Can Ofcom ban social media for under 18s?

Can Ofcom ban social media for under 18s?

Under-18s could be banned from using social media apps including TikTok, Instagram and Snapchat if tech firms do not comply with new Ofcom rules to protect children.

But what is Ofcom and why does it want to change what people see online? Here’s a quick guide to get you up to speed.

Why does Ofcom want to ban social media for under 18s?
Ofcom’s draft guidelines follow the government’s Online Safety Act, which aims to make tech companies more accountable for the safety of children online.

Social media users must be over 13, but Ofcom says children often see content promoting self-harm, pornography or violence on social media. This is banned by the biggest social networks such as TikTok and Instagram, but an increasing number of children have been injured or died after viewing harmful content online in recent years.

If tech firms don’t change what children see, Ofcom says it will ban children under the age of 18 from using social media altogether.

What does Ofcom mean?
Ofcom is short for Office of Communications. It ensures that companies and businesses such as TV channels, radio stations, postal services, social media apps and online platforms treat people fairly, legally and safely.

What does Ofcom say about social media?
Ofcom has published more than 40 guidelines it says sites and apps should follow to keep children safe online.

This includes bringing new ways to check users’ age, changing what young users see, more effectively removing harmful content and helping users report it.

“Young people are fed harmful content on their feeds time and time again and this has become normal but it needs to change,” said Ofcom boss Dame Melanie Dawes, targeting “toxic” social media algorithms.

What do social media algorithms do?
People post billions of messages, photos and videos on social media every day, so companies like TikTok and Instagram use software called algorithms to decide what users see.

It recommends content based on users’ past behavior on the app, their age and gender, or other information.

Could the ban actually happen?
Ofcom says the new rules will come into effect in the second half of 2025. But experts believe it will be extremely difficult to ensure both consumers and social media companies comply with the rules, and some fear the new rules could harm consumers. privacy or limit freedom of expression.

There are also questions about how verifying a person’s age will work, such as whether users will have to provide their photo ID.

What do social media sites say?
Snapchat and Meta, which owns Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp, have issued statements saying they have added protections for users under 18 and help parents control what their children see.

But many companies did not respond to BBC requests for comment.

What did the campaigners say?
The families of 12 children whose deaths were linked to dangerous online content spoke to the BBC after Ofcom published the rules.

They say the rules don’t go far enough to protect children and that change is coming too slowly, and other parents’ groups complain that Ofcom isn’t doing enough to listen to parents.

More than anything else, the campaign worries that more children will die if social media companies and governments don’t do more.

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