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Ofcom to Gain More Powers Over UK Social Media

David Paul

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Facebook and other social media apps

The mostly self-regulated social media platforms like YouTube and Facebook have been criticised for potentially being harmful to younger users.

The British media regulator Ofcom will be granted responsibility for policing online social media platforms in new plans to be unveiled by the UK government.

The legislation is in response to concerns that unregulated social media companies such as SnapChat, TikTok and Twitter do not do enough to prevent the spread of content that may be viewed by younger audiences.

It is believed that the new rules will allow Ofcom to enforce the proposed “legal duty of care” which requires them to protect their users from being exposed to harmful content like cyber-bullying, child abuse and terrorism.

The announcement builds on a government white paper from 2019 stating that executives should be held accountable for harmful content distributed on their platforms.

Currently, any social media platform that does not fulfil the duty of care could see managers held criminally liable, face a hefty fine or have their site blocked entirely, but no organisation was initially assigned to enforce the rules.

Jonathan Oxley, Ofcom’s interim Chief Executive said in a statement: “We share the Government’s ambition to keep people safe online and welcome that it is minded to appoint Ofcom as the online harms regulator.

“We will work with the Government to help ensure that regulation provides effective protection for people online and, if appointed, will consider what voluntary steps can be taken in advance of legislation”.

The culture secretary Nick Morgan will announce more detail into Ofcom’s larger role later Wednesday (12th February 2020).

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The new legislation comes after critics called for more regulation following the death of 14- year-old Molly Russel, who took her own life due to graphic content she viewed on Instagram.

Other events such as the shootings in Christchurch and the beheading of prisoners by ISIS Militants also highlight how Facebook Live and YouTube can be used to easily spread graphic content online.

A survey carried out by Ofcom last year showed that 45% of adult internet users faced some form of online harm and 21% had reported harmful content.

David Paul

Staff Writer, DIGIT

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