‘Health misinformation’: the latest addition to the Online Safety Bill
Labour and the SNP are planning on a new amendment
Civil libertarians often talk about a phenomenon known as the “ratcheting effect”. This is the idea that when it comes to the erosion of our liberties, the trajectory tends to head in one direction; in favour of state power at the expense of our rights and freedoms.
It is the reason why we draw red lines that should not be crossed. If you breach the principle of non-interference in people’s rights with a relatively minor incursion, what is to stop that minor incursion from escalating to something more significant in the future?
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Yet with the Online Safety Bill, a censor’s charter, which has been so long in the making, the ratcheting effect is happening in real time. Last week, SNP and Labour politicians on the Committee currently scrutinising the Bill laid an amendment to include “health-related misinformation and disinformation’ as a recognised form of lawful but ‘harmful’” speech. This threatens to open a Pandora’s box of censorship.
The terms ‘misinformation’ and ‘disinformation’ have grown to become part of the political lexicon in recent years. The concepts of being incorrect or misleading have been left behind for alternative terms, with loaded connotations. Yet they are malleable terms, often deployed in ways to discredit or silence another individual’s argument in the course of public debate.
Stoked by these fears, we have seen Big Tech increasingly taking on the role of online speech police in recent years. During the coronavirus era, this reached new extremes. At the beginning of the pandemic, Facebook took the step of removing content which promoted face masks as a tool to combat the spread of Covid-19.
Yet within a short space of time, the medical consensus on masks changed. But rather than acknowledge that it was wrong, Facebook flipped its position and censored in the other direction. A high-profile example saw Facebook label, discredit and suppress an article in The Spectator, written by the Oxford academic Carl Heneghan, disputing the efficacy of masks. What grounds or competency Silicon Valley’s fact-checkers had to overrule reasoned arguments by a Professor of Evidence-Based Medicine remains to be seen.
This approach is a direct threat to the epistemic process, so central to the free and open development of knowledge and ideas in liberal democracies. The fact that not even academics can escape this kind of truth arbitration speaks volumes.
Proponents of the Online Safety Bill perform mental gymnastics in trying to defend the legislation by arguing that hard and soft censorship is already happening online. They fail to provide how an approach which sees the state support these systems and even designate some categories of free speech as ‘harmful’, will do anything but compound this issue.
All of this highlights a problem that the Government are yet to acknowledge; this Bill could end up strangling our rights and freedoms online. The misinformation amendment is unlikely to carry much traction for now, but it is a sign of things to come. We should all be concerned.
Many of our current scientific orthodoxies originated in scientists challenging the previous orthodoxy and spreading what was then regarded as misinformation. Orthodoxy has no need of the law to protect it innovators have a hard enough time as it is challenging orthodoxy. If orthodoxy scientific opinion had the protection of law in the past we would still be talking of humours and applying leeches and woe-betide anyone suggesting surgeons should wash their hands before an operation. We would still regard stomach ulcers as stress related… I don’t need to go on. The proposed legislation is retrograde to the point of madness.
Sadly, it’s nothing new. Things didn’t end well for Semmelweiss, even without state censorship.
Indeed, orthodox scientific opinion is quite capable of putting up a ferocious fight against those who challenge it without the need for legislation to dragoon the dissenter. Legislation in this area is both mad and counterproductive to genuine science but will, of course, appeal to wordsmiths like politicians.
It is utterly bewildering that a Conservative government would promote legislation which will be used as a battering ram to suppress public expressions of conservative and moderate opinion. The range of topics where stating a verifiable fact, never mind a point of view, is not only dangerous and career limiting but actually illegal is becoming terrifyingly large. That is the real online harm.
As I read the article it is the SNP and Labour politicians “on the Committee currently scrutinising the Bill laid an amendment to include “health-related misinformation and disinformation’ as a recognised form of lawful but ‘harmful’” speech. Make your digs at the right group.
Indeed. Labour and SNP have lost my vote now. This push for censorship is sheer lunacy. We need more exchanges of views, not less!
“You will take any medication we politicians prescribe you, no arguments”
We should all be concerned indeed!
Given that the effect of these proposals is likely to provide further means to control what the public at large is allowed to think, can we even be sure that it is well-intentioned?
This is the fourth time of trying to post a comment. What is going on? I am simply trying to convey that this Bill is a serious threat to free speech, but it seems that Unherd is already thwarting this right! If you’re still unconvinced, please look up the Vigilent Citizen page about the dystopian plans of the WEF.
Where have my replies / comments gone? For anyone doubting the serious threat this Bill presents, please look at:
The proposed Labour amendment to include health-related misinformation and disinformation as a ‘priority harm’, i.e. to come within scope of the Bill, was defeated in Committee yesterday afternoon.
The absence of this requirement from the Bill will not of course prevent social media platforms making stupid decisions on whether they carry or ban crazy content.
this Bill could end up strangling our rights and freedoms online.
Funny way to write “if passed. this bill will end up strangling our rights and freedoms online”
Facebook wasn’t ‘wrong’ about masks at the beginning. They are ineffective, as Carl Heneghan later proved. What was ‘wrong’ was to suppress debate.
Maybe a hard punch line against these Statist morons trying to avoid accountability would help energize the public and stop this amendment. How about smearing them with a meme like “Genocide [ substitute as needed with: population culling ] through vaccination should be immune from online criticism as long as it is practiced by the ruling elite?”
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