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Children’s charities and free speech groups could be allowed to submit super-complaints to Ofcom to keep internet safe

Suyer-complaints process is designed to help Ofcom stay on top of systemic harmful trends and emerging threats.

  • Expert groups, children’s charities and free speech advocates called on to help define who can make “super-complaints” about online safety issues to Ofcom
  • consultation will help determine the criteria for eligibility and the procedure for super-complaints
  • comes as part of the Online Safety Act which will introduce new powers for regulator to keep the internet safe and protect free

Children’s charities, free speech advocates and other groups could, for the first time, raise online safety and freedom of expression concerns directly to Ofcom through a “super-complaint” under a proposal unveiled by the government recently (Thursday 16 November).

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 will 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 play an essential role in keeping the internet safe by ensuring that Ofcom are made aware of issues in a quick and reliable way, so it can take action in its new role as a regulator of online platforms.

In a consultation published recently, 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.

Similarly, a campaign group may raise that a social media platform’s content moderation systems are consistently removing legal content that their terms of service don’t prohibit, undermining freedom of expression on the platform.

Michelle Donelan, Secretary of State for the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology, recently said:

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. 

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.” 

The detail of how this “super-complaints” process will work will be informed by the consultation the government launched recently, which will ask for views on the super-complaints process and how this can be managed swiftly and easily.

Organisations that will be allowed to raise super-complaints will meet the criteria established in this consultation, ensuring that the regulator is only made aware of legitimate, considered complaints, allowing it to deal with said complaints in a timely and effective manner, and establishing how Ofcom deals with those complaints.

Super-complaints, which are intended to help Ofcom stay on top of harmful trends and emerging threats, may lead the regulator to act against issues raised by using its new powers under the Online Safety Act. This could include updating Codes of Practice or investigating whether a particular service is complying with the new law, or face fines that reach billions of pounds.

Super-complaints processes already exist in other sectors. For example, the Competition and Markets Authority has a similar process that allows certain consumer bodies to request that regulators investigate markets or market practices that they think are significantly harming the interests of consumers.

Gill Whitehead, Ofcom’s Online Safety Group Director, recently said:

Protecting children and protecting free speech are key pillars of the UK’s groundbreaking new online safety laws. Campaigners’ voices have helped lay the foundations, and we want to continue hearing from them as we build a safer life online.

We’ve assembled a world-class a team so we can keep a close eye on issues as they emerge, and we’ve already set out our first blueprint for what tech firms need to do to tackle illegal harms. But we won’t be doing this alone, and we’re looking forward to working with a broad coalition of experts.

The Online Safety Act, which received Royal Assent on Thursday 26 October, makes Britain the safest place in the world to live and work online. It protects children from online harm, empowers adults to exercise greater control over what they see on social media, and places legal responsibility on tech companies to prevent and swiftly remove illegal content. 

The recent super-complaints consultation launch follows the publication of Ofcom’s own major consultation last week, that seeks to establish how tech firms will protect their users from illegal harms online.


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