Communications watchdog to see powers expanded
Credit: Gerd Altmann from Pixabay
Ofcom will be asked to police tech firms under government plans to crack down on harmful online content.
A major shake-up, unveiled this week, will see online companies asked to sign up to a new “duty of care” towards users.
This will be overseen by the communications watchdog, which will be able to order them to quickly take down content promoting violence, terrorism, child abuse and cyber-bullying.
Platforms will also be asked to “minimise the risks” of the content appearing at all, and the Government will hold out the prospect of fines for firms that do not comply with the new rules.
The plans come in the government’s first response to the Online Harms consultation, which was launched last year and vowed to tackle “illegal and unacceptable content” and “make companies more responsible for their users’ safety online, especially children and other vulnerable groups”.
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It will see Ofcom – which already regulates television and radio broadcasters – draw up guidelines telling companies which content they can and cannot have on their sites.
The government said it is “minded to legislate” in due course to allow for this expansion of the regulator’s duties.
The new “regulation will only apply to companies that allow the sharing of user-generated content – for example, through comments, forums or video sharing”, the government said. It estimated that less than one in 20 UK businesses will be affected.
Home secretary Priti Patel said: “While the internet can be used to connect people and drive innovation, we know it can also be a hiding place for criminals, including paedophiles, to cause immense harm. It is incumbent on tech firms to balance issues of privacy and technological advances with child protection. That’s why it is right that we have a strong regulator to ensure social media firms fulfil their vital responsibility to vulnerable users.”
From early next month, Ofcom will also have a new leader, with Dame Melanie Dawes to join the organisation as chief executive. Dawes, who is currently permanent secretary of the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, will succeed Sharon White, who left the telecoms regulator in November.
Dawes said: “Ofcom plays a crucial role in ensuring that people and businesses across the UK get the best from their communications services. It’s a great privilege to be appointed as chief executive at a time of significant change in the sectors Ofcom regulates.”