Ofcom to gain new online safety powers

May 12th '21

The Government will today publish its draft Online Safety Bill, granting Ofcom new responsibilities that will help to keep people safe when they are online.


Under the draft bill, search services, social media platforms, and other online services that enable user-generated content to be shared between users must mitigate the risk of harm arising from illegal content, for example by minimising the spread of such content. This includes child sexual abuse and terrorist material. The Government will today confirm that these services will also be required to tackle user-generated online fraud.


Services will also need to take steps to protect children’s online safety. Some platforms, which the Department for Digital, Culture Media and Sport (DCMS) has indicated will be the largest and riskiest sites – known as ‘Category 1 sites’ – will also be required to act on legal content that might be harmful to adults, such as cyberbullying or encouraging self-harm. They must make it clear how they will address these problems, and Ofcom will hold them to account for how they do this.


Today’s draft bill also aims to ensure that people can express themselves freely online, and will require platforms to consider the importance of freedom of expression when fulfilling their duties. The draft bill also introduces new, specific duties for Category 1 services to protect journalistic content and content defined as ‘democratically important’.


Ofcom will be given the power to fine companies up to £18 million, or ten per cent of qualifying revenue, if they fail in their new duty of care.


Ofcom already has experience of tackling harmful content and protecting freedom of expression, through our role regulating TV and radio programmes. They are also the regulator for video sharing platforms established in the UK.


Once published, the draft bill will be scrutinised by a joint committee of parliamentarians before a final version is formally introduced to Parliament to complete the legislative process. A DCMS news release setting out more information on the draft Online Safety Bill is available.



Why does online content need to be regulated?

For most of us, the internet has become central to our lives. But Ofcom research shows a third of people feel the risks of being online – either to them or their children – have started to outweigh the benefits. Four in five adult internet users have concerns about going online, and most people support tighter rules.


What qualifies Ofcom to be the online harms regulator?

Ofcom has many years’ experience tackling harmful content while protecting freedom of expression, through their role regulating TV and radio programmes. Ofcom are also now the regulator for video sharing platforms established in the UK.


Ofcom already carry out detailed research on market trends, online habits and attitudes. They can also draw on strong relationships with industry, policymakers, academic experts, charities and other regulators.


Does this mean Ofcom will be censoring the internet?

Ofcom won’t censor the web or social media. Free expression is the lifeblood of the internet and it’s central to our democracy, values and modern society.


Ofcom’s role in upholding broadcasting standards for TV and radio programmes means they’ve gained extensive experience of protecting audiences from harm while upholding freedom of expression. An important part of their job will be to ensure online platforms do the same with their systems and processes.


How well-prepared is Ofcom to take on these new responsibilities?

These new responsibilities are complex and wide-ranging, so Ofcom are strengthening our skills in this area. They are recruiting for specialist roles to help them regulate online content effectively, and they will have around 150 colleagues working in this area by spring next year, to help Ofcom prepare for the new role.


Source: Ofcom


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