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The UK faces algorithm-driven censorship if online censorship bill comes to pass

A dark future looms.
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If this isn’t happening already – current and former MPs, legal experts and free speech activists are warning that UK’s upcoming Online Safety Bill getting approved in parliament might usher in the era of “algorithm-driven censorship.”

The concern is strong enough to have seen a group formed around the cause of preventing the bill’s adoption, with Index on Censorship and MP David Davis among its members.

UK’s Ofcom regulator would be enforcing the law that threatens massive fines going up to 10 percent of total global revenues of those companies found in violation of the future rules.

If the name of the proposed legislation sounds familiar, that’s because it is: this is what was previously known as 🛡 Online Harms Bill. Although renamed, the purpose remains the same: to make internet service providers like social media platforms and search engines used by UK residents liable for third-party content.

And the bill would exempt content posted by journalists, lawyers and politicians. Some suspect this provision is meant to ensure there is not much outcry from these influential public figures. But critics say it is also essentially discriminatory, dividing society into two two tiers, where freedom of expression is guaranteed to a privileged class, while other citizens face censorship – the kind “outsourced” to Silicon Valley and its algorithms.

The worry here is two-fold: that tech companies behind these services will opt to protect themselves at the expense of the right of their users to express themselves freely. To be able to achieve this at scale, they would employ algorithms to censor users whose content might end up harming their business.

The other concern is that private US companies will be deciding what UK citizens can and cannot say and access online, effectively assuming the role that supersedes the government’s powers in this area.

One of the group’s members, well-known media barrister Gavin Millar is cited as saying that the content tech companies would be tasked with removing is vague and sets “a very low threshold.”

“It’s fundamental, it’s important to remember that what’s at stake here is somebody exercising a fundamental human right,” Millar added.

But those behind the bill see it as a way to hold tech companies accountable – and “protect the British people from harm” – as Home Secretary Priti Patel put it.

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