Fair Vote UK, alongside HackedOff, Glitch, and a dozen other civil society organisations have written collectively to the relevant Minister and all Peers, calling on the government to end its plans to create a two-tiered internet. The Online Safety Bill's exemption for recognised news publishers entitles some to greater rights to freedom of speech than regular citizens. While legislation is required to make the internet safer and freedom of the press must be respected, these measures risk making the UK a global hub of disinformation and a launching pad for bad faith actors looking to misinform. We're collectively urging peers to make the right decision on the important amendments considered in debate today.
Read the full letter below:
Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay
Parliamentary Under Secretary of State
Department for Culture, Media and Sport
Members of the House of Lords
We are writing as a group of organisations, experts and academics from around the world urging you to remove or seriously reform exemptions for recognised news publishers. In its current form, the Online Safety Bill is an attack on the liberties and freedoms of the public. The exemption creates a two-tier internet, which entitles “publishers” - however harmful or dangerous - to greater rights to freedom of speech than private citizens. This is illiberal and undemocratic.
In May of this year, Nobel Peace Prize winner and journalist Maria Ressa formally announced a 10-point plan to address our global information crisis. Joined by nearly 300 Nobel laureates, organisations, and individuals, the plan calls for an end to “all special exemptions [from regulation] for those with the most power and reach”. The Online Safety Bill’s “recognised news publisher exemption” is precisely the sort of “special exemption” which that letter raises concerns about.
They, like us, understand that giving special status to users who we know are the most likely to cause online and offline harm is not only dangerous in the UK but sets a dangerous precedent around the world. This loophole is easily exploitable by state and non-state actors engaged in disinformation campaigns, creating an incoherency in the bill that undermines the overall intention of the bill and a systems-based approach to regulation. It could similarly attract disinformation outlets and other harmful publishers to the UK from across the globe so as to qualify for an exemption, which risks turning the UK into the global harm capital of the world.
We urge you to carefully consider the amendments needed to make sure the Online Safety Bill is a force for good, both in the UK and globally. The stakes are too high to fall short.
Kyle Taylor, Director & Founder, Fair Vote UK
Nathan Sparkes, CEO, Hacked Off
Seyi Akiwowo, Founder and CEO of Glitch
Isobel Ingham-Barrow, CEO, Community Policy Forum
Jamie Wareham, Director and Founder, QueerAF
Mutale Nkonde, CEO and Founder, AI for the People
Wendy Via and Heidi Beirich, co-founders, Global Project Against Hate and Extremism
Vicky Wyatt, Campaign Director, Ekō
Georgia Bullen, Executive Director, Superbloom (previously Simply Secure)
Jesse Lehrich, Co-Founder, AccountableTech
Tom Brake, Director, Unlock Democracy
Nnenna Paul-Ugochukwu, Chief Operations Officer, Paradigm Initiative (PIN)
Alice Stollmeyer, Founder & Executive Director, Defend Democracy
Xavier Brandao, Director & Co-Founder, #jesuislà
Mark Kieran, CEO, Open Britain