We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

“Legal but harmful”

“The draft Online Safety Bill delivers the government’s manifesto commitment to make the UK the safest place in the world to be online while defending free expression”, says the gov.uk website. It would be nice to think that meant that the Bill would make the UK the safest place in the world in which to defend free expression online.

The text of the draft Bill soon dispels that illusion. Today’s Times editorial says,

In the attempt to tackle pornography, criminality, the promotion of suicide and other obvious obscenities rampant on social media, the bill invents a new category titled “legal but harmful”. The implications, which even a former journalist such as the prime minister appears not to have seen, are worrying.

It is sweet to believe the best of people, but that “appears not to have seen” is either sweet enough to choke on, or sarcasm.

Could they give the censors in Silicon Valley power to remove anything that might land them with a massive fine? That would enshrine the pernicious doctrine of no-platforming into law.

Fraser Nelson, editor of The Spectator, has expressed alarm at what he fears the wording could do to his publication. Any digital publisher who crossed the line might find an article on vaccine safety or on eugenics, or indeed any topic deemed controversial, removed without warning, without trace and without recourse to challenge or explanation. The decision would not be taken by human beings, but by bots using algorithms to pick up words or phrases that fell into a pre-programmed red list.

The editorial continues,

The bill specifically excludes from the category [of “legal but harmful”] existing media outlets. If Facebook or another platform took down an article from a British newspaper without explanation, Ofcom, the media regulator, could penalise the platform.

That’s us bloggers dealt with then. Notice how the article frames the threat to free expression almost entirely in terms of its effect on newspapers. Still, in the current climate I am grateful that the Times has come out against the Bill. If self-interest is what it takes to wake them, then good for self-interest.

However, social media giants operate on a global scale. In any market such as Britain, where they have a huge following and earn billions, they will not risk a fine of 10 per cent of their annual turnover. They will simply remove anything deemed “harmful”, or, to counter the bill, downgrade its visibility or add a warning label. Given that America’s litigious culture will influence those deciding what constitutes harm, this could include political assertions, opinions or anything the liberal left could insist constitutes “fake news”. If Donald Trump can be banned, so can others.

9 comments to “Legal but harmful”

  • Paul Marks

    I wonder if the people on the Times understand that they people they supported in the American elections of 2016 and 2020 would support this sort of Bill (and would appoint Supreme Court Justices who would get rid of the 1st Amendment – and the rest of the Bill of Rights). And the people they mocked for years – were the people AGAINST attacks on Freedom of Speech.

    Still Natalie is correct – at least the Times has come out against this dreadful British Bill, even though they do not mention that the real threat is to INDIVIDUALS.

    “Porn” and “protect the children” has been the excuse for POLITICAL and cultural censorship for 300 years – since Sir Robert Walpole had a FAKE play produced (incest, murder – on and on) to bounce the House of Commons into supporting his censorship of the theatre Bill.

    The difference is that the Sir Robert Walpole knew what he was doing (he was actually IN CHARGE) – modern ministers most likely have very little idea what is in the Bills they are told to push – told by officials and “experts”.

    “Then we need to tell them Paul” – it does not work that way, a minister has a brief and sticks to that brief (repeating stock words – in “reply” to criticism), they are never going to admit that they do not really understand the Bills they push.

    “But Minister – on page 33 of this Bill it says that you personally shall be executed, the Bill actually names you!”

    The Minister replies “action will only be taken by independent public servants acting for the public good – THINK OF THE CHILDREN!”

  • john cheshire

    What are these tyrants doing to us and who is going to stop them? When is someone in the useless House of Commons going to call out the unelected Civil Servants and all the vested interest experts for acting like Common Purpose graduates and actually leading beyond the authority we have given to them?

    If something is legal then it’s none of the government’s, the police’s or any other public servants business.

    We already have a plethora of laws, rules and regulations to deal with criminals, although apparently they don’t apply to certain groups such as MPs, it seems to me.

    The best service our servants could provide to us would be to stop producing ever more laws and start reducing the number we already have, such as hate crime laws and climate change laws and the human rights act.

  • Paul Marks

    John Cheshire – to the moderns “illegal” is whatever is against their “laws.

    So if their “laws” say that it illegal to say that 1+1=2 then to say 1+1=2 is a “crime”. Remember they are Legal Positivists – followers of Sir Francis Bacon, Thomas Hobbes and-so-on, they do not believe in rights AGAINST the State. They do not believe in natural law (natural justice) – they have redefined the words law and justice (as Thomas Hobbes did) to mean the will of the state.

    As for Members of Parliament – like Ministers they often have very little idea what is going on.

    “They” “the tyrants” are the “educated” class of officials and “experts” – and yes Corporate Managers (all much the same sort of “educated” person now).

  • Zerren Yeoville

    Somehow, I can readily imagine that the rulemakers are quite capable of deciding that the website you, dear reader, are perusing at this very moment – i.e. Samizdata itself – is a prime example of ‘legal but harmful’ content in dire need of suppression, in the service of that nebulous ‘greater good’ which is seldom far removed from their eternal efforts to control what people are permitted to think.

  • staghounds

    Sticks and stones may break your bones, but words will send you to prison.

  • Rudolph Hucker

    Notice how the article frames the threat to free expression almost entirely in terms of its effect on newspapers.

    First they came for the bloggers and they did not speak out…

    Some might say this is kharma.

    Does The Times, Guardian (et al) still do any serious investigative journalism? They appear to be happy being mouthpieces for “reliable sources within the government” and regurgitating corporate press releases.

    All the while keeping silent while people like bloggers and independent journalists/authors can be prosecuted because they are not “proper journalists”. e.g. Craig Murray and the totally novel “jigsaw identification”.

    Would it be too blatantly obvious if The Times (etc) renamed themselves Pravda.UK ?

  • Paul Marks

    Rudolph Hucker.

    Just about the only newspaper in the United Kingdom where people do not just tend to repeat the “official sources” is the Daily Telegraph.

    I am told that it is not a grand conspiracy by the media – it is laziness and group think.

    It is easier to just repeat what officials have said, and rework press realises, than it is to do real investigative journalism.

    Look how Project Veritas is despised (yes really hated) by the media in the United States.

    They are hated because they do what old fashioned journalists are supposed to do. Which the “mainstream” no longer do.

  • Rudolph Hucker

    I am told that it is not a grand conspiracy by the media – it is laziness and group think.

    I concur, but also: Follow the money.

    The BBC and the Guardian regularly receive multi-million dollar contributions from the trusts of wealthy philanthropists. It is estimated that Bill Gates has given over $300 million over the last decade to a wide variety of media outlets. Faced with plummeting paid readers and advertisers, mainstream legacy media seems eager to tap a new revenue stream.

    ‘Trusted messengers’ seems to be a phrase much in vogue around philanthropic operations. Last October, Rockefeller gave $4.5 million to Purpose Global, a non-profit company that aims to help corporate clients with their “cultural intelligence”. The money was given in support of facilitating a “communication network of trusted messengers”. This would “amplify accurate information and combat mis- and dis- information on COVID-19 vaccines”. In September 2020, the Gates Foundation gave the Guardian $3.5 million to “support” its regular reporting on global health. Likewise, the Global Health Security Team at the Telegraph is Gates-funded.

    During the last decade, Gates has given at least $20 million to help fund the BBC World Service and $5.5 million for the Corporation’s Media Action charity. In that time, the software tycoon, once treated with great suspicion for early monopolistic tendencies, has become a prized ‘talking head’ across the BBC for epidemics, vaccines and anti-meat diets. His recent scary tales of climate change, “How to Avoid a Climate Disaster”, was recently given five airings on prime time Radio 4.


    As it is for Climate Change, so it is for every other issue that has an official “consensus” that must not be questioned by revolting peasants and troublesome types (like us). “Old school journalists” might not be on the gravy train, but are easily elbowed out of the way by editors “following the policy” and other more-compliant colleagues.

  • Paul Marks

    Rudolph Hucker – interesting points Sir.