Ofcom issues guidance to help video-sharing platforms reduce harmful content

October 6, 2021

Following a consultation, Ofcom has issued guidance for video-sharing platforms aimed at helping them to keep users safer from inappropriate and harmful content. This is a pre-cursor to the regulation coming in the Online Safety Bill.

The guidance is intended to support UK-established video-sharing platform providers in understanding their regulatory obligations. The statutory framework applying to these services came into force on 1 November 2020 as a result of the amended Audio-Visual Services Directive. Those legal obligations include requirements to take measures to protect users from harmful material in videos. It:

  • provides a background to the rules and requirements;
  • explains what types of content might constitute harmful material in videos;
  • explains the measures platforms can take to protect users from harmful material, and provides guidance on how to implement those measures effectively;
  • explains the practicable and proportionate criteria providers must consider when determining which measures to take. These criteria include the individual characteristics of VSPs and the rights and legitimate interests of users;
  • encourages providers to establish risk management processes to inform which measures they take and how those measures are implemented; and
  • provides information about Ofcom’s approach to monitoring and enforcement.

To help them meet their obligations to protect users, Ofcom’s guidance sets an expectation that VSPs should:

  • Provide clear rules around uploading content. Uploading content relating to terrorism, child sexual abuse material or racism is a criminal offence. Platforms should have clear, visible terms and conditions which prohibit this – and enforce them effectively.
  • Have easy reporting and complaint processes. Companies should implement tools that allow users to flag harmful videos easily. They should signpost how quickly they will respond, and be open about any action taken. Providers should offer a route for users formally to raise concerns with the platform, and to challenge their decisions. Ofcom says that this is vital to protect the rights and interests of users who upload and share content.
  • Restrict access to adult sites. VSPs that host pornographic material should have robust age-verification in place, to prevent under-18s from accessing such material.

In addition, Ofcom has said that it has five priorities for this year:

  • working with VSPs to reduce the risk of child sexual abuse material;
  • dealing with online hate and terror;
  • ensuring an age-appropriate experience on platforms which are popular with people who are under 18;
  • creating foundations for age verification on adult sites; and
  • ensuring VSPs’ processes for reporting harmful content are effective.