OFCOM to address concerns over Social media with new controls

By Pete Lowes on 15/02/2020 03:34

Regulator Ofcom to have more powers over UK social media.

It's been confirmed that Ofcom (the UK's communications regulator) is going to be given new powers to force social media firms to take action over harmful content.

Facebook, YouTube, Tiktok, Snapchat, Twitter and others have enjoyed self-regulation, which basically means that they answer to no-one really.

There has been criticism for a long time that these huge companies fail to keep users safe from the potential harm that online bullying or disturbing content can cause. The social media operators themselves have long contested this, saying that they already do everything that they can to protect the public from harmful content.

Ofcom will be able to issue penalties or fines to address violence, cyber-bullying, child abuse or internet trolls. It's not yet been confirmed what these penalties will be, but usually, OFCOM is able to give severe fines.

Based on it's powers elsewhere, it's possible that a percentage of revenue could be required in the worst cases.

The truth is that children have died as a result of online abuse, and until now no-one has been accountable. It's hoped that these new regulatory powers will improve how seriously compaints, concerns and reports are taken.

Anyone who's tried to report content until now will know that the response is often weak - and often protects disturbed individuals who bully and obsess about their targets.

To avoid action from OFCOM, providers will need to ensure that they act quickly to remove harmful content.

They will also be expected to 'minimise the risks' of it appearing at all.

OFCOM's new chief executive will be heading up this new level of oversight. Dame Melanie Dawes will take up the new role in March 2020.

Facebook said in a statement that it had long called for more regulation, and said it was 'looking forward to carrying on the discussion' with the government, the public and the industry.

What is OFCOM?

Ofcom is the regulator for television and radio broadcasters, including the BBC, and deals with complaints about them. They also oversee the multi-billion pond broadband, TV and mobile industries -so they're already used to keeping gargantuan companies in line.

This is a result of a lot of work investigating the harm that users were expose to online.

A few years ago, I visited westminister for a government 'suicide prevention' summit held by Grant Shapps that called industry leaders together to discuss accountabiilty and responsibility of suicide prevention online. At the time, I spoke to senior leaders from Google, Facebook, BT, Microsoft and others on this issue, and there was definitely a sense of wanting to help - but not take all responisbility. Now, the government (through OFCOM) will decide their level of accountability.

New rules will apply to firms hosting 'user-generated' material such as comments, forums and video-sharing. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Snapchat and TikTok would all fall under these rules.

So as an example, if a harmful comment is left on the facebook comments at the base of this article, then that would be Facebook's accountability to answer for any abuse or harmful content that was posted.

Children's charity: NSPCC responded to the news:

Too many times social media companies have said: 'We don't like the idea of children being abused on our sites, we'll do something, leave it to us," said chief executive Peter Wanless.

"Thirteen self-regulatory attempts to keep children safe online have failed."

"Statutory regulation is essential."

Pete Lowes

Pete has worked in the telecoms industry for 16 years - and launched this comparison service to provide a better deal to customers nationwide.

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