Ofcom to become UK Internet regulator

Facebook logo along with binary cyber codes are seen in this illustration taken

The appointment of broadcasting regulator Ofcom as a new internet watchdog, with powers to fine social media companies that do not protect users and particularly children from harmful content such as sexual abuse and graphic violence, is a step in the right direction but concerns have already been expressed as to whether the measures go far enough.

The announcement comes as part of the UK's Online Harms measures which attempt to clamp down on offensive content online. Ofcom has an analogous role in regulating broadcast TV and Video-on-Demand services, and so should have transferable skills and people to take on the new role.

Morgan and Interior Minister Priti Patel published a report offering Ofcom "the power to issue warnings, notices and substantial fines" to companies "that facilitate the sharing of user-generated content".

In the government's response, a much greater emphasis is placed on freedom of expression than had been signalled previously.

The new powers allow Ofcom to force social media platforms to remove harmful content quickly and also minimising the risk of it appearing in the first place.

The Office of Communications - known as Ofcom - was established in 2002 and began to formally oversee television and radio the following year.

"To help keep our community safe, we haven't waited for regulation; we've created new technology, hired expert reviewers, worked with external specialists, and reviewed our policies to ensure they are fit for the evolving challenges we face online", he said.

He said of her social media accounts: "Among the usual schoolfriends, pop groups and celebrities followed by 14-year-olds, we found bleak depressive material, graphic self-harm content and suicide-encouraging memes".

The Internet Watch Foundation (IWF), the United Kingdom charity responsible for finding and removing images of child sexual abuse from the internet, said it is pleased to see protection for children "being put front and centre of Government policy".

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"In a large survey of young people who had been cyberbullied, 37 percent had developed depression and 26 percent had suicidal thoughts".

Social media giants such as Facebook want governments to adopt a common rulebook and oversight bodies.

"New rules are needed so that we have a more common approach across platforms and private companies aren't making so many important decisions alone", said Rebecca Stimson, Facebook's head of United Kingdom public policy.

"The proposal to give state sponsorship to social media companies' own terms and conditions is senseless".

Clegg and Zuckerberg are now setting up an oversight board at Facebook that would issue final rulings on contentious content.

Social media companies like Facebook and Instagram will be subject to more scrutiny in the United Kingdom over harmful content appearing on their platforms, with new powers awarded to a government-appointed regulator.

The Response in its Joint Ministerial Foreword did however acknowledge implicitly that there is an overlap between the intended remit of the Online Harms regulator and that of the ICO, with reference to the latter's recently-published final Age-Appropriate Design Code.

The April proposals said these included "the creation of new liability (civil fines or extended to criminal liability) for individual senior managers".

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