The UK's Entire Approach To 'Online Harms' Is Backwards... And No One Cares

from the this-is-not-a-good-idea dept

Back in April, the UK (with Theresa May making the announcement) released a plan to fine internet companies if they allowed "online harms" in the form of "abhorrent content." This included "legal" content. As we noted at the time, this seemed to create all sorts of problems. Since then, the UK has been seeking "comments" on this proposal, and many are coming in. However, the most incredible thing is that the UK seems to assume so many things in its plan that the comments it's asking for are basically, "how do we tweak this proposal around the edges," rather than, "should we do this at all?"

Various organizations have been engaging, as they should. However, reading the Center for Democracy & Technology's set of comments to the UK in response to its questions is a really frustrating experience. CDT knows how dumb this plan is. However, the specific questions that the UK government is asking don't even let commenters really lay out the many, many problems with this approach.

And, of course, we just wrote about some new research that suggests a focus on "removing" terrorist content has actually harmed the efforts against terrorism, in large part by hiding from law enforcement and intelligence agencies what's going on. In short, in this moral panic about "online harms", we're effectively sweeping useful evidence under the rug to pretend that if we hide it, nothing bad happens. Instead, the reality is that letting clueless people post information about their dastardly plans online seems to make it much easier to stop those plans from ever being brought to fruition.

But the UK's "online harms" paper and approach doesn't even seem to take that possibility into account -- instead it assumes that it's obviously a good thing to censor this content, and the only questions are really around who has the power to do so and how.

The fact that they don't even seem to be open to the idea that this entire approach may be counterproductive and damaging suggests that the momentum for this proposal is unlikely to be stoppable -- and we're going to end up with a really dangerous, censorial regulation with little concern for all the harm it will cause, even when it regards actual harms like terrorist attacks.

Filed Under: content moderation, harm, online harms, terrorist content, uk


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  • identicon
    Annonymouse, 9 Jul 2019 @ 4:23am

    Think of the children

    Their goal is censorship and nothing less.
    These are the same people who wanted to chip kids not that long ago.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Not an Electronic Rodent (profile), 9 Jul 2019 @ 9:22am

      Re: Think of the children

      Their goal is censorship and nothing less

      Methinks you are assigning too grand and Machiavellian a motive to basically power-hungry potato-heads. I would be surprised to find the motive is anything more thoughtful than shoring up political support.

      I suspect the goal is to be seen to be "Doing Something" about an issue that's been blown up somewhere in the media because of one or more "Terrible Things That Have Happened".

      Knee-jerk, reactionary law from morons to haven't a clue and don't care how the thing works as long as they can be seen to be "Doing Something About The Problem" to the kind of voter that also doesn't know how it works but "Cares Deeply About The Children And Stuff".

      Actual harm is irrelevant here because by the time it manifests, some political rival will have had a hand in it and you can blame them or if not just falsify the figures and hold a "Major Press Conference" touting how well it worked. The clueless are appeased and you get elected again - everyone wins.

      British Politics... the triumph of appearance over fact (have you not seen Brexit?)

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Nathan F (profile), 9 Jul 2019 @ 4:48am

    I guess they think "Out of sight, out of mind" and "What they don't know won't hurt them."

    They really want to go back to the news being local issues only and hide what is going on in the wider world.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 9 Jul 2019 @ 7:49am

      Re:

      Its very unlikely they will ever get things to go back tobeing local issues only let alone hide what is going on in the wider world.

      This plan may end of being scraped anyway.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    JoeCool (profile), 9 Jul 2019 @ 5:44am

    Flags

    Any time a government supplies pre-written questions for input from the public on a proposal, it's clear that said proposal is stupid, dangerous, and possibly illegal, so they must shape every aspect of the discussion around it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Wendy Cockcroft (profile), 9 Jul 2019 @ 6:45am

      Re: Flags

      Confirmed correct. When answering the one they did about fracking I had to answer the questions in such a way as to address the problems I have with it. It's almost as if they're framing the questions to get the answers they want.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 Jul 2019 @ 6:21am

    The big question is who gets to determine what is offensive and what is not. If Muslims take extreme offense to homosexuality and transsexualism, should those things be banned online? Or will saying things like "a man is not a woman" be considered hate speech?

    Or maybe just ban everything that any group, any person finds offensive, and in the process literally shut down the whole internet.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 9 Jul 2019 @ 6:37am

      Re:

      The big question is who gets to determine what is offensive and what is not.

      Whoever has the power at the moment.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
        identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 9 Jul 2019 @ 7:05am

        Re: Re:

        Currently, the ruling dogma seems to be Intersectionality . However, several of the defined groups that constitute Intersectionality have demands that are mutually exclusive. And of course, those who get placed outside the Intersectionality bubble (the "historically priviliged") are essentially non-persons whose basic needs can be ignored since they're at the bottom of the Progressive Stack

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
          identicon
          Nate P Cilver, 9 Jul 2019 @ 7:41am

          Re: Re: Re:

          Mike should delete your statement, it is something a Nazi would say. I hope the UK fines this site if it leaves your message up.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 Jul 2019 @ 7:47am

    It seems the momentum for this proposal is going to be stopped and may have already been stop thanks to the gov itself, from what I hear its going to take years to bring in and may be delayed for even longer like another blocking plan that was to come in around July 15th.

    Also it seems many do care and the gov will be force to care (or quietly scrap it like they always end up doing)

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 Jul 2019 @ 8:32am

    i dont think that 'no one cares' is correct. it's more a case of the UK government doing its damnedest to stop ordinary people from accessing sites that the government want inaccessible! even those sites that are legal will have to be giving permission as they are part of the entertainment industries and we all know, those industries want the Internet for themselves! the ordinary customers get the blame for being secretive, for being pirates, for wanting to be hidden and unaccountable when the truth is that it's those in government and the wealthy friends that actually want to be hidden because of what they do and dont want to be found out! the UK is China, Iran and N.Korea etc, all the countries that were/are condemned for their lack of human rights, freedom and privacy but doing the same things even though supposed to be a democratic and free country. what a load of horseshit!! it's as corrupt as every other country, including the USA but has got a lot worse over the last 10 years because it dont like any power that the 'people' have and wants to have a country where none but the elite have any say and any power! sound familiar?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 9 Jul 2019 @ 8:55am

      Re:

      The UK is noting like China Iran and N.Korea and no website will ever have to be giving permission from the entertainment industries let alone the same industries getting the Internet for themselves.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Jul 2019 @ 2:00am

    Playing whack-a-mole with statements you dont like

    Lets set up a regulatory agency for that.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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