There are many things that I would like to say to you about the past 48 hours in UK politics, days which saw the Online Safety Bill abruptly kicked into the long grass, possibly never to return. I am already working on a post offering my constructive ideas on how the Bill can and should be improved, for if it and when it comes back, in whatever form.
But I’m taking my time with it to get it right. So today I want to get personal.
I want to address a few suggestions that have been made to me implying that my recent blogging – the two posts (here and here) which have both topped Hacker News and now total over 50,000 views – had been the final shove which yeeted this Bill over the edge.
Now, let’s be realistic. This Bill was built on such shoddy foundations that a well-aimed sneeze could have toppled it over.
And me, I’m just…well, me. A random and rapidly ageing Scottish woman with a vegetable garden, albeit a woman who has been Extremely Online since 1994 and Extremely Perturbed by this Bill since 2019, blogging in a personal capacity, in my spare time, 400 miles away from the centre of power.
But maybe that’s the point.
Because I will tell you what I am proud of, regardless of any role I may or may not have played, either in the room where it happens or in the room where I’m typing now, fueled only by my morning coffee and Doves.
It’s the fact that this blog is me.
It’s just me and the things I have to say.
There’s no management. There’s no editorial team. There’s no content grid. There’s no proofreader (as some of you noticed). There’s no media liaison. There’s no PR. And there’s no PR agency.
It’s just my words, speaking my truth.
Which is a lot more than can be said for the ways that the people who have created and driven this Bill choose to communicate with you.
What’s more, it’s my blog. I own it myself. I run it myself. I host it myself. I maintain it myself. It’s just typography, and a few images, on a beautifully designed minimalist theme, on the Classic Editor (heh). There’s no income from it. There’s no profit from it. There’s no adtech. There’s no third party anything aside from privacy-friendly analytics.
It’s just my work, representing my beliefs.
Which is a lot more than can be said for the places where the people who have created and driven this Bill choose to communicate with you.
And when I hit publish, I share what I’ve written on Twitter or LinkedIn and that’s all I do. What happens next is out of my hands. There’s no team under me to promote it. There’s no agent on retainer to spin it to the press. There’s no public relations agency arranging favourable media coverage, or nominating me for vanity awards, or setting up fashion photo shoots with hairstylists and MUAs, so that people Bow To My Prestige.
It’s just me, representing myself.
Which is a lot more than can be said for the strategies that the people who have created and driven this Bill have chosen to get their points across.
The one where you can speak the truths that you believe without the permission, or the editorial control, or the power dynamics, of anyone claiming to hold authority over you; or, perhaps, anyone keen to impose it.
The one where you can speak your truth and speak truth to power.
The one that, this week, for a brief reprive, won.
Which is why blogs like this, and the sites and forums where you have shared my words, are the kind of places where the people who have created and driven this Bill would not be caught dead.
Any postmortem over the Bill’s collapse, and possibly terminal failure, cannot and must not discount how the Bill, and the foundations under it, were conceived and driven by people who openly and proudly do not use social media or the open web, and who have sought to remake internet regulation in their own image: an image which I will have much more to say about at a later date.
Wherever this Bill goes next, we need to talk – more, and often – about how the Bill and its underlying concepts were conceived, driven, and will be regulated by detatched elites who hold themselves to be so posh, so special, so busy, and so very important, that they do not use blogs, or social media, or their own words, and only engage with the public –
the public they claim the authority and expertise to govern and regulate –
through managed media spots, or staged PR campaigns, or paywalled op-eds in right-leaning broadsheets.
We need to talk – more, and often – about how the Online Safety Bill is indeed about a “culture war.” But it’s not the made-up, imported, irrelevant American one.
It’s about a culture and class war being waged by people who find it offensive that social media and blogs like this exist at all.
It’s about how offensive they find the thought that they might ever have to lower themselves down to your level, and speak to you – at all – where you are.
It’s about how offensive they find the thought that they might ever have to account for themselves, and respond to their critics, and take responsibility for their mistakes – at all – where you are.
And I know that a lot of you struggle, every day, in your professional work, with deep feelings of imposter syndrome which suck the air out of your lungs and cut your legs off at the knees.
But you should also reflect how dangerously close you have come – and may still come – to having your work turned upside down by people who are too up themselves to ever use the communications medium they claim authority and expertise over.
After all, they will never need to.
Their lives are sorted.
They will never need to use a blog like this to save themselves, or a social media account to fight injustice, or private mode to research why their lives are disintegrating, or a search engine to find a job, or an app to make friends like them.
Because they have people to sort those things for them. They have people to sort those things for them who arrive at the snap of a finger. They have money. They have connections. They have the things they need to make problems disappear.
If it seems like they don’t understand the internet, they don’t, but it’s not just that. They don’t understand why people like you need it.
They never will.
And my god, I know I don’t get everything right. But I put it all out here, by myself. I speak it and I stand by it and I show up for it. I engage with the people who respond to it. At their level. Where they are. Where you are. It’s where I love to be.
I don’t hide behind paywalls. I don’t pay people to write “my” words for me and stick my face on it. I don’t respond to what’s happening in the world with a press release.
So we need to talk more – and often – about the people, whatever party they represent or whatever cause they champion or whatever paywall they hide behind, who are seeking to shape the Great British Internet in their own image, as a lever for the class warfare currently tearing this country apart.
We need to talk more – and often – about who they are.
And we need to talk more – and often – about what they are.
And by the way, if that sounds ever so slightly ad-hominem and a bit menacing and Glaswegian: for god’s sake, the entire thrust of the Bill they have created was based on personal ad-hominems.
The entire thrust of this Bill has been about threatening and criminalising and arresting and prosecuting tech workers and that includes you, personally.
These people really do want to put you through hell. A deep, personal, and professional, hell, a hell of their own making built in their own image.
It is only right and fair, by their own words and deeds, that a “world-leading” vision which demanded specific named responsibility for failures, no matter how personal and vindictive that accountability might have to become, should work in both directions.
And we will talk about that – more and often – next week, and in the months to come.
And perhaps you should too, on your own blog, owned on your own hosting space, using your own words, and speaking your own truth. That sounds like a good little weekend project, don’t you think?
Because after all this hell, my god, it feels good to build something yourself and put it into the world and press the button and watch what happens next.
Trust me. I know.
Here's to speaking your truth, and speaking truth to power. pic.twitter.com/WhhyWejukh
— Heather Burns (@WebDevLaw) July 13, 2022