In terms of Ofcom's preparations, Dame Melanie Dawes, Chief Executive of Ofcom, writes that over the past two years, building on its existing role as the regulator for video-sharing platforms, Ofcom has:
- recruited for over 300 roles to implement the online safety regime;
- carried out an extensive programme of research in various areas, including the impact of online hate, online fraud, families' attitudes towards age-assurance and Automated Content Classification (ACC) systems;
- engaged extensively across the industry by building relationships and undertaking extensive deep dives with the biggest platforms on how they currently measure and tackle online harm, as well as engaging with small and mid-sized services;
- begun the formal collection of evidence to inform its codes and guidance, including two calls for evidence on: (i) child sexual abuse and exploitation, terrorism and other harms; and (ii) additional harms to children such as suicide and self-harm content and pornography; and
- invested in deeper cooperation with other regulators in the UK and overseas through the Digital Regulation Cooperation Forum (DRCF).
As for Ofcom's approach to regulation, Ofcom notes that it must produce a substantial number of pieces of guidance and codes of practice, as well as numerous other registers, reports, pieces of advice, statements and research, all of which must be consulted on.
However, Ofcom stresses that this does not mean that online platforms should wait until these guidance and codes are completed before starting to plan for how to keep users safer online, as Ofcom's regulatory action will begin straight after Royal Assent when it issues the first draft codes and guidance for consultation. At this point, Ofcom will also start structured one-to-one dialogues with the largest platforms and use its statutory information powers to gather data formally.
The codes and guidance will be published for consultation in three phases:
- Phase One (to be published within days of Ofcom's powers commencing) - illegal harms codes, including tackling child sexual abuse;
- Phase Two (to be published around six months after powers commence) - child safety duties and pornography, with guidance for Part 5 pornography services being published ahead of this during the Autumn of 2023 (subject to the final shape of the Bill); and
- Phase Three (to be published once the Government has laid before Parliament its statutory instrument setting out the threshold conditions for categorised platforms) - transparency, user empowerment and other duties on categorised platforms.
Ofcom notes that, in terms of Phase Two, the relevant part of the Bill is not as settled as the provisions on illegal harms and before it consults on the draft children's codes, the harms to children will need to be finalised and legally defined.
Dame Melanie Dawes concludes that "implementing the online safety regime quickly and effectively is a top priority for Ofcom" and that it is "pulling out all the stops to move as fast as possible, while ensuring a robust regulatory outcome". To read the letter in full, click here.
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