“Devil is in the detail”: IEA expert responds to Gov’s Online Safety Bill proposed amendments

Commenting on the government’s Online Safety Bill proposed amendments, Matthew Lesh, Head of Public Policy at free market think tank the Institute of Economic Affairs, said:

“The government’s renewed focus on child protection and illegal content is an important and welcome step in the right direction. In particular, the removal of the censorious ‘legal but harmful’ duty is a win for free speech.

“Nevertheless, the devil will be in the detail. There is a risk that Ofcom oversight of social media terms and conditions, and requirements around ‘consistency,’ could encourage over-zealous removals. There is also a risk that the so-called ‘user empowerment’ duties will become the default and shield people from challenging ideas. It’s not clear that Ofcom or ministers should be dictating how companies design their platforms.

“The abandonment of the new communications offence, that was set to criminalise causing emotional distress, is also welcome and important. But the u-turn on Section 127 of the Communications Act is deeply worrying — this is the provision that sees police knocking on the door for supposedly offensive tweets and videos.

“There are also other issues that the government has not addressed. The requirements to remove content that firms are ‘reasonably likely to infer’ is illegal sets an extremely low threshold and risks preemptive automated censorship. The government also needs to address the risk to encrypted communications, on platforms like WhatsApp and iMessage, imposed by duties to actively monitor speech.”


Notes to editors

Contact: [email protected] / 07763 365520

IEA spokespeople are available for interview and further comment.

The mission of the Institute of Economic Affairs is to improve understanding of the fundamental institutions of a free society by analysing and expounding the role of markets in solving economic and social problems. The IEA is a registered educational charity and independent of all political parties.

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