Ofcom to be handed role of policing UK social media platforms

The government is expected to give Ofcom a new responsibility of regulating online platforms in UK.

Digital media and culture secretary Nicky Morgan is expected to announce the expanded role for Ofcom this morning, which will see the watchdog regulating online platforms, including Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, and make them accountable for protecting internet users from harmful content such as child- abuse, terrorism, violence, and online bullying.

The new legislation, which is still being drafted, will give Ofcom power to prosecute or fine the companies should they breach a legal “duty of care”, as defined by the forthcoming legislation, by exposing internet users to harmful and illegal content.

Under the new laws, online platforms will be required to remove illegal content quickly and to minimise the risks of it being published at all.

It is still unclear what punishments the watchdog will be able to impose. However, it is believed that the government intends to give Ofcom the power to decide what would constitute a breach of the “duty of care” and the penalties it would be appropriate to impose.

The government launched its first Online Harms consultation in April last year, which received nearly 2,500 replies.

However, many people also criticised the proposals, saying that they could damage the UK’s growing tech sector.

The British Internet Association (IA) said that the somewhat nebulous term “duty of care” could lead to legal uncertainty and be problematic to implement. It could also result in ‘regulatory drift’ with the power used by Ofcom heads to intervene in all manner of online discourse.

Indeed, the IA also warned that the measures could have serious consequences for online freedom of expression.

The government is yet to answer how the proposed measures would deal with workarounds, such as virtual private networks, which internet users can use to obscure the origin of online traffic.

Many countries have already introduced social media platform regulations. In Germany, social media platforms are required to remove illegal material within 24 hours of posting. Platforms failing to do so could face fines of up to €5 million.

Australia also passed a similar legislation last year, with fines of up to 10 per cent of a firm’s global turnover and possible jail sentences for up to three years for managers.

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