The British government is currently debating an “Online Safety Bill” that would make it a crime punishable by two years in jail to cause someone “psychological harm” as a result of online “trolling.”
According to The Times, the government will shift the focus from the content of an online message to its effect, creating the crimes of “threatening communications,” “knowingly false communication,” and “pile-ons.”
The new language and crimes will be added to the bill before it’s introduced next month.
According to The Times, “Trolls could face two years in prison for sending messages or posting content that causes psychological harm under legislation targeting online hate.”
“We are making our laws fit for the digital age,” a government spokesman told The Times. “Our comprehensive Online Safety Bill will make tech companies responsible for people’s safety and we are carefully considering the Law Commission’s recommendations on strengthening criminal offenses.”
The move will likely prompt opposition from freedom of speech and civil liberties advocates.
George Orwell would be so proud of his grandchildren.
The bill targets individuals but makes companies responsible for the content that appears on their platforms. That means that online platforms will have a hair-trigger when it comes to pulling any questionable online content.
But last year the Law Commission warned the laws were not fit for purpose, failing to properly criminalize some actions — like cyber-flashing — and over-criminalizing others, meaning freedom of speech was not properly protected.
The Commission’s recommendations to reform the law was welcomed by the government, which a year earlier had launched its own proposals for new laws to tackle online harms.
There is one sure-fire solution to fighting this online abusive behavior. It’s revolutionary, to be sure, and would not only uphold the right of free speech but eliminate the “psychological harm” caused by vicious posters.
How about unplugging from Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and all other social media sites? That way, the mouth-breathing morons can continue to spout their useless threats, the know-nothings can continue to call you names, and the half-wits can keep making their sick jokes with no psychological harm to anyone.
It’s a similar solution to the “problem” of television programs with content not fit for children or coming at the viewer from a point of view they don’t agree with. Turn the damn tube off or switch the channel if you don’t want to watch it.
In an ideal society, the online community affected by the trolling would enforce standards of courtesy and comportment. The offender would be blackballed, or worse, have their posting privileges suspended. That way, those who want to watch the content can do so with the full knowledge that anyone who may have been offended isn’t watching anyway.
Alas, we don’t live in an ideal society. We live in a society where people compete to see how mean, rotten, and insensitive they can be to others. We’ve shown that we’re incapable of using our freedom of speech responsibly, right?
Even if that were true — and it isn’t — that’s no reason to squelch it. In America, it used to be that the thought of regulating speech, much less making any speech illegal, would bring out legions of First Amendment defenders.
Now some Americans will likely look longingly at our British cousins and wonder if the same standard of “psychological harm” could be applied to American internet users. Ten years ago, it would have been unthinkable.