Boris Johnson has been a divisive and controversial figure in the years leading up to his prominence and ultimate installment into a position of power. As one of his entry moves, Johnson has decided to appoint OFCOM as the head of UK internet censorship. This move comes with a lot of implications – some seemingly positive considering what the move is billed as doing for keeping children safe, but some seemingly negative when the bigger picture is observed.
Technically, the appointment hasn’t taken back yet. The government has been careful to announce the appointment with lax language, likely expecting backlash from the public. Using loose terms without cementing the deal will allow the government an easy escape in the event the heat gets to be too much for them to handle. Given the current circumstances, it’s reasonable to assume that the measure will push forward and consider the future set of circumstances that people living in the United Kingdom will be subject to.
As the push moves forward, OFCOM will become the UK’s official social media regulator, and it will be OFCOM’s job to hold social media platforms accountable if they fail to cater to the requirements put in place by the UK government.
Who is OFCOM?
OFCOM, shorthand for The Office of Communications, is the official communications regulator of the UK. They are the regulatory authority for telecommunications, broadcasting, and even the postal services. OFCOM already has an extraordinary amount of power in terms of controlling media and information in the UK. Citizens all have their own opinion of OFCOM and the work they do. Installing them in a position where they will be able to have a semblance of control over social media may be empowering them a step too far.
What Can OFCOM Do?
OFCOM cannot technically control social media. They can, however, place strong demands of social media platforms to control themselves in accordance with standards OFCOM recognizes and agrees to. It will be within OFCOM’s powers to demand social media platforms to provide them with a published list of what content they do and do not allow. From there, OFCOM can hold them accountable.
In order to remain in accordance with OFCOM’s expectations, social media companies must detail the steps they’re taking to remain compliant and disclose what they have removed and why. OFCOM will never have the power to remove posts from the platform, but they will assure the platforms are censoring properly.
If social media websites fail to comply, they will technically be guilty of a crime. If content found to be “harmful or illegal” is posted without removal, social media platforms can be fined for allowing that content to be viewed in the UK. Technically, OFCOM can impose prison sentences on social media executives found guilty of allowing such content to be posted.
What Happens Now
This creates a very slippery slope, as social media companies do not post or share the overwhelming majority of content shared on social media. Some social networks have billions of users, making it virtually impossible to moderate every single post in real time. Many social media platforms could rightfully argue that these standards are impossible to abide by.
Social media platforms that do not want to lose their users in the UK are going to find themselves in a serious predicament. They will not be able to meet these outrageous expectations, and this can create two major consequences. The first consequence is that the self censorship these platforms are forced to perform will cause perfectly legal and innocuous content to be needlessly censored. The second consequence, an alternative to the first, is that social media platforms will either need to limit their involvement with UK users or entirely pull out of the market.
There’s no way to know exactly how the situation will pan out, but neither consequence is preferable. They both amount to unnecessary censorship that will significantly impact the way that people communicate on social media, which has become an important part of our culture by linking global conversation.
Steps for “Child Protection”
In the very recent past, the UK attempted to implement an age verification system for internet users within the country who wanted to access online pornography. None of this pornography was illegal or dubious – it impacted all above-board porn sites featuring adult human performers partaking in consensual acts. In order to access normal porn, users would have been required to provide an overwhelming amount of personal details as part of an age verification process when they wanted to log in.
Viewing pornography may not be a wholesome activity, but it’s something that many adults do. Because of the sensitive and private nature of pornography, many people didn’t want to be directly identifiable as the person legally viewing or downloading it. That’s why the attempts to enact age verification laws didn’t fare well.
With OFCOM in control of the internet, it’s not unreasonable to suspect that the UK government may try to give age verification another go. Officials have already stated that they’re interested in protecting children and users, two terms here which are far more loaded than they initially may appear to be. “Protection” can be interpreted in a myriad of ways.
When a government decides what to protect a population from, they’re deciding on behalf of everyone what they do and don’t want. While it’s safe to assume everyone wants to be protected from hunger or nuclear war, it’s far less reasonable to assume that people want to be “protected” from pornography or memes.
Access to the Free and Open Internet in the UK
Internet users who don’t want to be “protected” from the things they actively enjoy doing online will likely need to bypass things like censorship and age verification to access content that is perfectly legal and completely acceptable in almost every other country. One of the easiest and most effective way to bypass blocks or checkpoints online is by utilizing a VPN, which allows your internet traffic to appear to be coming from a country where blocks or censorship have not been put into effect. TorGuard VPN has thousands of high speed servers and works like a charm in the UK (as well as everywhere else). We’ll be here when you need us.