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Ofcom likely to be online regulator

12 February, 2020

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has announced that the government is minded to appoint Ofcom as the UK’s internet regulator as proposed in its Online Harms White Paper.

Ofcom, currently responsible for regulating telecoms and broadcasting, will be given regulatory power to ensure that internet service providers fulfil their duty of care to help children and vulnerable people be safer on their platforms.

The decision was floated shortly before the government reshuffle that saw Nicky Morgan, now in the House of Lords, replaced as Secretary of State at the DCMS by Jeremy Wright. At the same time, Melanie Dawes was announced as the new Ofcom Chief Executive. 

“With Ofcom at the helm of a proportionate and strong regulatory regime, we have an incredible opportunity to lead the world in building a thriving digital economy, driven by groundbreaking technology, that is trusted by and protects everyone in the UK,” Morgan said.

“We will give the regulator the powers it needs to lead the fight for an internet that remains vibrant and open but with the protections, accountability and transparency people deserve.”

Only services that allow user-generated content – such as social media platforms and forums – will be affected by the new regulation.

Ofcom will be required to remove illegal or harmful content, though it is not clear how the latter will be defined, especially in the light of the decision (designed to “protect freedom of speech”) not to take action against legal content that some might find offensive.

The regulator is expected to encourage online platforms to review their community guidelines and enforce their own terms and conditions.

Home secretary Priti Patel said: “While the internet can be used to connect people and drive innovation, we know it can also be a hiding place for criminals, including paedophiles, to cause immense harm … That’s why it is right that we have a strong regulator to ensure social media firms fulfil their vital responsibility to vulnerable users.”

The Ofcom decision is the government’s first response to the Online Harms White Paper, which was published in summer 2019. A number of organisations, including Parent Zone, welcomed the principle of a regulator at the time – although we also noted: “Legislation is never enough on its own. When it comes to keeping children and young people safer online, what really matters is parenting, education and support.”

Read our full response to the online harms white paper.