Greatest hits, b-sides, and unfinished demo tracks: or, all my blogging on the Online Safety Bill

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes
UK policy
A still frame from the film "The Post" showing an old printing press, loaded with type blocks which say "free to publish"

Ahead of the Online Safety Bill’s return to the Lords, Graham Smith has published a blog post aggregating his six years of blogging on the Bill’s provisions, its legal consequences, and its unintended outcomes.

As all good law and policy bloggers do, he also shares his thoughts on what these years of government’s defiant determination to make a bad law, out of bad policy, might mean for British statecraft in general, well beyond the Bill’s stated objectives.

If you’re not familiar with his blog, Graham can best be described as being like your favourite university professor – the one who pushed you, really hard, not to be an arsehole but because he genuinely wanted you to master the subject at hand. The one who asked you really tough questions because he wanted you to discard your uninformed opinions and, instead, arrive at evidence-based conclusions about the topic. The one who challenged your conclusions because he wanted to prevent you from becoming the sort of policy professional who loses an argument because you didn’t do your homework on the basic fundamentals.

Like, for example, how the Internet works.

So while Graham’s writing style is at an advanced level, you should consider that an opportunity to receive the solid education you need to understand the Bill, and possibly engage on it, in a way that will let you master the substance of the actual matter at hand.

As opposed to running too fast and too far with your (or anyone else’s) uninformed opinions about it, or worse, allowing yourself to get dragged into someone else’s equally uniformed battle.

My turn!

Skip the intro and jump straight into it

Graham’s idea of Easter holiday fun reminded me that I kept meaning to do something similar, aggregating my own years of writing on the topic in one convenient location, for the benefit of people who don’t know how to click on category or tag links.

However, every time I decided to do this, I ended up doing something far more productive, like staring at that bald patch of dirt in my garden, waiting for the grass seed I’ve thrown on it to take root and grow.

Magically. In front of my eyes.

Hey, don’t knock using The Force on a bit of dirt until you’ve tried it.


People don’t know how to click on category or tag links.

And I did put four years of work into legislative and policy engagement into the thing across three separate jobs.

So, for the benefit of anyone sad enough to want to read it, here are my greatest hits, b-sides, and unfinished demo tapes.

What you do with this information is up to you.

Just do it wisely.

First, the greatest hits

This post needs to be two lists, because I did a helluva lot of external media engagement in a professional capacity in 2020-2021 for my then-employer, a UK digital rights organisation.

You will find most of those links aggregated here.

I’d just like to state for the record that said employer was paying me an annual salary of £28k per year (that’s €31k EUR / $34k USD) before taxes and deductions, which was £21k (€23k EUR / $26k USD) after that, to handle this Bill and three other disparate policy portfolios, full-time, at a senior policy level.

If you run those numbers in your head, that was a net income of £437 (€495 / $532) per month per portfolio, including the Freedom of Expression/Online Safety brief.

Yes, I was making less than £450 a month to do all that writing, all that research, and all that high level policy and media engagement.

And doing so in a sterile, remote-only workplace with no camaraderie or social interaction at all, in an managerial environment characterised by avoidant behaviour, digital solutionism, and petty bikeshedding, all built on top of Liz Truss levels of people skills.

They did not see this as a problem for me. They did not see this as problem for retaining good staff. They did not see this as a problem for attracting good staff. And they did not see this as a problem for policy, and digital rights, as a whole. They didn’t get it. They really didn’t.

But perhaps you can imagine what it’s like to show up to meetings, as an equal partner, representing your organisation in good faith, while sitting (virtually) next to colleagues in the private sector and academia who earn your monthly income in a few days, whereas you are on a salary so low that you have to go into debt to work for your employer. Then those colleagues go back to healthy, functional workplaces. You don’t.

God knows how any digital rights organisation expects its people to fight the good fights, and show up prepared to the right battles, when the organisation won’t even fight for and show up for its own people.

And until they figure that out, and perhaps come around to the understanding that defending digital rights is about confronting threats to human rights face-to-face, and not hiding behind a screen playing with toys and gadgets, we’ll continue to end up with legislative messes like the one we’ve been in for far too long.

Next, the B-Sides

Here is my own personal blogging, here on my own site, of my own opinions, experiences, and reflections.

This is an automatically generated list off a shortcode, so pardon any formatting weirdness.

Other tags are available, and you might want to explore them, especially this one.

Two of these posts hit #1 on Hacker News, which is the sort of experience that makes you want to switch off your phone and go live in a cave, off the grid, until the madness dies down.

The unfinished demo tapes

There are plenty more observations I have to make and things I want to say, in the way Graham has done, that go beyond the substance of the Bill itself to the wider implications for law and policy as a whole. I have a Scrivener binder full of notes, drafts, and hesitant thoughts.

However, you won’t be seeing them, because I’ve got nothing left.

I have now been unemployed and full-time job hunting for seven months, following a bad stint with a bad employer. (Everything about them from the start was a parade of red flags, however I had to claw myself out of the debt I had to go into to work at the digital rights organisation.)

At this point, after seven months of having no work and no professional or personal support, my mental and physical heath are shattered. Daily gym workouts are the only thing keeping me vertical. Aside from that, I’m completely drained and empty, emotionally and financially: I am back to skipping bills, just like old times.

So if you’re expecting further b-sides, stop waiting.

Or hire me to start producing hits again.

Or buy my book: preferably the ebook version, as it pays higher royalties.

Or read those blog posts, educate yourself, and pick up the fight here, now, at the point where others have paved the ground for you.

For my part, I hope I did it well.

The Author

I’m a UK tech policy wonk based in Glasgow. I work for an open web built around international standards of human rights, privacy, accessibility, and freedom of expression. The content and opinions on this site are mine alone and do not reflect the opinions of any current or previous team.