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Christian Institute welcomes online free speech climb down

The Government has confirmed it will drop the 'legal but harmful to adults' provisions from its Online Safety Bill and the controversial 'harmful communications' offence. Some protections for children will be expanded and strengthened. New questions have emerged regarding proposed requirements about 'hateful' content.

Responding to today's announcement regarding the Online Safety Bill, Simon Calvert, Deputy Director at The Christian Institute, said: "The Christian Institute and its supporters have been trying to persuade the Government from the start that it is possible to protect children and adults from real harm without sacrificing everybody's freedom of speech. The announcement that the Bill will no longer oblige tech companies to adjudicate on what kinds of opinions adults are allowed to hear is a good faith attempt to respond to these concerns.

"We are glad that the Government has also heeded our call to drop the so-called 'harmful communications' offence that was far too broad and subjective. And we are grateful to the Minister for taking the time last night to meet online with free speech groups to explain the changes she is making.

"We have been advocating giving users better control over their own online experience and the Bill will now do more to ensure that. However, there is a new concern about what is meant by the requirement to help users filter out 'incitement to hatred'. As Christians, we deplore the sin of hatred. But we also know that activists have hollowed out the meaning of that word by routinely using it to describe opinions they merely disagree with. It is not yet clear whether content expressing mainstream Christian views on marriage, sexual ethics and gender, for example, will fall foul of the new filtering provisions. Attempts to legislate against 'hatred' from 2001 onwards became mired in free speech concerns and led to a series of major defeats for the then Labour Government. The DCMS must be very careful they don't stray into the same territory.

"We reiterate our strong support for protecting children online and the latest announcements seem to make important improvements that will make tech companies do more to stop our youngsters being damaged. However, it is worth remembering that back in 2017 Parliament passed a law to force porn sites to age verify their users and those provisions were never implemented. This was a major missed opportunity that could have protected hundreds of thousands of children over the last five years. And we remain frustrated at the Government's refusal to clarify and strengthen the porn protections in this Bill for children.

"The new bans on suicide and self-harm content, epilepsy trolling and porn deepfakes are welcome. It is hard to believe tech companies need to be forced to protect their users from this kind of content."


The Christian Institute:


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