The Government’s push to clamp down on illegal and harmful content online could have unintended consequences, The Christian Institute is warning.
Attempts to curtail content promoting violence, drugs, self-harm and suicide, as well as introducing an age verification law preventing children from accessing online porn, have been welcomed, but the plans go further and could censor Christian teaching.
Ministers say the Online Safety Bill will restrict legal content that it deems ‘harmful’, with the definition of what constitutes ‘legal but harmful’ to be decided by the Government, Ofcom and private tech companies such as Google and Facebook.
Institute Director Colin Hart warned: “Every day we hear accusations that someone is causing harm just for saying what they believe. The eminent Christian doctor, Peter Saunders, had a talk on transsexuality removed by YouTube. JK Rowling was vilified for challenging transgender ideology.
“Maya Forstater lost her job after saying that people cannot change their biological sex. At her Employment Tribunal the judge found against Forstater and said her view was ‘not worthy of respect in a democratic society’. Thankfully, this was overturned. But imagine consolidating that power in the hands of Big Tech.
“They will get to decide what should and shouldn’t be allowed in crucial and controversial areas of debate. Their yardstick will be their own commercial interest and so will inevitably go much further than what the law requires.”
He noted that the Bill contained only a “very weak and ineffective duty” to uphold free speech, and queried: “Where will this leave mainstream Christian beliefs on sexual and medical ethics, gender, marriage and parenting?
“The Bill must be amended to include a presumption in favour of free speech. What is free to say on ‘the street’ must also remain free to say online.
“The legislation also proposes a new criminal offence for communication deemed ‘likely to cause harm to a likely audience’. This risks putting harm into the eye of the beholder.
“Any approach that prioritises the claims of the ‘offended’ is dangerous, particularly when the ‘likely audience’ for online content could be anyone in the world. The Bill risks enshrining cancel culture into law.”