Online Harms – A Bill of Rights for the Censor
8th April 2019
Perhaps the most overlooked effect of the Brexit Crisis is that new legislation of any kind in Britain has dwindled from a flood to a trickle. Since new laws and bad laws amount to much the same, this is to be celebrated. For this reason alone, I might hope for the crisis to continue at full tilt until at least 2022. It will not, but the respite has been welcome.
Something particularly nasty that will now have to wait its turn in a long queue is any Bill inspired by the Online Harms White Paper published on the 8th April 2019. This proposes that Internet sites should be fined or blocked if they fail to tackle “online harms,” such as terrorist propaganda and child abuse. To achieve this end, here are the suggested means:
- An “independent regulator” charged with writing a “code of practice” for social networks and Internet companies;
- Enforcement powers that include fining companies that break the rules;
- Additional enforcement powers such as the ability to fine company executives and force Internet service providers to block sites that break the rules.
For the avoidance of doubt, I am not at all in favour of hurting children or incitement to acts of violence against identifiable individuals. But we already have enough laws for dealing with these evils to fill a dozen telephone directories. The authorities are short not of laws, but of the will to enforce the laws they have already made. I have no doubt that what happened in Rotherham and other places was against any number of laws. I am sure that what a reasonable man would regard as terrorist propaganda has been illegal quite as long as there has been an England.
If we are to oppose what is proposed in the White Paper, it is not because we are in favour of evil things. It is because of the real or most probable ends of what is proposed. These ends are:
First, to provide jobs and salaries and pensions for leftist prodnoses. These are university graduates qualified in all the sub-Marxist jargon that disguises tyranny as caring. They will use their positions to carry out their appointed duties, and to provide another salaried applause group for similar laws and enforcement bodies.
Second, to censor the media. The proposed enforcement body will have the power to deter “trolling and the spread of fake news and disinformation.” And this is the main purpose. Until about twenty years ago, the newspaper media in this country was owned by half a dozen rich men, usually with seats in the Lords. It was edited by men willing to crawl naked over broken glass for a knighthood or an invitation to a garden party at Buckingham Palace. The broadcast media was effectively a state monopoly. Turning stories on and off was as easy for the authorities as turning a tap. Losing control has been painful. Being called tyrants and shameless liars is not nice – especially when the evidence is never more than five clicks away. Therefore the coining of the term “fake news,” this being Newspeak for anything that disagrees with the official narrative on any issue.
If you claim that Theresa May and sundry other wicked persons set out in advance to stop us from leaving the European Union, you are spreading “fake news.” Ditto if you refuse to believe the official line on global warming, Russian conspiracies, passive smoking, recreational drugs, modernist art, over-population, under-population, the death of David Kelly, or the causes and cure of diabetes. In short, if you dissent from the official line on anything, you are spreading or are a victim of “fake news.” The idea is to shut you down or to “protect” you.
My own preferred resolution to the Brexit Crisis is No Deal – even if this results in Operation Stack from Dover to the Moon. Part of me, though, would like to see it continue until the next asteroid impact. If it saves us just from any law based on the Online Harms White Paper, we shall not, in 2016, have cast our ballots in vain.