The question of how to regulate the internet is a subject of constant interest and contention. The UK is currently working on an Online Harms Bill – in the meantime there is some new European legislation which is due to come into force this month.
This new European legislation is a directive which amends the 2010 Audiovisual Media Services Directive. While the 2010 directive only applied to TV and on-demand services, the new directive extends its scope to ‘video-sharing platforms’ (VSPs) – that is anything from Facebook to Instagram, YouTube to TikTok.
The new directive puts in place rules to control:
- Advertising and user-uploaded videos which may harm children, incite violence or hatred and constitute criminal offences (child pornography, provocation of terrorism and offences concerning racism and xenophobia) and
- Advertising which harms human dignity, health or the environment, including discrimination; advertises cigarettes or prescription medicine or advertises alcohol to children; or which is not recognisable as advertising.
VSPs will be required to put in place measures and systems for videos uploaded by users, programmes and advertising and sponsorship – to identify and rate content which fails to meet these standards. The measures include:
- Requirements for platforms’ terms and conditions,
- Providing functionality whereby users who upload videos declare if they include advertising or sponsorship,
- Mechanisms for users to report content to the VSP,
- Age-verification systems for content which may harm children, and parental control systems, and
- Systems whereby users can rate content.
These systems appear to give a significant amount of power to users to set the tone of platforms as they will be able to report and rate videos and advertising. It will be interesting to see how the systems are implemented and operated by users in practice. Certainly, internet users have different thresholds for what they find acceptable and recently there has been a rise in the so-called ‘cancel culture’ on social media where figures who are disapproved of are effectively boycotted or ‘cancelled’.
It is, of course, hard to please all of the people all of the time. However, creators and advertisers may find it will become more important than ever to anticipate and skilfully navigate public reactions to their content and ads to ensure they stay, so far as possible, on the right side of public opinion.
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