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TL;DR A website blocking order is a modern form of censorship. In the wrong hands, it is a dangerous weapon. Blocking orders provided for in Clauses 91-93 of the Online Safety Bill could be used in the most egregious cases to block overseas Internet services that refuse to comply with the Bill. They are not suitable for targeting 'big tech' social media platforms. Blocking orders have been used in the UK for copyright enforcement since 2011, and there is a body of caselaw to draw on. If these orders are used, they should be precise and specify the exact locations of the content, site or server to be blocked.

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Nadine Dorries, Secretary of State, 4 November 2021, screenshot from Parliamentlive.tv

Tl;DR The Online Safety Bill is a major piece of legislation intended to tackle the very difficult and troubling issues around social media. However, in its desire to remove the bad stuff, the Bill is setting up a legal and technical framework that mandates and enforces the automated suppression of online content and social media posts. The lack of a precise aim has enabled it to be moulded in a way that raises a number of concerns. Government Ministers will have unprecedented powers to define the content to be removed. They will be able to evade Parliamentary scrutiny through the use of Secondary Legislation. Social media platforms will have a wide discretion to interpret the rules and to determine whether content stays up or goes down. These factors, combined with the overall lack of precision in the drafting and the weak safeguards for users, means that the Bill is unlikely to meet human rights standards for protecting freedom of expression online.

UPDATED to reflect the Bill as Introduced to the House of Commons on 17 March 2022.

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About Iptegrity

Iptegrity.com is the website of Dr Monica Horten. I am an  independent policy advisor: online safety, technology and human rights. In April 2024, I was appointed as an independent expert on the Council of Europe Committee of Experts on online safety and empowerment of content creators and users. I am a published author, and post-doctoral scholar. I hold a PhD from the University of Westminster, and a DipM from the Chartered Institute of Marketing. I cover the UK and EU. I'm a former tech journalist, and an experienced panelist and Chair. My media credits include the BBC, iNews, Times, Guardian and Politico.

Iptegrity.com is made available free of charge for non-commercial use. Please link back and attribute Dr Monica Horten.  Contact me to use any of my content for commercial purposes.  

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