Nadine Dorries defends calling LBC's James O'Brien a 'f***wit'

Controversial remarks previously made by Conservative MPs would be banned under the UK Government’s new Online Safety Bill introduced today, a civil liberties organisation has suggested.

Big Brother Watch - who campaign on rights relating to freedom of expression, privacy and data protection – created fake Facebook accounts to repost past comments given by high-profile politicians such as Boris Johnson, Nadine Dorries and Angela Rayner.

The prime minister’s infamous Telegraph article in which he compared Muslim women in burqas to “letterboxes”, a column which an anti-racism organisation said led to a 375 per cent increase in Islamophobic incidents, was one example trialled by Big Brother Watch.

“It is absolutely ridiculous that people should choose to go around looking like letter boxes,” the Facebook post reads, with the NGO saying the post was taken down for breaching the platform’s rules on harassment and bullying.

Meanwhile Ms Dorries, the culture secretary who has brought forward the proposed legislation, and her 2013 tweet aimed at a Sunday Mirror journalist would also apparently be banned under the Online Safety Bill.

Written after the reporter investigated Ms Dorries’ daughter and her taxpayer-funded job in her office,the Mid Bedfordshire MP said: “Ben Glaze of the Sunday Mirror has an interest in my three daughters which borders on decidedly creepy/stalker esque [sic]. Here is a message…

Sign up to our free Indy100 weekly newsletter

“Be seen within a mile of my daughters and I will nail your balls to the floor… using your own front teeth. Do you get that?”

Rather unsurprisingly, remarks about harming testicles with nails isn’t something Facebook’s a fan of, and the fake post on Facebook was also taken down – this time over its policies on violence and incitement.

The same policy was also applied to a repost of a past comments made by Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner, who said last month that “on things like law and order I am quite hardline”.

“I am like, shoot your terrorists and ask questions second,” she told Matt Forde’s Political Party podcast.

All three comments, Big Brother Watch argue, would be banned under the Online Safety Bill and its requirements for social media companies to tackle “legal but harmful” content.

Indy100 has approached the Parliamentary offices of Boris Johnson, Nadine Dorries and Angela Rayner for comment.

The categories of “legal but harmful” material which the Online Safety Bill covers will be laid out in secondary legislation subject to Parliamentary approval, something the government says will mean decisions on harmful content “are not delegated to private companies or at the whim of internet executives”.

Mark Johnson, legal and policy officer at the organisation, said: “These comments by high-profile politicians are unpleasant and have been rightly criticised, including by ourselves. However, unpleasantness alone is not a legitimate basis for censorship.

“This experiment clearly demonstrates that such controversial yet lawful speech is destined for unprecedented censorship under the Online Safety Bill.

“By compelling platforms to target lawful speech which is deemed to be ‘harmful’, the Government will make social media censorship state-backed.”

The UK Government begs to differ, however, writing in a press release on Thursday that the “legal but harmful” measure will help “uphold freedom of expression and ensure people remain able to have challenging and controversial discussions online”.

The communications regulator Ofcom will oversee enforcement of the Bill once law, with chief executive Melanie Dawes saying the organisation’s research “shows the need for rules that protect users from serious harm, but which also value the great things about being online – including freedom of expression”.

“We’re looking forward to starting the job,” she added.

Indy100 has contacted the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport for a statement in response to Big Brother Watch's claims.

Have your say in our news democracy. Click the upvote icon at the top of the page to help raise this article through the indy100 rankings.

Please log in or register to upvote this article
The Conversation (0)