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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 October 2018

British broadcast regulator eyes potential regulation of social media companies

Ofcom’s chief executive Sharon White is expected to outline how an online regulatory body could be born in the UK

British communications regulator Ofcom has outlined considerations for regulating internet giants. AP
British communications regulator Ofcom has outlined considerations for regulating internet giants. AP

As 45% of British adults say they have experienced online harm, Ofcom says it’s time to regulate social media giants.

British communications regulator Ofcom has outlined considerations for regulating internet giants, which could include fines for those flouting any rules put in place.

In a speech due to be given to the Royal Television Society on Tuesday evening, Ofcom’s chief executive Sharon White is expected to outline how an online regulatory body could be born and enforce penalties on social media giants.

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Legislation is needed, Ms White is expected to say, to close the “standards lottery” between different platforms. Currently broadcasters are held to stricter standards than some online platforms to protect audiences.

“As a regulator, we are required to keep audiences safe and protected, irrespective of the screen they watch, or the device they hold,” she will say.

“Without even knowing it, viewers are watching the same content, governed by different regulation in different places, or by none at all.”

Social media giants have been criticised for failing to act against far-right activism, rising Islamism, fake news and election meddling in recent years, sparking debate about if and how to restrict online content to protect the population from harm.

Ofcom’s 36-page report reflects on how the regulatory framework of broadcasting could inform policy on social media. It said principles which currently apply to broadcasting such as upholding freedom of expression, the ability to adapt, transparency and effective enforcement, could be used to regulate the online world.

The release of the paper comes as research from Ofcom and the Information Commissioner's Office found that eight in ten adults are concerned about going online.

Some inroads to legislation have been made in recent months. The EU Commission is due to vote on legislation which would require internet giants like Google and Facebook to remove terrorist content within an hour of publication or face penalties.

However, as the UK prepares to formally exit the EU in March, it can no longer rely on EU legislation to coral online actors into line.

Although the decision to form a regulator would be a parliamentary one, Ms White is expected to say Ofcom’s work on the issue would assist the debate.

“Our research shows that people see social media platforms as the single biggest source of online harm – and most people want the rules to be tighter,” she said.