On 23 September 2021, Dr Talita Dias gave oral evidence on ‘online safety and online harms’ before the UK House of Commons’ Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Sub-Committee on Online Harms and Disinformation, alongside Lord Puttnam CBE (Chair of the Democracy and Digital Technologies Committee) and Professor Alan Renwick (University College London). The hearing focussed on the current draft of the UK Online Safety Bill, following a Sub-committee inquiry on the topic. In a landmark regulatory move, the Bill seeks to impose several duties of care on online user-to-user and search service providers operating in the UK. These include duties to minimise the presence and dissemination of illegal content, such as child pornography, terrorism and incitement to racial violence, along with other safety and transparency duties. In her written, oral and supplementary submissions, Dr Dias argued that while the regulation of online services is necessary and the Bill’s proposed duty of care model is a step in the right direction, important omissions remain and must be remedied before Parliamentary approval of the Bill. These include a clearer definition of both illegal and harmful content, a requirement to consider the context of speech acts, and stronger safeguards against violations of users’ freedom of expression.
On 14 October 2021, Dr Talita Dias was interviewed by Emma Barnett on BBC Newsnight on the UK’s Online Safety Bill, Big Tech and free speech. Asked about content moderation policies adopted by social media giants, Dr Dias noted that two key trends mark the current online environment: 1) platforms’ policies are reactive rather than holistic and well-thought-through; 2) companies’ responses to potentially harmful are binary – content is either left up or take down -, whereas a number of less draconian measures, such as flagging, should be adopted. On whether social media companies should be making decisions about which content should be left up or removed, Dr Dias said that censorship is a State prerogative and one that is limited by international human rights law. Commenting specifically on the UK’s proposed legislation in the area, the Online Safety Bill, Dr Dias suggested that fines should not only be imposed when companies fail to remove illegal or harmful content that requires takedown but also when they erroneously remove protected content, in violation of freedom of expression.
The interview was prompted by a BBC story about YouTube temporarily taking down a video of Conservative MP David Davis arguing against “vaccine passports”, and the anniversary of various social media outlets blocking links to The New York Post’s Hunter Biden story.
On 19 October 2021, the Oxford Institute for Ethics, Law and Armed Conflict hosted an online launch event to discuss key findings of its newly published project ‘Cyber Due Diligence in International Law’, co-authored by Dr Talita Dias (Jesus College, University of Oxford) and Dr Antonio Coco (University of Essex). These include the applicability of international law to ‘cyberspace’ and the legal nature of due diligence.
Opening remarks were given by Professor Dapo Akande in his capacity as project leader, and Professor Duncan Hollis moderated a dynamic conversation between the report’s authors alongside Tomohiro Mikanagi (Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Japan) and Professor Joanna Kulesza (University of Lodz).
The event was live-streamed and the recording is available here.