IT is tempting to write about the Tories’ troubles for a second week running. Instead, I will simply reiterate my warning that independence supporters should not get too fixated on who leads the Tory party or indeed the Government of the UK. It is arguments and policies that will win independence, not personalities.

And much as Boris Johnson is described as the best recruiting sergeant our cause has, John Curtice sounded an important caveat this week when he pointed out that this has not, as yet, been borne out in the polls, so far as support for independence is concerned. There is no substitute for the hard work required to put the meat on the bones of the case for indy and to devise a delivery strategy that will work.

That said, the shenanigans at Westminster this week have been all about equality before the law or rather the perceived lack of it where Johnson and his cronies are concerned. It is a very important principle that should be upheld across our public life and no more so than in the public forum where issues are debated, including social media.

READ MORE: Online Safety Bill ‘needs major changes’ to hold tech firms to account

Last week, parliament debated a report on the Draft Online Safety Bill. The aim of the bill is to establish a new regulatory framework to tackle harmful online content and to mitigate the risks presented by content and activity on social media and other online platforms. The harms needing tackled range from extreme pornography to eliminating paid-for advertising used to perpetrate frauds and scams which have led to the victims losing their life savings, their homes and sometimes even taking their own lives.

It’s a very substantial bill and so the UK Government have produced it as a draft to enable pre-legislative scrutiny. The committee who reported on the bill was a joint committee of MPs and peers who spent weeks taking evidence on and considering it. Their report, like the bill, is a long read.

The bill starts from the premise that self-regulation of online services has failed and that the companies who make huge profits from the online platforms they provide should be held liable for harms perpetrated by the systems they have created. The committee agree and have produced a list of recommendations to strengthen what they call “two core principles of responsible internet governance: that online services should be held accountable for the design and operation of their systems and that regulation should be governed by a democratic legislature and an independent regulator – not Silicon Valley”.

Online service providers like Twitter have their own content moderation policies but from my own experience and my work on the Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) it has become apparent that these policies are flawed and not applied fairly or effectively.

Codes of conduct only work if there is proper oversight and enforcement. For example, it is common for political parties to stipulate that members should not attack other members in public whether in the newspapers or social media. However, anyone who uses Twitter can see that rule being breached regularly. Indeed, the behaviour of some politicians on social media has got so bad that the Westminster’s standards committee has recommended that MPs should be prohibited “from subjecting anyone to unreasonable and excessive personal attacks” in any medium. Apparently, the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner wants to be given the power to investigate social media posts as she has been receiving increasing complaints from the public about what MPs say online.

As someone who has been the subject of unreasonable and excessive personal attacks from other politicians, I have some sympathy with these recommendations. My experience has been that when a target is put on one’s back by persons in positions of responsibility, it can encourage further attacks by social media users who view that content as a green light to issue abuse and threats, often of a criminal nature. If political parties won’t act to enforce their own codes of conduct, then it is understandable that parliament should consider taking steps to do so, otherwise the world of politics will be brought into further disrepute.

Likewise if online service providers won’t moderate their content fairly or reasonably, then it seems reasonable that parliament puts in place an independent regulator to do so.

So far so good, but a number of commentators have expressed a note of caution about the aims of the Online Safety Bill and its potential impact on freedom of speech online.

The campaign group Big Brother Watch have drawn attention to the tendency of social media companies to censor views and delete accounts haphazardly, often in response to partisan campaigns and orchestrated complaints rather than rule breaches.

The National: CCTV

Big Brother Watch (BBW) fear that the Online Safety Bill will force social media companies to monitor and censor social networks more than ever and that it will be disastrous for free expression online because the UK Government is seeking to clamp down on vaguely defined categories of what should be lawful speech. The fear is that this will result in the silencing of marginalised voices and unpopular views.

Two years of research carried out by BBW unearthed many examples of the online censorship of marginalised groups, particularly in feminist debates but also in the wider political debate. For example, Twitter recently removed the grassroots “Kill the Bill” campaign – paradoxically a campaign to protect freedom of expression from the curbs on the right to protest in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill. No explanation was given for the suspension of the campaign group’s account and when they set up a new account it was also shut down. It was only after BBW complained to Twitter that the accounts were reinstated.

The BBW research bears out my experience of dealing with Twitter in the course of my work on the Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR). Two and half years ago I grilled a Twitter executive about the way in which they enforce their hateful conduct policy. I put to her a number of cases where Twitter had ruled that threatening tweets incorporating violent imagery aimed at women were acceptable and contrasted that with numerous examples of them suspending the accounts of women who had tweeted factual statements about statistics on male violence and sexual crime.

I suggested to her that part of the reason for this manifestly discriminatory approach is that Twitter does not include “sex” as a protected characteristic within its hateful conduct policy and therefore does not take hate directed at women seriously while it polices the speech of women rather over assiduously.

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As if to prove my point my intervention led to a tsunami of tweets directed at me containing violent images and threats of violence. Many of these are still visible on Twitter. After this the JCHR recommended that Twitter include “sex” as protected characteristic in their hateful conduct policy reflecting its protection in the domestic law of the UK under the Equality Act.

Twitter has yet to act upon that recommendation and it continues to delete tweets and ban users for stating facts about science, statistics reflecting the profile of sex offenders and other statements which might fall within the category of “gender critical beliefs” – despite it now being clearly established in law that such beliefs are also protected under the Equality Act.

Twitter thinks it is above the domestic law of the UK when it comes to discrimination and if the Online Safety Bill does not close the purported loopholes which Twitter, and others, are currently using to ignore anti-discrimination law, it will have failed in its duty to protect free speech.

The Joint Committee who scrutinised the draft bill say that their recommendations will protect freedom of speech online and that service providers will no longer be able to selectively censor without accountability. I am not so sure. The debate in Parliament did not focus on free speech concerns or the discriminatory approach to moderation of platforms such as Twitter.

When the final Online Safety Bill comes before Parliament, I will be looking at it carefully with a view to tabling amendments designed to ensure that online regulation does not breach important human rights including freedom of thought and belief, freedom of expression and the right not to be discriminated against.

I also intend to pursue my concerns with Twitter, in particular the basis upon which they think its OK for them to operate in the UK while ignoring domestic anti-discrimination law.