Changes to Online Safety Bill embed power of tech companies, and do little for free speech

  • Removal of “legal but harmful” for adults replaced by State-mandated enforcement of tech companies terms and conditions.
  • Bill still fails to protect right to freedom of expression.
  • Tech companies can restrict whatever they like, as long as they.

In the latest version of the Online Safety Bill, a provision governing so-called “legal but harmful” content for adults has been removed. It would have likely meant the over-removal of lawful content, but its replacement is equally worrying. New provisions inserted by the government herald a regime of state-mandated enforcement of tech companies’ terms and conditions.

The government claims that this change will protect free speech, but in fact, it just embeds the power of big tech. Online platforms can restrict whatever content they like, as long as they tell you.

The new provisions emphasise “restricting users access to content” without precisely defining what this means. Tech companies will be required to say in their terms and conditions what content they will restrict and how they will do it.

The new provisions also state that tech companies “must not act against users except in accordance with their terms and conditions”, but the repetition of restrictive language suggests that the expectation is that they will restrict. There is no recognition of users’ freedom of expression rights, and they may only complain about breach of contract, not breach of rights.

Dr Monica Horten, ORG Policy Manager for Freedom of Expression said: “This shifts the emphasis from merely taking down troublesome content, to preventing users from seeing it in the first place. It creates an environment of sanctions rather than rights and freedoms.”


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Notes to editor

  1. Dr Monica Horten’s full blog article entitled Online Safety Bill latest change: State enforcement of big tech terms can be read at – [LINK]
  2. Online Safety Bill, as amended, On Re-committal in Public Bill Committee See Clauses 64-67 and 52
  1. In an unusual Parliamentary procedure, the Online Safety Bill was sent back to the Committee Stage (Re-commital) on 13th and 15th December in order for these changes to be made.
  2. While the bill has removed the clauses that dealt with “content harmful to adults”, it still includes the clauses regarding harmful content for children.