People in the UK who post “false information” about vaccines online could face two years in prison under a new law.
The Online Safety Bill, described as “the flagship legislation to combat abuse and hatred on the internet” has faced fierce criticism from civil liberties groups for its broad overreach.
The law would create a “knowingly false communication” offence which, according to the Times, “will criminalise those who send or post a message they know to be false with the intention to cause ’emotional, psychological, or physical harm to the likely audience’. Government sources gave the example of antivaxers spreading false information that they know to be untrue.”
Given that authorities have deemed all kinds of information about the pandemic and vaccines “false” that later turned out to be true, this is a chilling prospect.
For example, claims that vaccines are not fully effective in stopping the spread of COVID-19 would have once been deemed “false,” but that position is now a proven fact.
The bill would also change the current stricter standard of “indecent” or “grossly offensive” content to the much broader definition of “harmful effect” when deciding if a post or a message is criminal.
This is more in line with UK hate speech laws that determine whether an act of hate speech or a “hate incident” has been committed not on the basis of whether or not it actually happened, but on the basis of the supposed victim feeling like they’ve been targeted.