The news comes as Ofcom proposes new guidance for sites and apps known as ‘video-sharing platforms’ (VSPs), setting out practical steps to protect users from harmful material. VSPs are a type of online video service where users can upload and share videos with other members of the public. They allow people to engage with a wide range of content and social features. hate speech uk
Under laws introduced by Parliament last year, VSPs established in the UK must take measures to protect under-18s from potentially harmful video content and all users from videos likely to incite violence or hatred, as well as certain types of criminal content. Ofcom’s job is to enforce these rules and hold VSPs to account.
Today’s draft guidance is designed to help these companies understand what is expected of them under the new rules and to explain how they might meet their obligations in relation to protecting users from harm.
Harmful experiences uncovered hate speech uk
To inform our approach, Ofcom has researched how people in the UK use VSPs, and their claimed exposure to potentially harmful content. Our major findings are:
- Hate speech. A third of users (32%) say they have witnessed or experienced hateful content. Hateful content was most often directed towards a racial group (59%), followed by religious groups (28%), transgender people (25%) and those of a particular sexual orientation (23%).
- Bullying, abuse and violence. A quarter (26%) of users claim to have been exposed to bullying, abusive behaviour and threats, and the same proportion came across violent or disturbing content.
- Racist content. One in five users (21%) say they witnessed or experienced racist content, with levels of exposure higher among users from minority ethnic backgrounds (40%), compared to users from a white background (19%).
- Most users encounter potentially harmful videos of some sort. Most VSP users (70%) say they have been exposed to a potentially harmful experience in the last three months, rising to 79% among 13-17 year-olds.
- Low awareness of safety measures. Six in 10 VSP users are unaware of platforms’ safety and protection measures, while only a quarter have ever flagged or reported harmful content.
We have also published two research reports from leading academics from The Alan Turing Institute, covering online hate; and from the Institute of Connected Communities at the University of East London, on protection of minors online.
Guidance for protecting users
As Ofcom begins its new role regulating video-sharing platforms, it recognizes that the online world is different to other regulated sectors. Reflecting the nature of video-sharing platforms, the new laws in this area focus on measures providers must consider taking to protect their users, and they afford companies flexibility in how they do that.
The massive volume of online content means it is impossible to prevent every instance of harm. Instead, Ofcom expects VSPs to take active measures against harmful material on their platforms. Ofcom’s new guidance is designed to assist them in making judgments about how best to protect their users. In line with the legislation, Ofcom guidance proposes that all video-sharing platforms should provide:
- There are clear rules around uploading content. VSPs should have clear, visible terms and conditions that prohibit users from uploading the types of harmful content set out in law. These should be enforced effectively.
- Easy flagging and complaints for users. Companies should implement tools that allow users to quickly and effectively report or flag harmful videos, signpost how quickly they will respond, and be open about any action taken. Providers should offer a route for users to formally raise issues or concerns with the platform and to challenge decisions through dispute resolution. This is vital to protect the rights and interests of users who upload and share content.
- Restricting access to adult sites. VSPs with a high prevalence of pornographic material should put in place effective age-verification systems to restrict under-18s’ access to these sites and apps.
Enforcing the rules hate speech video
Ofcom’s approach to enforcing the new rules will build on our track record of protecting audiences from harm while upholding freedom of expression. We will consider the unique characteristics of user-generated video content, alongside the rights and interests of users and service providers and the general public interest.
If we find a VSP provider has breached its obligations to take appropriate measures to protect users, we have the power to investigate and take action against a platform. This could include fines, requiring the provider to take specific action, or – in the most serious cases – suspending or restricting the service. Consistent with our general approach to enforcement, we may, where appropriate, seek to resolve or investigate issues informally first, before taking any formal enforcement action.
Kevin Bakhurst, Ofcom’s Group Director for Broadcasting and Online Content, said: “Sharing videos has never been more popular, something we’ve seen among family and friends during the pandemic. But this type of online content is not without risk, and many people report coming across hateful and potentially harmful material.
“Although video services are making progress in protecting users, there’s much further to go. We’re setting out how companies should work with us to get their houses in order – giving children and other users the protection they need, while maintaining freedom of expression.”
Next steps hate speech video
Ofcom is inviting all interested parties to comment on our proposed draft guidance, particularly services that may fall within the scope of the regulation, the wider industry and third-sector bodies. The deadline for responses is 2 June 2021. hate speech uk