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UK government wants to save us from internet horridness

online censorship free speech

The UK government has vowed to make a bunch of new laws designed ‘to make sure that the UK is the safest place in the world to be online.’

On the surface this is hard to argue with. Nobody is in favour of harm, right? Well, baddies are, so it’s about time us goodies got together to get them off the internet. Of course there are many genuine baddies out there: people who openly incite criminal acts like terrorism, violence, sexual crimes, etc, but presumably there are already laws in place to tackle such people, so if they are still allowed to proliferate online then what we need is better enforcement rather than more laws.

“Criminals are using the internet to further their exploitation and abuse of children, while terrorists are abusing these platforms to recruit people and incite atrocities,” said UK Home Secretary Sajid Javid.  “We need to protect our communities from these heinous crimes and vile propaganda and that is why this Government has been taking the lead on this issue.

“But more needs to be done and this is why we will continue to work with the companies and the public to do everything we can to stop the misuse of these platforms. Only by working together can we defeat those who seek to do us harm.”

All of that is fine: let’s do better at stopping criminals do criminal stuff online. What’s not to like. But Digital Secretary Matt Hancock thinks that alone is insufficient to purge the internet from horridness and ensure the delicate UK electorate can go online without risk of being upset, offended or microaggressed.

“Digital technology is overwhelmingly a force for good across the world and we must always champion innovation and change for the better,” said Hancock. “At the same time I have been clear that we have to address the wild west elements of the internet through legislation, in a way that supports innovation. We strongly support technology companies to start up and grow, and we want to work with them to keep our citizens safe.

“People increasingly live their lives through online platforms so it’s more important than ever that people are safe and parents can have confidence they can keep their children from harm. The measures we’re taking forward today will help make sure children are protected online and balance the need for safety with the great freedoms the internet brings just as we have to strike this balance offline.”

Force for good? Change for the better? Wild west elements of the internet? Hancock seems to have a somewhat adolescent perspective on the colossal, infinitely nuanced social environment that is the internet. When politicians start using subjective, loosely-defined terms like ‘good’ to inform public policy, their electorate should be concerned.

Javid seems to have a more mature view on this topic and is senior to Hancock so will hopefully temper his evangelical zeal. There’s no question that crime committed over the internet should be prosecuted and that children need extra protection, but those concerns should not be a green light for sweeping censorship via the criminalization of anything some politician might unilaterally decide is ‘bad’.


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