UK Plans FOSTA-Like Regulations to Censor ‘Harmful’ Online Speech

A new “white paper” by the British government department responsible for overseeing the internet calls for new regulations that—similar to those contained in the United States FOSTA/SESTA law passed last year—would make social media and other online platforms legally responsible for “harmful” content posted by users.

The white paper does not specifically mention porn as an example of “harmful” content, focusing instead on bullying, terrorism, political disinformation, “gang culture” and other offensive material.

Current law in the United Kingdom protects platforms such as Facebook and and Twitter from any legal liability for illegal or “harmful” content that appears on their sites, posted by users—which was also the state of the law in the U.S. prior to FOSTA. But according to a report by Wired Magazine online, if the new proposals were to become law, those platforms could face penalties if they fail to police their own sites for “harmful” content.

According to Wired, if the sites slip up in policing user content, penalties “go beyond the typical fines. The regulator could block offending sites from being accessed in the UK, and force other companies—like app stores, social media sites, and search engines—to stop doing business with offenders.”

In fact, under the new proposals, individual executives themselves could be held criminally liable for failure to root out offending content, even on massive social media platforms such as Facebook.

Though the white paper issued by Britain’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport does not specify porn or adult material as falling under the proposed censorship rules, it is easy to see how the standards would stretch to ban porn as well. As has extensively covered, the UK plans to imminently impose a law passed in 2017 that requires porn site visitors to upload information verifying their ages.

In addition, last year a group of UK lawmakers issued a report calling on the government to study the supposed harmful health effects of porn, even comparing porn viewing to smoking and reckless driving.

The report claims that online porn causes adult men to display “sexist attitudes and sexually aggressive behaviors, including violence,” suggesting that porn could easily be defined as “harmful” content under the proposed new rules.

Photo By Carlos Latuff / Wikimedia Commons Public Domain