The UK government has name Ofcom to enforce rules around “harmful speech” on Facebook, Snapchat and TikTok.
To be clear the Government is making private companies legally resposible for what we, individuals, say to each other. This explicitly requires mass surveillance and censorship.
This is going to be a disaster for privacy and free speech online.
The “duty of care” regulation proposed today gives social media companies legal responsibility for preventing psychological “harm” – undefined – arising from online chats between members of the public.
The result? Social media companies have to police private conversations.
The proposal goes far beyond policing unlawful content. It explicitly creates powers for lawful speech to be ‘regulated’.
It subjects lawful speech online to state-sponsored censorship, imposed by an unelected regulator. This directly undermines the right to free expression.
Further, it requires social media companies to *prevent* ‘harmful’ (undefined) speech going online in the first place; and prevent ‘inappropriate’ (undefined) content recommendations.
So expect state-sponsored upload filters, recommendation systems and mass surveillance.
The proposal would put a legal duty (!) on Ofcom to use tech for these ends and cites “machine executable regulation” to detect “undesirable” (undefined, again) content. Controls will enforced with AI + automation.
Silkie Carlo, director of Big Brother Watch said in a letter with The Times:
“Internet regulations will control the everyday interactions of billions of people. The government proposals go far beyond ensuring that tech companies remove unlawful content and would explicitly regulate lawful speech. They would impose a legal “duty of care” on the companies to protect users from psychological harm. This broad and undefined responsibility would result in corporate surveillance and censorship online on an unprecedented scale.
“Far from wresting back power, this would elevate social media companies to «speech police».”
Policing + safety is so important online and social media companies have a vital role.
But deputising the likes of Facebook to police *lawful* conversations; to impose *even more* surveillance on their platforms; state-sponsored control of recommendation systems and upload filters?
We think the Ofcom / duty of care proposal is dangerous and wrong.
If the Online Harms Bill looks anything like the white paper, it will be a direct attack on the fundamental right to freedom of expression. We will fight these proposals.