Will OFCOM Regulate Social?

18th September 2018

Tech companies including Facebook and Google would be regulated in the same way as the mobile phone and broadband industry under a new proposal being put forward by the UK media regulator OFCOM.

The regulator is seeking to mitigate the damage it alleges that social media is able to cause by regulating the in-house systems that companies use to remove offensive material.  The regulator aims to give itself powers to issue substantial fines if the changes are not made in line with a new set of standards it wishes to impose.


Proposed changes to follow social scandals

The proposed changes follow the Cambridge Analytica scandal, where data was handed to a third party for political purposes as well as calls from the public regarding the mental health problems caused by the content that social platforms use.

Concerns have been expressed that regulation could close the social media market to new entrants due to the increased cost of doing business, potentially cementing the dominance of the existing market leaders such as Google (which also owns the YouTube platform), Twitter and Facebook (which also owns WhatsApp and Instagram).


Effective blocking of popular sites difficult to impossible to achieve

It remains difficult to see how the UK government could hope to implement controls on a publicly popular system such as Facebook or Twitter without those companies deciding to act within the UK Government control.  Any attempts to close access to the site to UK users could easily be bypassed by even simple VPN’s, which once in a higher place in the public consciousness would make attempts at blocking any content null and void.


Effects on Social Media Advertising and Campaigns

Ultimately, if the social media operations do not play ball with the UK regulator, we could see legislation similar to that used for offshore pirate radio during the 1960’s that prevented British companies from buying airtime for commercial purposes.  However, given the multinational methods of business today and the lack of transparency around ad auctions, it could be that this would be too difficult to impose today event for small business.

For companies using social media advertising and other methods of promotion using social media, it could mean that the site operators up their game with regards to the self-policing of their content.  Given that much content policing takes place outside of the UK and USA, in nations such as the Phillippines, we could see confusion take place over messaging that is perfectly acceptable in the UK but is not understood by the lower cost nations undertaking the self-regulation activity.