In an effort to tackle the exposure of children to harmful online material, Ofcom has issued new guidance suggesting social media platforms use facial recognition technology. This step is part of broader efforts to combat the “aggressive algorithms” that risk exposing young users to content related to suicide, self-harm, violence, pornography, and eating disorders.

The regulator’s updated code requires tech companies to thoroughly evaluate potential risks on their platforms and take necessary actions to protect child users. Failure to comply could result in substantial fines.

The newly drafted Online Safety Rules detail 40 actionable measures for platforms hosting child users. Among the key updates is the introduction of stringent age-verification techniques, including facial recognition technologies that compare user photos with IDs or estimate ages based on photographic analysis. This is to move away from the less reliable method of self-reported age verification.

Further, Ofcom demands a reconfiguration of algorithms to prevent harmful content from reaching children. Current systems, which tailor content based on assumed user preferences, have been found to inadvertently funnel increasingly harmful material to young viewers.

Feedback from children incorporated in the safety code highlights concerns over unwanted contact from strangers and the aggressive recommendation of inappropriate content. One teenager noted the peril of algorithmic loops: “If you watch [violent content], you get more of it.”

Recent studies underscore the urgency of these measures. An Ofcom report from March indicated that all British children surveyed had encountered violent content online, some as early as primary school age.

Ofcom Chief Executive Dame Melanie Dawes emphasized the regulator’s commitment to significantly enhancing online safety for children in the UK, stating readiness to enforce compliance rigorously.

Child online safety advocate Ian Russell, father of Molly Russell who tragically died after viewing harmful content online, welcomed the new code but urged for more ambitious measures to safeguard children more effectively.

The final version of these safety codes is set to be published by Ofcom by the end of 2025, with Parliamentary approval anticipated in the spring of 2026.