Ofcom to gain new online safety powers as Government bill published today

12 May 2021

The Government has today published 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 we 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. We are also the regulator for video sharing platforms established in the UK.

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.

Quote from Melanie Dawes, Ofcom's Chief Executive: Today’s Bill takes us a step closer to a world where the benefits of being online, for children and adults, are no longer undermined by harmful content. We’ll support Parliament’s scrutiny of the draft Bill, and soon say more about how we think this new regime could work in practice – including the approach we’ll take to secure greater accountability from tech platforms.