Online ‘safety’ bill further enshrines victimhood culture

Marc Glendening

September 12, 2022

The good news is that in Liz Truss’s first PMQs she announced that the government would be making ‘some tweaks’ to the Online Safety Bill in order to protect free speech. Infamously, as far as real liberals are concerned anyway, clause 14 will instruct social media platforms and the state appointed regulator to remove ‘legal but harmful’ communications. If she is serious about free speech, this must go.

Surely it’s incredible that anybody adhering to politically liberal beliefs can actually believe that the expression of an opinion can ever constitute ‘harm’? The very premise that looking at the internet can in any way make us ‘unsafe’ is self-evidently ridiculous. Individuals either have agency or they don’t. If we do have agency, then we can decide for ourselves what to, and what not to, expose ourselves to.

This Bill is usually justified, as it has been by Culture Secretary Michelle Donelan, on the grounds that it ‘protects children’. Once it was the evoking of jingoistic patriotism that was said to be the last resort of a bounder, now it’s the alleged safety of our kids. Even if it is accepted that content relating to children should be regulated, why does it then follow that adults have their right to access content curtailed by state-appointed moral guardians?

The bad news is that it appears that the government intends on keeping the provisions that were added to the Bill after lobbying from that new left quango, the Law Commission for England and Wales. This will enable the police to arrest and prosecute us for causing ‘serious emotional distress’ and so impose authoritarian censorship employing pseudo-therapeutic justification. The blurb supporting the Bill states: “‘Serious’ does not simply mean ‘more than trivial’. It means a big, sizeable harm.” How is this to be measured with any degree of mathematical certitude?

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport have said, in an attempt to allay concerns about free speech, that the aim of this provision will not be to shut down debate about transgenderism or other issues. Once on the statute book, however, it will be entirely for the police and Crown Prosecution Service to interpret this law.

Indeed, this law will focus on ‘protecting’ the victim’s state of mind, and is not concerned with specifying exactly what kind of ideological content should be erased. Thus, no guarantee can be given that someone engaging in a robust exchange of views on trans, abortion, homosexuality or other issues, will not face prosecution.

As has been well-documented, the police have visited people in their homes and places of work because of views they have expressed. In fact, 120,00 people have been placed on police ‘Non Crime Hate Incident’ registers. Some have gone to trial, such as Marion Millar, who took on trans militants online and retweeted the Suffragette symbol. This of course, apparently caused a person who saw the tweet psychological trauma and made him feel unsafe. She was charged under the Communications Act 2007 which the Online Safety Bill will replace.

The police won’t even need some Stonewall/Mermaids supporting fanatic report on you for having (apparently) psychologically traumatised them, before moving against you. If, in the authorities judgement, your tweet or blog might have potentially caused such distress to members of a ‘likely audience’ (not necessarily one that possesses a ‘protected characteristic’) you could find the Old Bill feeling your collar.

This further enshrinement of victim culture, as subjectively defined and enforced by state authorities, will make it increasingly difficult for those of us expected to obey the law to predict what might constitute illegal conduct. The new law will demand that those embarking upon a communicative act be able to accurately guess how members of audiences likely to view or hear it might react emotionally to it. Or, rather, how those within law enforcement determine the collective mental states of entire groups of people.

The Bill will therefore further consecrate the Culture Control Left’s identity politics worldview. It will contribute to the undermining of political and legal equality. The state will gain yet more potential capacity to clamp down on those narratives deemed to be transgressive whilst giving free reign to those that find favour with the elite. Truss must do more than just a few ‘tweaks’ to this Bill; she must prevent this illiberal monstrosity.


Written by Marc Glendening

Marc Glendening is Head of Cultural Affairs at the Institute of Economic Affairs

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