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UK government reckons people love a bit of censorship

The DCMS has commissioned a report that found 7 in 10 adults want social media firms to do more to tackle harmful content. What a surprise.

Pollster Ipsos was asked to conduct one of those surveys that definitely don’t have a clearly-stated desired outcome by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. The headline findings are that 68% of respondents ‘want more action from social media firms on racism, homophobia and misogyny on their platforms’, and that ‘over 4 in 5 adults are concerned about harmful content online’.

Now, why would the DCMS be spending public money on the commissioning of a special survey designed to produce such juicy data points? Maybe it’s got something to do with the Online Safety Bill, which is facing increasing public opposition as it stumbles its way through parliament. It uses the pretext of public concern about ‘harmful content’ to give the government sweeping powers of censorship over the digital domain.

“Online abuse has a devastating impact on people’s lives, and these findings definitively show the public back our plans which will force social media companies to step up in keeping their users safe,” said Digital Secretary Nadine Dorries. “It is clear people across the UK are worried about this issue, and as our landmark Online Safety Bill reaches the next crucial stage in Parliament we’re a big step closer to holding tech giants to account and making the internet safer for everyone in our country.”

Definitively? Dorries seems to be getting a bit desperate, perhaps because the current chaos in the UK government could well result in her losing her job. Whoever the Conservative Party choose as their next leader, and thus Prime Minister, may decide the whole bill needs rewriting, focusing more specifically on worthy issues such as the protection of children, as opposed to censoring anything it unilaterally deems to be harmful.

Surveys like this prove nothing. The sample size was just over a thousand people and we don’t know the precise phrasing of the questions. The majority of people may well have expressed concern about harmful content, but that concept remains ill-defined. Such a finding is also far from a definitive mandate for sweeping state censorship and the resulting DCMS press release comes over as clumsy, opportunistic and weak.

 

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