The government has revealed a set of ambitious plans to regulate the online world, and will give website owners a duty of care to protect their users from illegal and harmful content.
The new proposals state that UK broadcast regulator and watchdog Ofcom will be in charge of enforcing these new rules, which are expected to include the ability to fine internet organisations that fail to comply.
Full details regarding these rules and what powers Ofcom will be given to enforce them are to be announced in the spring. While the government will be setting the initial direction of these rules, it will be Ofcom that has the flexibility to choose how to respond to online threats as they are encountered.
According to the Guardian, the proposals include two main points. The first will see illegal content quickly removed and, where possible, prevented from being published in the first place. This will include content that promotes the likes of terrorism and indecent sexual content.
The second point concerns harmful content, which is different to illegal content. To comply with these rules, online platforms, such as Facebook, will be requested to be upfront about what type of content and behaviour is acceptable on their sites and will need to ensure the enforcement of these rules in a transparent and consistent manner. This will include content relating to subjects such as suicide and self-harm.
The government has stated that this regulation will apply to websites that allow user-generated content to be published, including forums, comments sections and video sharing. This suggests that it will be more than just social media sites that will be impacted by the rules, so business owners will need to review what content is being posted on their sites and act accordingly. However, websites that pose a low risk to the public will not be covered.
Content moderation on websites is proving to be a huge challenge, even for the world’s biggest tech companies such as Google and Facebook, and it is likely to be an event bigger task for smaller businesses.
In a statement, Ofcom welcomed the decision to be appointed as the regulator of these new rules and said it will work alongside the government to ensure that it provides effective protection for users.
Previous attempts from the government to regulate the online world have failed, with plans to introduce age verification to some sites being criticised from a data privacy view.
The UK is not the first country in Europe to want more control over the content being posted online. Germany has started to enforce laws regarding hate speech and fake news online, with hefty fines of up to €50m handed to sites that fail to comply and remove offending content.
With the government looking at making the online world safer for the public, companies will need to ensure that their content is safe and adheres to any rules implemented. For assistance with content creation or website design, get in touch with Engage Web.