Ofcom Discussion Document – Addressing Harmful Online Content

Ofcom has today published a discussion document examining the area of harmful internet content.

The document is designed to contribute to the debate on how people might be protected from online harm. It considers how lessons from broadcasting regulation might help to inform work by policymakers to tackle the issue.

This follows an interim report in July by the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport select committee, which recommended that rules given by Parliament to Ofcom to enforce content standards for television and radio should form “a basis for setting standards for online content”.

Today’s document suggests that certain principles from broadcasting regulation could be relevant as policymakers consider issues around online protection. These include protection and assurance; upholding freedom of expression; adaptability over time; transparency; effective enforcement; and independent regulation.

While the regulation of online content has evolved in recent years, there are significant disparities in whether and how it is regulated. The boundaries between broadcasting and the online world are being redrawn. This has implications for the public’s understanding of what protections apply online, versus traditional media.

The UK Government intends to legislate to improve online safety, and to publish a White Paper this winter. Any new legislation is a matter for Government and Parliament, and Ofcom has no view about the institutional arrangements that might follow.

Alongside today’s paper, Ofcom has published joint research with the Information Commissioner’s Office on people’s perception, understanding and experience of online harm. The survey of 1,686 adult internet users finds that 79% have concerns about aspects of going online, and 45% have experienced some form of online harm. The study shows that protection of children is a primary concern, and reveals mixed levels of understanding around what types of media are regulated.

Duncan Newell

Duncan is a technology professional with over 20 years experience of working in various IT roles. He has a interest in cyber security, and has a wide range of other skills in radio, electronics and telecommunications.

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