Ofcom to gain new online safety powers as Government bill published today
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.
For most of us, the internet has become central to our lives. But Ofcom research (PDF, 6.9 MB) shows a third of people feel the risks of being online – either to them or their children – have started to outweigh the benefits. Four in five adult internet users have concerns about going online, and most people support tighter rules.
Ofcom has many years’ experience tackling harmful content while protecting freedom of expression, through our role regulating TV and radio programmes. We are also now the regulator for video sharing platforms established in the UK.
We already carry out detailed research on market trends, online habits and attitudes. We can also draw on strong relationships with industry, policymakers, academic experts, charities and other regulators.
We won’t censor the web or social media. Free expression is the lifeblood of the internet and it’s central to our democracy, values and modern society.
Our role in upholding broadcasting standards for TV and radio programmes means we’ve gained extensive experience of protecting audiences from harm while upholding freedom of expression. An important part of our job will be to ensure online platforms do the same with their systems and processes.
These new responsibilities are complex and wide-ranging, so we’re strengthening our skills in this area. We are recruiting for specialist roles to help us regulate online content effectively, and we will have around 150 colleagues working in this area by spring next year, to help us prepare for our new role.