Wednesday 12 February 2020 8:42 am

Ofcom set for role as 'online harms' regulator

A beefed-up Ofcom will be responsible for tackling social media firms over “online harms”, culture secretary Nicky Morgan will announce later today.

The broadcasting regulator will become Britain’s first internet watchdog, the Financial Times reported, as the UK attempts to crack down on illegal material on sites such as Youtube and Facebook.

Read more: Ofcom’s powers expanded to include social media regulation

Ofcom’s new role, which was first mooted in last July’s online harms legislation white paper, will see it place a legal “duty of care” on such companies to protect users from such content.

The regulator will be tasked with deciding whether firms have breached the agreement and whether to issues fines or legal action as punishment, although it is unclear how it will carry out the role.

It was reported that the role would be a temporary one until a permanent online harms watchdog is appointed.

Social media firms have long been expected to regulate themselves, but recently there has been growing pressure on such companies to do more to protect users.

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The new scheme is the government’s first response to a consultation it carried out on online harms last year, with a full plan to be released later in the spring.

It is expected that any new regulation will be designed so that Ofcom can draw up the specifics and adapt to emerging threats, rather than wait on additional legislation.

However, critics of the proposals said that the measures could have the unintended effect of damaging the UK’s growing tech sector.

The Internet Association said the use of the term “duty of care” would create legal uncertainty and be “unmanageable” in practice. 

Read more: Sky urges Ofcom to take action against public service broadcasters

In addition, the IA said the proposed measures could raise serious unintended consequences for freedom of expression.

Ofcom, which was set up in 2003, is currently responsible for dealing with complaints about television and radio broadcasters such as the BBC.