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Tech firms could be fined by Ofcom over harmful videos

The UK Government is considering giving new powers to Ofcom that would allow the media regulator to fine technology companies over harmful videos posted online.

The proposals, currently under consultation, would allow Ofcom to issue fines against platforms and websites if it judges they have failed to protect users from seeing harmful videos such as those depicting violence or child abuse.

It follows the publication of a UK Government white paper into online harms in April, which called for new legislation to make internet social media companies the subject of a statutory duty of care to protect their users, with large fines among the penalties for failing to do so.

First reported by The Daily Telegraph, the Ofcom scheme would serve as an interim arrangement until an online harms regulator is appointed under future legislation.

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) said the measures would see Ofcom charged with ensuring online firms meet minimum standards to protect young people and others from harmful, illegal and potentially damaging content.

Ofcom said it was ready to adopt the new powers.

"These new rules are an important first step in regulating video-sharing online, and we'll work closely with the Government to implement them," a spokesman for the regulator said.

"We also support plans to go further and legislate for a wider set of protections, including a duty of care for online companies towards their users."

The measures have been made possible by an EU directive, agreed on by all member countries including the UK, which extended the regulation of TV and video to also include "video-sharing platforms".

Child safety charity the NSPCC said the interim measures were an important step in holding social media and internet firms to account.

Andy Burrows, the charity's head of child safety online policy said: "This directive is an important opportunity to regulate social networks with user-generated video or livestream functions as early as next year. The immediacy of livestreaming can make children more vulnerable to being coerced by abusers, who may capture the footage, share it and use it as blackmail.

"The directive gives the UK a chance to introduce tough measures on tech firms that have their European headquarters here.

"Crucially, this is a real chance to bring in legislative protections ahead of the forthcoming Online Harms Bill and to finally hold sites to account if they put children at risk."

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