It’ll take more than clicking to stop Tory plans for internet regulation

Buried in the Conservative Party Manifesto is a little paragraph announcing plans to make Britain a world leader in one little bit of the internet. Not, sadly, the creation of amazing apps by people in Shoreditch. What they have in their sights is making the UK a world leader in regulation of the internet.

Buzzfeed has more on the details — sketchy as they are right now — and I have to say I think it sounds horrifying. Taking “steps to protect the reliability and objectivity of information” might sound like a good idea to start with, but just look at how many people will cry “Fake News!” when a story simply doesn’t reflect the spin that they want on it.

To make this happen, there will have to be new rules, new regulators, and new sanctions. To take just news, if it’s not allowed to be inaccurate or misleading, who will that apply to? If I run a blog of my own, and someone complains that they think I’m biased, do I have to deal with a regulator? What about a forum? Or a tech reviews site?

Take action

As things stand, the plans are vague; but there’s one thing many people have said — “How can we stop this?”

In the first instance, you have to vote. If you don’t like these proposals, then consider voting against the party proposing them. That means making sure you’re registered — the deadline is today (Monday 22nd May). Register here.

At the moment, it looks like the Conservatives will form the next government, so the fight will go on beyond the election. And there’s where I think you need to pay attention.

Yes, there will be petitions about this. There’ll probably be something on, and on the UK Parliament petitions site. Go ahead and click them, if you want, if it makes you feel better. But please don’t let that be all you do, because I’m telling you now that it won’t be enough.

Even if you get every young person on the internet in the UK to click a petition, you’ll still get pretty much the same response as the petitions regarding the Brexit vote: “Yeah, we’ve seen that, nothing’s going to change.”

If you care about this, and stopping these proposals, an online petition is not going to cut it. Politicians know that petitions are easy to sign — especially now. I’ve just been helping fight a planning application, and what counted there was not the petitions, which are tallied up separately, but the individual complaints, and the people who turned up to the Committee Meetings.

So what should you do?

First vote. And then make yourself heard. That means writing to your Member of Parliament. A real letter, on paper, and posted. First class post will cost you 65 pence.

And yes, I know it’s a hassle. I hate writing letters too. But trust me — your MP is going to pay more attention to a real letter, making good clear arguments, than they are to an email, or to a notification that lots of people have taken 30 seconds to click a petition.

When there are more details about the proposals, I expect there’ll be form letters widely shared online. I’ll probably post one myself.

Read them, think about the points, and incorporate them in a letter of your own. Don’t just copy and paste a letter from someone else, because again, all the identical letters will go in a pile. And that pile is essentially “People who say they’re bothered, but only enough to copy a letter from someone else.”

To be heard, use your own words.

And, if you can, you need to do more than write. You need to make an appointment with your MP, and turn up at their constituency surgery. Speak to them face to face. Explain why you think the proposals are dangerous, why they won’t work, why they will impose a burden on individuals, or small organisations, or whatever is the key point you want to get across.

Do all this, and encourage your friends to do it too.

It may seem old fashioned, and it’s certainly harder work than signing online petitions. But trust me — if you want to protect the internet from Tory regulation, this is one battle you’re going to have to learn to fight off-line.

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