Ofcom to regulate harmful content online

15 December 2020

The Government has decided to appoint Ofcom as the regulator for online harms in the UK.

This means we will take on new responsibilities to protect children and vulnerable people when they are online and give everybody greater confidence to enjoy the huge benefits of being online safely.

Ofcom has extensive experience of tackling harmful content and supporting freedom of expression, through our role regulating TV and radio programmes. We are also the regulator for video sharing platforms established in the UK.

We are now stepping up our work on online harms, and we’ll work with the Government and Parliament as they develop the necessary legislation. We’ll also start bringing in new technology and people with the right data skills.

Next year, we’ll set our initial thinking on our approach to regulating online harms.

Melanie Dawes responds to the Government's announcement that Ofcom will become the online harms regulator. "We are really pleased to take on this role, which will build on our experience as a media regulator."

Questions and answers

Why does online content need regulation?

The internet has become central to most of our lives. But Ofcom research (PDF, 6.9 MB) shows that 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.

What qualifies Ofcom to be the online harms regulator?

Ofcom has many years’ experience tackling harmful content while supporting 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 world-class research on market trends, online habits and attitudes. We can also draw on strong relationships with industry, policymakers, academic experts, charities and other regulators.

Does this mean Ofcom will be censoring the internet?

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.

Isn't there too much content on the internet for anybody to regulate it at all?

We won’t be responsible for regulating or moderating individual pieces of online content.

The Government’s intention is that online platforms should have appropriate systems and processes in place to protect user; and that Ofcom should take action against them if they fall short. We’ll focus particular attention on tackling the most serious harms, including illegal content and harms affecting children.

When will you start regulating online content?

The Government expects the Online Safety Bill, which will set out the regulatory framework for online harms, will be ready in 2021. It will then need to pass through Parliament to become law at a later stage.