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Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

The U.K. announced last Monday a sweeping plan to prevent the spread of harmful online content — part of a global trend of new content regulations targeting material designed to polarize and mislead.

The big picture: The British proposal, which comes on the heels of new measures in Australia and Singapore, would create a regulator empowered to punish social media platforms that fail to quickly remove harmful material, including disinformation. But these approaches — which focus on content rather than problematic behavior — have concerning implications for free expression.

Where it stands:

  • Singapore introduced draft legislation two weeks ago that would allow the government to force corrections into online content that it deems false. Given its history of silencing criticism, rights groups are justifiably concerned.
  • Also two weeks ago, Australia passed a law that threatens fines and even jail time for social media companies and their executives that fail to quickly remove violent posts. That too is fraught, since it incentivizes companies to take a broad approach that could imperil legitimate speech.
  • Britain's proposal will soon enter a 3-month comment period, during which revisions are likely.

Between the lines: If platforms work to root out accounts that engage in deceptive behavior, they can limit the spread of weaponized misinformation without policing content.

  • Disinformation operations deploy coordinated networks of fake personas and automated accounts that manipulate algorithms and flood the information space — tactics that have little to do with content.
  • Focusing on tools and tactics enables social media companies to identify patterns of behavior that can prevent disinformation operations in the future.

The bottom line: Policing online content could play into the hands of the very authoritarian regimes that deploy disinformation campaigns, since they themselves want to restrict expression.

Jessica Brandt is a fellow at the German Marshall Fund and the head of policy and research for its Alliance for Securing Democracy.

Go deeper

Updated 14 mins ago - World

Biden cleans up comments about Russia invading Ukraine

Photo: Doug Mills-Pool/Getty Images

President Biden sought to clarify his suggestion that a "minor incursion" by Russia into Ukraine may not draw the same response as a large invasion, telling reporters Thursday that "Russia will pay a heavy price" if any troops cross the border.

Why it matters: Some officials in Kyiv saw Biden's comments as inviting Russian aggression.

Tina Reed, author of Vitals
27 mins ago - Health

Study finds bias against Black patients written into medical charts

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Black patients were more than two-and-a-half times as likely as white patients to have negative descriptors about them in their electronic health record, according to a study published Wednesday in Health Affairs.

Why it matters: The study is further evidence of bias in the U.S. health care system, which can ultimately result in worse care and disparately poor outcomes.

Jan. 6 panel asks Ivanka Trump to cooperate with investigation

Former President Trump and daughter Ivanka Trump walk to Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House on January 4, 2020 in Washington, DC. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

The House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol riot sent a letter Thursday to Ivanka Trump requesting her cooperation with the investigation.

Driving the news: "We write to request your voluntary cooperation with our investigation on a range of critical topics," the chair wrote in a letter to the former president's daughter.

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