Regulating video-sharing platforms: what you need to know
The government introduced legislation in autumn 2020 giving Ofcom powers to regulate UK-established video-sharing platforms (VSPs). These powers came into force on 1 November 2020.
VSP regulation sets out to protect users of VSP services from specific types of harmful material in videos. This includes protecting under-18s from potentially harmful material and all users from material inciting violence or hatred, and content constituting criminal offences relating to terrorism; child sexual abuse material; and racism and xenophobia. VSPs are also required to ensure certain standards around advertising are met.
For more information on the regulations and the categories of harmful material, read Sections 1-3 of our guidance for providers (PDF, 237.9 KB) on measures to protect users from harmful material.
Video-sharing platforms are a type of online video service. They allow users to upload and share videos with other people and engage with a wide range of content and social features.
Our job is to make sure that VSPs within our jurisdiction have appropriate measures in place to protect users from videos which:
- might impair the physical, mental or moral development of under-18s;
- are likely to incite violence or hatred based on particular grounds such as sex, race, colour, ethnic or social origin, genetic features, language, religion or belief, political or any other opinion, membership of a national minority, property, birth, disability, age or sexual orientation; and/or
- directly or indirectly encourage acts of terrorism; show or involve conduct that amounts to child sexual abuse; and show or involve conduct that incites racism or xenophobia.
Appropriate measures may include:
- terms and conditions;
- reporting and flagging functions;
- viewer rating systems;
- age verification;
- parental control functions;
- complaints procedures; or
- media literacy tools and information.
We’ve developed regulatory guidance (PDF, 237.9 KB) on the risks of harm to users and the measures VSPs should take to mitigate them. We have also published our plans and approach to VSP regulation (PDF, 685.8 KB) which sets out further details on the aims of the regime and our areas of focus for the year ahead.
VSP providers must assess whether they fall under the regulations and come under UK jurisdiction, and if they do are legally obliged to notify their service to Ofcom. We have published guidance to help them do this.
We keep up-to-date a published list of notified VSPs to Ofcom.
The VSP framework derives from the revised EU Audiovisual Media Services (AVMS) Directive. In addition to considering UK jurisdiction under Ofcom’s guidance, providers may wish to refer to the AVMS Directive to determine whether their service may fall under the jurisdiction of a European Member State.
Ofcom has information gathering powers which enable us to demand relevant information for certain specified purposes, such as assessing and monitoring compliance and conducting investigations. We also have the power to take enforcement action when a breach of the rules occurs.
If we find that a VSPs has broken the rules, we can enforce a financial penalty of up to 5% of its qualifying revenue or £250k (whichever is greater).
No. Freedom of expression is central to our democracy, values and modern society. Unlike in our broadcasting work, Ofcom’s role is not focused on determining whether particular items of content should or should not be made available or whether they comply with specific content standards. Rather, our role is to ensure platforms have safety systems and processes in place that provide effective protection to their users from the harms mentioned above.
In carrying out our regulatory responsibilities, we will always take account of users’ rights, including freedom of expression.
You should always complain directly to the video-sharing platform in question if you have concerns about harmful content on an online platform. If you reported content and remain concerned action wasn’t taken, you can tell Ofcom through our online complaints portal. You can also report any concerns about the platforms’ safety measures – for example, any problems with reporting, flagging or age verification functions. Our role is to make sure providers have appropriate measures in place to protect users. Complaints from the public will help identify potential issues with compliance but we do not resolve individual complaints.
Regulation of UK-established video-sharing platforms will be in place until the Government’s proposed new Online Safety Bill comes into force. The Government’s broader online safety legislation is expected to apply to a much wider range of online services, including services which are not based in the UK. Last year, the Government announced that it intends to appoint Ofcom as the online safety regulator.
You can read more in the Government's draft Online Safety Bill.