The UK’s problematic Online Safety Act is now law - Living Strong Television Network
The UK’s problematic Online Safety Act is now law
The UK’s problematic Online Safety Act is now law

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Jeremy Wright was the first of five UK ministers charged with pushing through the British government’s landmark legislation on regulating the Internet, the Online Safety Bill. The current UK government likes to brand its initiatives as “world-beating,” but for a brief period in 2019 that might have been right. Back then, three prime ministers ago, the bill—or at least the white paper that would form its basis—outlined an approach that recognized that social media platforms were already de facto arbiters of what was acceptable speech on large parts of the Internet, but that this was a responsibility they didn’t necessarily want and weren’t always capable of discharging. Tech companies were pilloried for things that they missed, but also, by free speech advocates, for those they took down. “There was a sort of emerging realization that self-regulation wasn’t going to be viable for very much longer,” Wright says. “And therefore, governments needed to be involved.”

The bill set out to define a way to handle “legal but harmful” content—material that wasn’t explicitly against the law but which, individually or in aggregate, posed a risk, such as health care disinformation, posts encouraging suicide or eating disorders, or political disinformation with the potential to undermine democracy or create panic. The bill had its critics—notably, those who worried it gave Big Tech too much power. But it was widely praised as a thoughtful attempt to deal with a problem that was growing and evolving faster than politics and society were able to adapt. Of his 17 years in parliament, Wright says, “I’m not sure I’ve seen anything by way of potential legislation that’s had as broadly based a political consensus behind it.”

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