Government of the UKPeers warn that plans to deal with ‘legally but harmful’ online content would compromise freedom of speech and be ineffective.
Instead, existing laws must be properly enforced and any serious harms that are not illegal should be prosecuted, according to aHouse of Lords Communications and Digital Committee ReportPublished today.
The committee stated that “Vile racist abuse” directed towards some England football players is an example online behavior that should be punished, even if it’s already illegal.
A few large companies such asFacebookAndGoogleThe primary goal of these companies is to make money from user data. They have “monopolized” the digital “public square”, with too much control over what people can see and say.
The Online Safety Bill proposal to require digital platforms to remove illegal material and protect children from harm was welcomed by the committee. However, the committee warned that the legislation’s draft is flawed in relation to keeping children away porn sites. They also recommended that platforms ensure that they don’t over-remove any content.
The platform should also contribute more resources to the police to enforce the law, including online harassment and death threats.
Lord GilbertChair of the committee, Jeremy Sullivan, stated: “If the government believes a particular type of content to be sufficiently harmful, it should also be criminalized.”
“We would expect that this would include, for instance, any vile racist abuse directed towards England football team members which isn’t already illegal. This behavior is unacceptable in our society, and it must be stopped immediately.
“The freedom to express your opinions is a hallmark of a free society. It is a right that has been treasured for many years in Britain, but it is not an unrestricted right.
“The rights and preferences for individuals must be at heart of a new, joint-up regulatory approach that brings together competition policy and data design and law enforcement to protect children.
“Britain could be a global leader setting standards for other countries. This is what we must do.
The committee stated that platform moderation decisions are often “unreasonably inconsistent”, driven by political and commercial interests and have stifled legitimate discussion.” Government proposals to require them respect ‘contents of democratic importance’ are not enough.
Lord Gilbert said: “The benefits to freedom of expression online cannot be curtailed” by companies like Facebook and Google. They too often governed their political and commercial interests over the rights and well-being of their users.
Because of the lack competition, people have no choice but to use these platforms. It is time for tougher regulation. The government should urgently grant the Digital Markets Unit all the powers it requires to end the stranglehold of these companies.