Ofcom to regulate social media gives – ‘state sponsorship to social media companies’
Ofcom will be put in charge of regulating the internet, the government has announced, with executives at internet firms potentially facing substantial fines or even prison sentences if they fail to protect users from “harmful and illegal content” online.
Under the proposals, Ofcom will not have the power to remove specific posts from social media platforms. Instead, it will require internet companies such as Facebook and Google to publish explicit statements setting out which content and behaviour they deem to be acceptable on their sites. The media regulator will then ensure internet businesses enforce these standards “consistently and transparently”.
Sounds OK? Not really.
The big problem here is that a government department, run by someone very much at the heart of the government will now be in charge of the communication machine that is now driving how democracy works in Britain. For instance, has the government prosecuted Facebook for the theft of personal data and using it to promote the illegal activities of Vote Leave and Leave.EU? In addition, ‘mission-creep’ is a real threat to free speech in Britain and the government already has form. This isn’t about serious criminals and online hate – this is about the thin line between what the government sees as a threat and what it does about it for its own benefit. A good example of that are the ever-evolving terror laws in Britain, designed specifically to catch dangerous people, that ended up allowing local authorities to prosecute people for feeding pigeons, dog fouling, the BBC to hunt down licence fee dodgers and agencies to prosecute benefit cheats.
Silkie Carlo, CEO of BigBrotherWatch lays this decision bare with her comments:
“The Government’s proposals are set to be a disaster for freedom of expression and privacy online. The regulation would deputise private companies to police the internet and adjudicate over individuals’ right to freedom of expression. In Germany, similar regulation has pressured companies to conduct zealous censorship and surveillance on their platforms, which has been widely condemned by human rights groups. The proposals reek of mission creep and rather than dealing with only illegal content online are also set to explicitly regulate lawful speech, which is a dangerous direction to go.”
“The proposal to give state sponsorship to social media companies’ own terms and conditions is senseless. Platforms’ content policies are incredibly broad and restrict free speech far beyond the limitations set in law. It’s also under those terms that companies like Facebook have license to collect huge amounts of detailed information about billions of users.”