Proposed rules which would protect users from material likely to incite hatred on video sharing platforms (VSPs) risk unduly encroaching on freedom of expression, the National Secular Society has said.
The internet censor
Ofcom is currently consulting on draft guidance for VSP providers, which is designed to protect consumers from viewing harmful content.
The NSS has responded to the consultation to express concern that Ofcom has not ensured
adequate protection for freedom of expression.
The guidance says providers must ensure appropriate measures are in place to protect children from material that might impair their development; and to protect the public from
criminal content and material likely to incite hatred.
The NSS said it was reasonable for Ofcom to require VSPs to moderate restricted material, but warned that rules around material likely to incite hatred were too vague.
The guidance requires moderation of material likely to incite hatred on various grounds, including religion or belief and political or any other opinion. It only defines incitement to hatred by saying it should be understood as having
its usual meaning in everyday language.
The NSS said hatred was a largely subjective term and different individuals would have different interpretations of its meaning. The society raised concerns that the guidance would enable
religious censorship, and highlighted examples of religious groups attempting to use claims of inciting hatred to censor critical or satirical material .
The NSS also said platforms would be incentivised to err on the side of
censorship. The guidance includes significant penalties for permitting content that violates the rules, while there are no equivalent penalties for failing to uphold freedom of expression.
The NSS also said the guidance could
unreasonably curb religious groups' freedom of expression.
The society said the guidance should include clearer instruction on VSPs' duty to have due regard for freedom of speech and freedom of religion or belief. It added that it
should include more comprehensive explanations about what does not constitute material that is considered likely to incite hatred with regard to religion or belief.