Liz Truss says Online Safety Bill must protect freedom of speech

Conservative leadership candidate Liz Truss has said the Online Safety Bill must allow freedom of speech to flourish, as well as protect under-18s from harmful content.

Truss was speaking to members of the public in Leigh on GB News’s The People’s Forum, during which she responded to a question from a university student with concerns about the Bill.

It is not the first time Truss has spoken out, as she and fellow leadership candidate Rishi Sunak also broached the subject during a leadership hustings with the Spectator last month.

Online like offline

During the GB News hustings, student Theo said that there was a disconnect between the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill which will protect the right of students and staff to affirm the reality of biological sex, and the Online Safety Bill which risks censoring such views.

Truss responded: “You are right about that. What I want to make sure the Online Safety Bill does is protect the under-18s from content that is damaging. And I have two daughters who are aged 13 and 16, and I worry about some of the material that they can access online. I also worry about the impact of social media on them before they are yet fully adult and fully able to take responsibility.

“I very strongly agree with you though – where it’s about adults being able to speak freely, they absolutely should be, and it should be the same online as offline. That’s a really important principle, and I’ll make sure the Online Safety Bill does reflect that.”

it should be the same online as offline

Truss later added in response to a separate question that the police “should not be spending their time policing Twitter, they should be on the streets dealing with crime”.

Arbitrary censorship

The Online Safety Bill was expected to complete its final stages in the House of Commons last month, but was delayed until after the summer due to a lack of parliamentary time. It is expected to be rescheduled for the autumn after a new Prime Minister comes to power.

The legislation forces pornography websites to implement age verification systems to stop under-18s from viewing explicit content. But the Bill also gives strong incentives for social media companies to restrict content which is ‘legal but harmful’ to adults and empowers Government ministers to decide what this covers.

When the delay was announced, The Christian Institute’s Ciarán Kelly commented: “The Bill attempts to regulate social media content that the Government deems ‘harmful’ to adults even though it is perfectly legal. This dangerously vague approach risks arbitrarily censoring mainstream biblical teaching on sexual and medical ethics.

“Its scope should have been limited to uncontroversial and beneficial areas such as the long overdue protections for children from online pornography. These will now be delayed yet again.”

‘Suppressing free speech’

During last month’s leadership hustings, Rishi Sunak also spoke of reworking the Online Safety Bill, saying it must not stray “into the territory of suppressing free speech”.

He said he recognised there were concerns over the duty in the Bill on so-called ‘legal but harmful’ because the wording is unclear.

He added: “I do want to make sure that we are also protecting free speech and the legal but harmful bit is the one that I would want to spend some time as Prime Minister going over and making sure that we’re getting that bit exactly right.”

Also see:


Online Safety Bill pushed back until autumn

Online Safety Bill-style law poses threat to free speech in Canada

Lord Frost: ‘PM must prioritise an overhaul of the Online Safety Bill’

‘Online Safety Bill favours censorship over free speech’

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