In Brief

Fifth of Brits ‘harmed by the internet’

Ofcom to seek stricter regulation of social media giants as research reveals scale of problem

Around 12 million Britons have been the victim of web bullying, harassment or fraud as a result of lax regulation of internet and social media giants, the UK’s broadcasting watchdog will warn today.

Ofcom’s chief executive, Sharon White, will call for an independent regulator to oversee tech companies such as Facebook and YouTube, after revealing new data that suggests one in five people in the UK have been “harmed by the internet”.

The research also found that four in five Brits are worried about going online because of fears over “illegal, dangerous, misleading or inappropriate” content, and hacking and privacy concerns, according to the The Sun.

In a speech tonight at the Royal Television Society conference in London, White will claim that there is currently a “standards lottery”. She will point out that while traditional TV broadcasters such as the BBC and ITV are bound by strict rules on what they can publish, “social media giants like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are unregulated”, says the Daily Mail.

The Guardian reports that “targets would be set for how quickly [social media giants] removed offensive content and substantial fines issued if they failed to meet these standards”. “Such a system could be modelled on the existing British method of regulating telecoms companies,” the newspaper adds.

White will say: “Our research shows that people see social media platforms as the single biggest source of online harm – and most people want the rules to be tighter.”

The data was collected during face-to-face interviews with 1,700 internet users aged 16 or over.

Tony Stower, NSPCC head of child safety online, is backing calls for tough regulation. He said: “The Government is in the process of drafting laws which will hold social networks to account, so this intervention from Ofcom is hugely significant.

“For such an experienced public regulator to highlight why regulation is needed and how it could be done demonstrates further that tough but proportionate regulation of social networks is necessary, desirable and doable.

“The NSPCC’s Wild West Web campaign is urging government to seize this opportunity to protect children online for generations to come.”

However, The Guardian says that those demanding regulation “have often been vague on what form this could actually take, whether it was possible for the UK government to impose controls on global social media companies that have US headquarters, and exactly how hands-on the regulation should be”.

None of these issues have been directly addressed by Ofcom, the newspaper adds.

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