Online platforms have responsibility for content, Ofcom bosses tell MPs

Online platforms should take responsibility for the material that appears on their networks, especially when it relates to children and advertising, broadcast regulator Ofcom has told MPs.

Its chairman, Lord Burns, outlined possible gaps in guidelines for online and social media, but stressed to the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee that decisions should be made by Parliament.

“This must be a case where the platforms do have a lot of responsibility,” he said.

“After all, they are the people who are carrying the adverts, the people benefiting from the adverts and surely it is their responsibility to make it absolutely clear what are adverts and what are not, where they are coming from and who’s responsible for them.”

Ofcom published a document in September outlining potential guidelines for regulating social media firms, particularly on issues relating to the welfare of children.

The guidance was welcomed by Facebook, Twitter and Google.

Ofcom chief executive Sharon White (pictured) told the committee that most children now thought of YouTube as “their home” before traditional television channels.

But, she added that there was currently no oversight into the types of content children could view or the types of products targeted at them on the platform.

She also raised concerns about widespread confusion from children and adults about who was responsible for the online world and how any wrongdoing should be dealt with in “an unregulated space”.

Recent Ofcom research found that young teenagers had been approached by strangers, watched unsuitable content or were subjected to advertising which was otherwise regulated because of a lack of understanding about the rights and wrongs of the internet.

“Quite a significant proportion of the public already believe the internet is regulated in the way the committee is describing and believe Ofcom is responsible,” she said.

She added that large social media companies were now “expecting regulation” after a wave of scandals around political advertising and data breaches.

“If Parliament were able to set out very clearly what the [regulatory] ambitions were in this area that would be essential,” White said.

Picture: Ofcom

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