Online Censorship Regulations

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Overview

Europe

Matthew Lesh:

"The EU, and in particular the U.K., has the dubious distinction of leading the democratic world in internet censorship. In 2016, the EU presented the Code of Conduct on Countering Illegal Hate Speech Online to Facebook, Microsoft, Twitter and YouTube. This code, developed by officials employed by the European Commission, an unelected body, came with the threat of legislation if companies don’t “voluntarily” sign up. It requires them to review and remove so-called “illegal hate speech” within 24 hours, and helps explain why these companies have become more aggressive at policing their own users.

In September of last year, the European Commission introduced the Code of Practice on Disinformation, another “self-regulatory” regime that puts pressure on tech companies to remove content in the context of the EU’s upcoming elections. Considering the difficulty in distinguishing “fake news” from genuine political commentary, this has the potential to undermine free speech. Ironically, the EU has now complained that Facebook responded to the code by banning cross-country advertising, which is perfectly legal in EU elections.

The European Parliament has also passed the updated Copyright Directive, which could lead to blocking of swaths of content with unknown origins for European users, and is currently considering new regulations designed to ban terrorist content. In recent months, Australia has rushed through laws to compel tech companies to provide access to encrypted messages, and, following the Christchurch terrorist attack, to jail tech company executives that fail to remove terrorist content, or depictions of murder or rape." (https://quillette.com/2019/04/30/the-moral-panic-behind-internet-regulation/?)


Germany

"This was swiftly followed by Germany’s Netzwerkdurchsetzungsgesetz (NetzDG) law, introduced in 2017, requiring large social media platforms to remove illegal content within 24 hours or face fines of up to €50 million. Inevitably, such laws rely on inconsistent and subjective definitions of what constitutes “hateful” or “offensive” speech and social media companies face considerable difficulty in understanding what content they’re expected to moderate out of existence and what is permitted. Not surprisingly, given the potential fines involved, they have erred on the side of caution. The German law has led to right-wing politicians having their accounts removed from Twitter and the suspension of an anti-racist German satirical magazine. A broad left-right coalition, including The Free Democratic (FDP), Green and Left parties, have all called for the law to be replaced."

The U.K.

Matthew Lesh:

"However, the harshest and broadest online speech regulations in any Western democracy are set to be introduced by the Government of the U.K.

“Because, as a society, one of our greatest responsibilities lies in keeping our children safe,” declared the British Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, earlier this month, announcing the launch of the Online Harms white paper. (In the U.K., a white paper is a formal statement of government policy prior to legislation.) Stanley Cohen would have struggled to find a more perfect exemplar of the rhetoric of a moral panic. Javid claims that the internet is a “hunting ground for monsters” who want to victimize children, groom terrorists, and display “depraved” material. Where some people see technologies that build communities of shared interests, democratize access to information, and create millions of jobs, Javid sees danger everywhere—“in games, apps, chat rooms and more.” He announced that tech companies have “failed to take responsibility” and declared: “I warned you. And you did not do enough. So it’s no longer a matter of choice.”

While the increasing clamor for the regulation of digital platforming companies may be an international phenomenon, it has also been amplified by Britain’s peculiar political context. The U.K. Conservative Government, led by Theresa May, is currently failing to deliver on the central plank of the Tory manifesto—Brexit—and lacks any other meaningful domestic policy agenda. Meanwhile, the British political media is obsessed with the jostling within the Conservative Party over who is to become the next prime minister when May finally resigns, which is expected to happen later this year. Notably, Javid only responded to criticism of the proposals when it was put in the context of his well-known leadership ambitions. With a poll last year finding that 4/5ths of the British public have concerns about going online, Big Tech has become a politically convenient punching bag for these ambitious Tory politicians.

The press release announcing the Online Harms white paper is titled: “U.K. to introduce world first online safety laws.” Apparently, the British Government wants to lead the democratic world when it comes to online censorship, proudly trying to out-do China, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Russia. This is all coming from a center-right Government that supposedly believes in free speech (but has a questionable track record in this regard). The white paper seeks to make the U.K. the “safest” place in the world to use the internet by imposing a “duty of care” on technology companies to remove “harmful” content, although it has failed to provide concise definitions for these terms. This “duty” is to be enforced by a powerful new regulator. If company executives fail to uphold these as-yet undefined standards, they could face hefty fines, jail time, or even see their companies lose access to web hosting and payment services or, worse, be blocked. In sum, the U.K. Government wants technology companies to be responsible for enforcing an expansive state censorship regime." (https://quillette.com/2019/04/30/the-moral-panic-behind-internet-regulation/?)