Children’s charities, free speech advocates and consumer groups such as Which? could, for the first time, raise online safety and freedom of expression concerns directly to Ofcom through a “super-complaint”.
Under the Online Safety Act, social media companies have been given new duties to protect children, enforce the promises they make to users and remove illegal content, or they will face huge fines from Ofcom. Individuals can report harmful and illegal content to social media platforms, and it is their responsibility to tackle this within the law.
The super-complaints process is designed to help Ofcom stay on top of systemic harmful trends and emerging threats by letting organisations, such as charities and consumer groups, raise new concerns as soon as they emerge.
They will, claims the government, play an essential role in keeping the internet safe by ensuring that Ofcom is made aware of issues quickly and reliably, so it can take action in its new role as a regulator of online platforms.
In a consultation published yesterday, the government is seeking views from expert groups to help define who can make super-complaints, the conditions and format of a super-complaint, and expectations on how Ofcom should respond to each complaint.
For example, a super-complaint could notify Ofcom of a new social media feature used on multiple services that subjects children to harmful content, such as violent or pornographic images, or flag that platforms are consistently failing to take down illegal content they have a duty to remove.
“The Online Safety Act makes the UK the safest place in the world to be online, but we need to be sure Ofcom is ready to respond to any emerging online safety issues as soon as they arise,” says Technology Secretary Michelle Donelan.
“The super-complaints process will allow organisations to make Ofcom aware of new challenges quickly and efficiently, making sure the ambition and promise of the Online Safety Act can keep pace with evolving trends, protecting people online for decades to come.”
Ofcom has already begun publishing its draft codes of practice – the blueprints for tech firms to follow to keep their users safe – which will be used to help enforce the Online Safety Act.
“Protecting children and protecting free speech are key pillars of the UK’s groundbreaking new online safety laws,” Ofcom’s online safety group director, Gill Whitehead, says.
“Campaigners’ voices have helped lay the foundations, and we want to continue hearing from them as we build a safer life online.”
“Which? used its super-complaint powers to pave the way for vital new laws that should ensure the vast majority of bank transfer scam victims get their money back – so it’s positive that the government has left the door open for consumer groups to hold tech giants to account directly using the Online Safety Act.