Working globally to protect people on video-sharing platforms

Jan 11th '24

The companies that Ofcom regulate, as well as the safety risks from which they seek to protect people, are global in nature.


In order to keep UK adults and children safe when they use video-sharing platforms (VSPs), Ofcom work closely and effectively with regulators in other countries. Here is an update on Ofcom’s recent international work – helping to make sure people are better protected on the VSPs they use, and making it easier for companies operating across borders to comply with the rules.


Ofcom is now in the second year of regulating UK-based VSPs. The rules aim to make sure VSPs have in place appropriate and effective measures to protect people from certain forms of illegal and harmful content on their services. While still relatively new, this framework is already helping to bring about positive change among regulated platforms. For example, it has been an instrumental factor in OnlyFans adopting age-assurance tools for all new UK subscribers, in TikTok establishing an Online Safety Oversight Committee, and in Vimeo restricting mature and unrated content to subscribers.


  • The importance of cooperation between international regulators

Ofcom has always known that they need to cooperate with international regulatory counterparts to achieve the aims of the VSP framework. The internet is borderless, and while Ofcom currently oversee 22 VSPs that meet the criteria for being regulated in the UK, responsibility for regulating some popular VSPs accessed by UK users falls on regulators from other European countries. This means they need to work closely with them to make sure UK adults and children are protected.


It’s also true that many of the VSPs Ofcom oversee are active across borders and are required to follow many different rules across Europe. The more consistent regulators can be in Ofcom’s expectations of companies and in setting out what ‘good’ looks like, the easier it is for those companies to comply with the rules. Besides, much of the VSP rulebook is new and innovative. Each regulator has unique expertise, experience, and evidence that can help shape how these rules are best implemented. Ultimately, coordinatingOfcom’s efforts, while being respectful of each regulator’s distinct powers and duties, can better protect people online irrespective of where VSPs are based.


This international focus has been central to VSP work since the beginning, and in the last few months Ofcom marked some important milestones.


  • Working together with other regulators

In September last year, Ofcom made a formal submission to a public consultation by Coimisiún na Meán (CnaM), to support it in developing its upcoming rules for Irish-based VSPs. Ofcom submission gives an overview of what they’ve learned from regulating VSPs and how they try to achieve regulatory objectives. Ofcom will continue close cooperation with CnaM to help protect people across respective regulatory jurisdictions.


  • Shaping a coherent international approach to age assurance

September also saw progress in efforts to ensure greater international coordination in protecting children who use VSPs. In early 2023 Ofcom joined forces with other VSP regulators to create the International Working Group on Age Verification, the only dedicated forum for regulators to exchange information and best practices around their approaches to age assurance. The group had its latest quarterly meeting in December, where together with Ofcom’s counterparts from across Europe they discussed how age assurance solutions can be deployed in a consistent and effective way to protect children from harmful content online.


  • Sharing evidence and experience to inform global online safety policy

Finally, they’ve always considered that one of the key benefits of the VSP framework is that it will help Ofcom – and industry – get ready for implementation of the Online Safety Act (OSA)The transition to the OSA is a significant one, but the learnings that are gathering through the VSP regime have been instrumental in making sure Ofcom is set up for success. This experience will also help to inform global discussions about how emerging online safety regulatory tools, such as transparency reporting and illegal content mitigations, should be used by regulators across the world. That was the motivation for Ofcom’s recent participation in the Trust and Safety Research Conference in San Francisco, where experts from the SP policy team shared more about our role in transparency reporting and workshopped potential different approaches with the global policy community.


  • Looking forward

These international efforts are helping to make sure the VSP framework delivers on its promise. They complement and support the various other strands of the VSP policy, supervision, enforcement, and transparency work, such as our recent analyses of VSPs’ terms and conditions, constructive engagement with BitChute to improve its content moderation capabilities, or Ofcom’s enforcement programme into the adult VSP sector. Ofcom has plenty more updates and announcements planned in the coming months, and these will build on the latest VSP report, that was just published last month and which focuses on how VSPs are approaching child safety.


While the VSP framework will ultimately become part of the online safety regime, it continues to offer the opportunity of significant learnings – not only for Ofcom but also for the international community as all work to make lives safer online. Ofcom will leverage these learnings in efforts to enhance global regulatory coordination and alignment, alongside the counterparts in the Global Online Safety Regulators Network.


Source:  Office of Communication (Ofcom)


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