The government has today announced a “major new drive on internet safety” for which it will enlist the world's largest technology companies in order to make the UK the “safest place in the world for young people to go online.”
Going online is serious business for young people, who can now encounter every flavour of evil that humanity produces without even leaving their homes — something which wouldn't have been possible for their parents watching the BBC in the '70s. To this end, those parents are concerned, and to that end, the government is concerned.
After much collaboration on counter-terror activities, Facebook, Twitter and Apple will be among the corporations the government is set to call to contribute to the protection of children in the face of those frightening online phenomena which their parents may not understand, including sexting, bullying, sites discussing self-harm, and information about eating disorders.
These problems, which no generation has had to face before, will be solved in the new initiative headed by culture secretary Karen Bradley. Bradley will be leading the government's inter-departmental charge on behalf of the Prime Minister, and will ultimately be producing a consultation green paper on future policy, potentially to be published this summer, although government hasn't been making promises lately, because of distracting cat videos the Brexit.
Whatever those policies may be, they will join those in the Digital Economy Bill, which is currently going through Parliament and seeks to introduce age checks for those visiting naughty websites so as to prevent under-18s from watching porn – with powers to block sites which refuse to comply.
Sexting has raised much alarm of late, with a study last year for the NSPCC and Children’s Commissioner [PDF] finding that 13 per cent of 11- to 16-year-olds reported that they had taken topless pictures of themselves and 3 per cent had taken fully naked pictures of themselves.
South Yorkshire police recently suggested that this was not necessarily an avenue for abuse, revealing that the majority of suspects in underage sexting cases are underage themselves.
A report has also been commissioned “by leading academic Professor Sonia Livingstone”, a social psychologist who has spent much of her career focusing on kids on the webz. Livingstone will provide up-to-date evidence “of how young people are using the internet, the dangers they face, and the gaps that exist in keeping them safe”.
Karen Bradley said: “The internet has provided young people with amazing opportunities but has also introduced a host of new dangers which children and parents have never faced before.”
It is increasingly clear that some behaviours which are unacceptable offline are being tolerated or even encouraged online – sometimes with devastating consequences.
We are determined to make Britain the safest place in the world to be online, and to help people protect themselves from the risks they might face.
To do that we want to understand the full scale of the problem and explore how everyone - including Government, social media companies, technology firms, parents and others - can play their part in tackling it.
Responding to the announcement, Jim Killock, executive director of Open Rights Group, said: "As well as ensuring children are safe online, we should be protecting their rights to privacy and free speech. Discussions about young people, safety and technology must also examine the way that children's privacy and free speech are being infringed by government initiatives such as the collection of data for the National Pupil database and web monitoring in schools." ®