The U.K. has begun tightening its regulation policies, at the risk of freedom of speech online.
In a white paper published by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport on April 8, new guidelines were proposed for regulating the internet. Home Secretary Sayid Javid said that he had given tech companies a chance, but they had failed. He stated, “I’m giving tech companies a message that they cannot ignore. I warned you and you didn't do enough. It's no longer a matter of choice. I will accept nothing else.”
The U.K. Home Office announced a “new regulatory regime” that will act on “harms” online. Javid said, in a statement tweeted out by the U.K. Home Office, that “Regulator will not be a paper tiger. It will be backed with tough enforcement powers that give it teeth. We’re proposing heavy fines, companies named & shamed, websites & apps who refuse to protect users blocked & senior managers could face criminal charges.”
The white paper discussed setting up an independent third-party regulator and creating an online police force where users could report online crimes to be dealt with. While some of the activities listed as punishable were illegal, such as child pornography and the spread of terrorism, others were not crimes.
The paper used terms that were open to definition, such as “the spread of misinformation online,” to designate something that would be banned on the U.K.’s regulated internet. Such content was deemed “unacceptable.”
The paper cited the University of Oxford’s Computational Propaganda Project’s report on online manipulation as “evidence of organised social media manipulation campaigns.” The University of Oxford’s Computational Project also published a study in 2018 which targeted Drudge Report, NewsBusters, CNSNews, MRCTV, Breitbart, the Daily Caller, Free Beacon, LifeNews, National Review, the Red State, and the Federalist as “junk news.”
If the U.K. and its new regulator decide to rely on this project for guidance in determining what sites to block, fine, and regulate, then conservative sites will be on the new hit list. This could be even more disturbing if the U.K. government is considering “blocking harmful sites,” which the BBC claims it is.
The white paper also cited a Reuters study which claimed that 61% of people “want the government to separate what is real and what is fake on the internet.” It also listed internet addiction and children’s overexposure to the internet as “harms” meant to be addressed by this new regulator. While the paper admitted that the government cannot have control over how long people spend in front of screens, it proposed funnelling money into studies to solve these problems.