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Ofcom expects tech firms to learn from Buffalo attack

Published: 12 October 2022
Last updated: 16 March 2023

Ofcom has today published a report examining how online platforms responded to the attack carried out in Buffalo, New York on 14 May 2022.

The attack was livestreamed online, and versions of the footage and associated content spread across multiple online services, potentially exposing UK users to terrorist content.

As the regulator of UK-established video-sharing platforms (VSPs) – and in light of the Online Safety Bill – we sought to learn from this tragic event by reviewing tech firms’ responses. This included the measures they had in place to protect their users from seeing terrorist content, and how they worked together to help prevent the footage spreading in the immediate aftermath of the attack.

What we found

When it became apparent the attack had been livestreamed, Ofcom immediately engaged with regulated VSPs to understand the measures they had in place to protect their users from video content related to the terrorist incident.

While this exercise has not, at this stage, led to us opening formal investigations into compliance, our report highlights important implications for online safety that we expect industry to take account of. Platforms will be better able to tackle terrorism online if they focus on:

  • making it easy for users to report livestreamed attacks, while ensuring their content moderation teams are appropriately resourced to quickly deal with such reports;
  • tackling the spread of online terrorist content through further cross-industry collaboration, including on smaller services;
  • providing clear, transparent and accessible terms of service setting out how they tackle terrorist, violent and hateful content; and
  • assessing the risks of their platforms being exploited by attackers at the product design and engineering stage.

As the tragic attack in Buffalo demonstrates, terrorists are highly methodical in identifying which online platforms and functionalities to exploit.

Our report reveals that there is scope for platforms to put more collective effort into ensuring their services are sufficiently robust against exploitation by terrorists, particularly by embedding user-safety considerations early on in their product design and engineering processes.

Murtaza Shaikh, Ofcom’s Principal, Illegal Harms, Hate and Terrorism

Next steps

We will take these insights forward as appropriate as we prepare to take on broader online safety duties under the Online Safety Bill – including the development of Codes of Practice relating to illegal content and associated risk assessment guidance.

We will continue to work with UK-established VSPs to ensure the efficacy of their measures to protect users from illegal terrorist material and content that incites hatred, and to assess any evidence we find of potential breaches of the VSP regulations.

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