.
After all, the truth can definitely be “harmful”…Especially to a power-hungry elite barely controlling an angry populace through dishonest propaganda.
Rather amusingly, the bill makes it a crime to “send a message” containing false information in clause 156…then immediately grants immunity to every newspaper, television channel and streaming service in clause 157.
Apparently it’s OK for the mainstream media to be harmful and dishonest.
But the primary purpose of the new law is a transfer of responsibility to enable and incentivize censorship.
Search engines (“regulated search services”, to quote the bill) and social media companies (“regulated user-to-user services”) will now be held accountable for how people use their platform.
For example: If I were to google “Is it safe to drink bleach?”, find some website that says yes, and then drink bleach, OfCom would not hold me responsible. They would hold Google responsible for letting me read that website. Likewise, if someone tweets @ me telling me to drink bleach, and I do so, Twitter would be held responsible for permitting that communication to take place.
This could result in hefty fines, or even potentially criminal charges, to companies and/or executives of those companies. It could even open them up to massively expensive civil suits (don’t be surprised if such a legal drama hits the headlines soon).
That’s all window dressing, of course, what this is really about is “misinformation” and “hate speech”. Which is to say, fact-checking mainstream lies and calling out mainstream liars.
Section 7(135) is entirely dedicated to the creation of a new “Advisory committee on disinformation and misinformation”, which will be expected to submit regular reports to OfCom and the Secretary of State on how best to “counter misinformation on regulated services“.
This is clearly a response to Covid, or rather the failure of Covid.
Essentially, the pandemic narrative broke because the current mechanisms of censorship didn’t work well enough. In response, the government has just legalised and out-sourced their silencing of dissent.
See, the government isn’t going to actually censor anyone themselves, protecting it from pro-free speech criticism. Rather, huge financial pressure will be applied on tech giants to be “responsible” and “protect the vulnerable”. Meaning de-platforming and cancelling independent media via increasingly opaque “terms of service violations”
These companies will be cheered on by the vast crowd of jabbed-and-masked NPCs who have been so successfully brainwashed into believing the “they are a private company and can do that they want” argument.
This has been going on for years already, of course, but that was covert stuff. Now it’s legal in the UK, and is about to get a lot worse.
You can read the full text of the Online Safety Bill here.