20 October, 2022
Report provides unprecedented transparency into what VSPs are doing to protect users from harmful content online; shedding light on positive steps and exposing gaps
On 20 October 2022, Ofcom published its first report on the 19 video-sharing platforms (VSPs) that notified the UK regulator they were in scope of the regime set out in part B of the Communications Act 2003 (transposing the revised AVMS Directive). The document highlights Ofcom's key findings from the first year of regulation, showcases Ofcom's regulatory approach (part A) and provides detailed insights into platform reports collected through Ofcom's formal information gathering powers (part B).
Ofcom's strategic priorities for the first year of regulation were: reducing the risk of child sexual abuse material on adult sites; laying the foundations for age verification on those sites; tackling online hate and terror; ensuring an age-appropriate experience on platforms popular with under-18; and ensuring VSPs’ processes for reporting harmful content are effective.
Positive steps & remaining gaps
All platforms have safety measures in place, and some platforms made changes in direct response to being regulated by Ofcom.
Platforms generally provided limited evidence on how well their safety measures are operating to protect users.
Most UK adult sites do not have robust measures in place to prevent children from accessing porn.
Many platforms are not sufficiently equipped, prepared and resourced for regulation.
Most VSPs did not understand what risk assessments are and how to perform them - This will be a requirement under the upcoming Online Safety regime
With regards to age verification on adult VSPs, while OnlyFans (the largest of the adult VSPs) has adopted an age verification solution (Yoti), smaller UK-based adult sites still have quite some work to do.
Showcasing Ofcom's regulatory approach
Ofcom's role under the VSP Regime is not to focus on making decisions on individual potentially harmful videos, but to ensure that platforms have relevant systems and processes in place to effectively protect users from such harmful material. Ofcom's systemic approach relies on:
- A notification system: first guidance issued by Ofcom
- Supervision: a continuous approach to engage with platforms to develop effective regulatory relationships
- Enforceable information gathering powers: first round of formal requests issued in July
- Securing compliance: engagement of Ofcom after significant events (Buffalo shooting), launch of one formal investigation
- Regulatory cooperation: collaboration with other NRAs, notably from France, Germany and Cyprus on age assurance.
- Research: Ofcom has conducted or commissioned research notably on user experience.
Ofcom's strategic priorities for next year will be:
- ensure VSPs have sufficient processes in place for setting and revising their Community Guidelines,
- check that VSPs apply and enforce their Community Guidelines consistently and effectively to make sure harmful content is tackled in practice,
- review the tools VSPs provide to allow users to control their experience and promote greater engagement with these measures, and
- drive forward the implementation of robust age assurance, to protect children from the most harmful online content (including pornography).
Additional materials of relevance
To supplement the report, Ofcom has also published four sets of research:
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