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Ofcom must abandon 'softly-softly' approach to enforcement of online safety rules

Online Safety
8 May 2024
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Communications regulator Ofcom needs to abandon its "softly-softly" approach to the enforcement of online safety rules, CARE has said.

The regulator has today published a children's safety draft codes of practice, setting out how it intends to enforce the Online Safety Act.

Tim Cairns, Senior Policy Officer at CARE, said Ofcom's actions to date suggest an unwillingness to take tough action against problem sites.

And he crticised the regulator's approach of working with platforms and their existing terms and conditions. Mr Cairns commented:

“The Online Safety Act seeks to balance the right of children to be present and engage online with the need to ensure that they are protected from harmful content. Unfortunately, in producing codes of practice under the new law, Ofcom has not struck the right balance. Its aim of working with platforms and their existing terms and conditions is flawed.

“The only way that companies will comply is by strict enforcement. But Ofcom has not shown that it is prepared to take tough action. In 2020, the regulator was given the power to regulate video on demand content online and ensure that children are protected through age verification. To date, no enforcement action has been taken, despite several services not complying with the law. This does not give us confidence that the Government’s ambition, and parents' demands, that no harmful content will be viewed by kids, is going to be delivered.

“The only way forward is a tough enforcement regime. Ofcom says it will issue fines, but fines will simply not cut it. To ensure that big tech platforms comply, the regulator should issue Business Disruption Orders that prevent a non-compliant platform from processing payments, or that prevent ISPs from banning websites and platforms from the UK. We are concerned that Ofcom will continue a ‘softly-softly’ approach, and this will change nothing.

“Parents were promised, and expect, that children will be protected from harmful content, such as pornography, and that every harmful website and app will require age verification. We hope that Ofcom will listen during the consultation process and make meaningful changes to their codes of practice, then deliver effective enforcement that keeps children safe online.”


Polling commissioned by CARE demonstrates public support for tougher action against the porn industry.

Savanta polling of more than 2,000 adults found that:

> 7 in 10 people support the appointment of a Pornography Commission to ensure that illegal or violent porn is removed from websites and social media.

> 8 in 10 people think directors of companies that own porn sites should be held responsible for illegal material on their platforms and face fines or jail.

> 3 in 4 people think directors of social media sites should be held responsible for illegal material on their platforms and face fines or jail.

> 6 in 10 people agree laws on porn should be the same for content viewed offline (such as DVDs) and content viewed online (such as major porn sites).

Notes for Editors:

Christian Action Research and Education (CARE) is a social policy charity, bringing Christian insight to the policies and laws that affect our lives.

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Online Safety

For children and young people, access to harmful online content is only a click away. CARE is working towards a society where they are as well-protected online as they are offline.

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