Nadine Dorries lambasts Silicon Valley forward of latest on-line abuse legal guidelines | Nadine Dorries

Silicon Valley executives will no longer be the “supreme arbiters” of online speech, according to the culture secretary, as the government prepares to publish reformed legislation to tackle online abuse.

Nadine Dorries said “unelected” tech leaders had become some of the most powerful people in the world due to a lack of robust regulation, adding that the situation will change under the online safety bill. This imposes a duty of care on tech companies to protect users from harmful content. A revised version will be published on Thursday.

“Unelected Silicon Valley execs have become some of the most powerful people in the world,” Dorries wrote in an article on the ConservativeHome website. “They decide who gets to speak online, and who is silenced or canceled from public life. That prospect should concern anyone who truly cares about free speech.”

Dorries said she was responding to criticism from a “group of MPs and journalists” that the bill will give Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg unlimited power to censor online expression. The bill, which focuses on platforms that host user-generated content such as Facebook, Twitter and TikTok, requires companies to prevent the proliferation of illegal content such as child sexual abuse and terrorist material.

It also mandates the biggest tech firms to protect adults from legal but harmful content such as cyberbullying. The legal but harmful clause has given rise to concerns that it might result in excessive censorship by social media platforms, which face hefty fines by the communications watchdog, Ofcom, for breaches of the act.

Dorries said the bill will have “considerably stronger protections for free speech” when it is published in revised form this week, after the publication of draft legislation last year. Under the bill, journalistic content will be exempt from removal, and content of “democratic importance”, which is partly designed to protect political discourse and expression, will also be protected.

“We would never pursue legislation that threatens freedom of expression … nor can we maintain the current status quo, where a handful of west coast execs are the supreme arbiters of online speech,” said Dorries.

The government has already announced that the revised bill will include new criminal offenses covering cyberflashing, threatening social media posts and the publishing of hoax bomb threats. It will also require that online platforms protect users from fraudulent adverts and will order commercial pornography sites to carry out age checks on people trying to access their content. Privacy campaigners have described the new age-verification policy as a “privacy minefield” and have warned that it could establish the principle of age-gating across the internet.

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