PRESS RELEASE: Online Safety Bill will fail to protect Muslim communities

The Online Safety Bill is supposed to make the UK “the safest place in the world to go online”. However, a new report from the Community Policy Forum reveals that the Government’s Online Safety Bill “will have little to no tangible protective benefits for Muslim communities in the UK.”

Experts contributing to the report raise concerns that:

    • The bill includes a press exemption that excludes even the most damaging and factually inaccurate cases of prejudicial opinion pieces and reporting from regulation. Meanwhile, instances of Islamophobia and misinformation in the press are frequently amplified in online spaces, capitalised upon by far-right groups, and often lead to spikes in Islamophobic hate crime.

    • The broad definition of ‘news publisher’ adopted by the bill could see individuals previously banned from social media platforms (such as Tommy Robinson) become re-established as ‘news publishers’ in order to benefit from the press exemption and perpetuate abuse against minority communities.

    • Comments sections, such as those found on the Daily Mail website that have traditionally been a “hotbed of harmful content” will remain exempt from regulation.

    • Considering the powers granted to the Secretary of State and the Government’s history of failing to recognise Islamophobia, there is little confidence that their role would result in the introduction of genuine measures aimed at limiting its spread. 

    • This bill gives regulatory responsibilities to Ofcom, however, the powers granted to the Secretary of State raise questions as to the extent of Ofcom’s ability to remain independent.

Read the full report here

CEO of the Community Policy Forum, Isobel Ingham-Barrow, states:

“Ultimately, the press exemption; the exclusion of comments sections; the failure of the bill to negotiate an effective balance between the freedom of expression and other rights; the lack of clarity surrounding the definition of harms; and the politicising role of the Secretary of State all culminate in a bill that, far from making the UK “the safest place in the world to go online” for Muslims, will do little to protect Muslim communities from Islamophobic abuse online – abuse which has inevitable physical, emotional, and social consequences in the offline world.” 

Dr Ben Whitham (SOAS) states:

“The Government’s Online Safety Bill is supposed to reduce the very real harm people can be exposed to in online spaces. But as this Community Policy Forum report shows, the bill has some serious flaws and limitations in its current form. As it stands the proposed legislation would be insufficient to tackle the serious and pervasive problems of online Islamophobic abuse and discrimination, which is just as prevalent on the websites and comments sections of ‘recognised news media’ (which are excluded from the Bill’s current scope) as on social media networks. This report makes important recommendations for improving the proposed legislation so that Muslim communities and expressions of ‘Muslimness’ can be effectively protected in online spaces.”

Professor Julian Petley (Brunel University) states:

“If Muslims believe that the Online Safety Bill will do anything to reduce the amount of hatred, harassment and misrepresentation that they routinely encounter online, they need to read this report and then to campaign for the Bill to be radically revised”.

CEO of HackedOff, Nathan Sparkes, states:

“This bill is an opportunity to make the internet a safer place for everyone, but that opportunity will be lost if the Government persists with irrational and poorly drafted exemptions for any organisation which claims to be a news publisher. Muslims are among those in our society most likely to face discrimination and abuse.  If this bill cannot help them, then it has failed.

To date, this Government’s policy on the bill has been to satisfy the interests of the national press at any cost. Unless it changes course, all those in our society who are at risk of facing online harm will be the victims of that self-serving and dangerous policy.”

Director and advocacy lead of the MCB’s Centre for Media Monitoring, Rizwana Hamid, states:

“Whilst no one wants to curb free speech nor see backdoor state regulation of the media (something critics of the bill warn against), neither does anyone want to see news publishers being given carte blanche to publish what they want on their own online, digital, and social media platforms without being held to the same standards as other citizens or evading scrutiny and consequences for what they publish. Given the growing evidence which points to inaccurate, irresponsible, and unfair reporting of Muslims & Islam online, and the physical, emotional, and psychological harm done to individuals, communities, and society at large, some form of accountability of what news publishers produce online is paramount.”

Dr Chris Allen (University of Leicester) states:

“For the past few decades, Muslim communities have felt the full force of the many harms known to be caused by online hate. While the Government is pledging the Online Safety Bill will make the UK ‘the safest place in the world to go online’, Britain’s Muslims are minded to remain sceptical. As this report shows, not only are there very real flaws in the Bill’s thinking and approach but so too do they have the potential to make things worse than they already are”

Notes for Editors

    • The Community Policy Forum is an independent think-tank seeking to promote evidence-based and community-centred approaches to structural inequalities facing British Muslim communities. We attempt this through connecting policymakers with academic research and experts and through providing platforms for engagement with diverse Muslim voices on areas of contemporary importance.
    • For more information, contact [email protected]

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