Tory crackdown on ‘online harms’ puts Red Wall seats at risk – as voters in old Labour strongholds tell PM: It attacks free speech
- Under draft bill, Ofcom will be given power to penalise for ‘harmful’ content risks
- But a survey has found that voters fear that the measure will damage free speech
- Objections pronounced among Tory Brexit supporters in formerly Labour seats
Government plans to penalise tech companies for ‘harmful’ content risks alienating key voters in Red Wall seats, an exclusive new poll has found.
Under the draft Online Safety Bill, the media regulator Ofcom will be given the power to levy large fines and block sites run by companies such as Google and Facebook if they expose users to material such as jihadi suicide videos.
But a survey by YouGov has found that voters fear that the measure will damage free speech – objections which are particularly pronounced among Tory Brexit supporters in those formerly Labour seats in the Midlands and North which fell to the Conservatives for the first time at the last General Election.
The poll found that a total of 59 per cent of Conservative Brexit voters believe that something which is legal to express verbally should not be made illegal simply because it has been published online. Just 17 per cent of voters think that there are some things that are legal to say in person which should not be legal to say online.
Government plans to penalise tech companies for ‘harmful’ content risks alienating key voters in Red Wall seats, an exclusive new poll has found
The survey also found that only 6 per cent think that the Bill’s focus on tackling online comments which are offensive but do not break any laws is a priority given that racism, sexism and incitement to violence are all already illegal anyway.
The campaign group Index on Censorship is highlighting the potential impact on free speech by sending ‘saucy’ seaside postcards to MPs to highlight the ‘risks to humour’.
The group says that the Bill’s introduction of a ‘Duty of Care model’ would force tech platforms to delete posts that are legal under laws passed by Parliament but considered ‘harmful’ without defining what is and is not ‘harmful’. The campaigners argue that this effectively outsources internet policing from the police, courts and Parliament to Silicon Valley in America.
The social media giants would use artificial intelligence algorithms to moderate the content – something which the poll found 62 per cent of voters oppose because they don’t trust the technology.
Matthew Lesh, head of research at the Adam Smith Institute, said: ‘This polling should frighten the Government – the Online Safety Bill is a political train wreck waiting to happen.
A policy to censor legal speech online is simply not why people voted Conservative in 2019. The polling shows that Brexit voters, who were key to delivering the Conservative Party its land-slide majority in the Red Wall, dislike the Online Safety Bill’s attack on free speech. It shows that voters value free speech and don’t want the state to require censorship of legal speech.
Under the draft Online Safety Bill, the media regulator Ofcom will be given the power to levy large fines and block sites run by companies such as Google and Facebook if they expose users to material such as jihadi suicide videos (file photo)
‘The Bill would even strengthen Labour’s central attack line – one rule for them, another rule for us – by creating an opt-out for politicians.’
Ruth Smeeth, head of Index on Censorship, said: ‘MPs need to understand the very real impact this Bill will have on the freedom of speech Brits value so dearly, while failing to address the public’s real concerns.
‘These postcards run in the great tradition of British humour, which would be lost to over-censorship under the Online Safety Bill as the Government washes its hands of responsibility for online content and hands powers over to the Silicon Valley giants rather than Parliament taking responsibility.’
YouGov sampled 1,811 adults between August 9 to 10.