Children’s Commissioner lists priorities to mitigate risks of online activity
The Children’s Office has published its first blog discussing the importance of online safety for children and young people.
The blog, written by Children’s Commissioner Dame Rachel de Souza, discusses why making a safer digital world is such a priority for her and the series of blogs have suitably started during online safety week.
The concerns in the blog form part of de Souza’s recommendations to the government as it prepares its Online Safety Bill, which is due to be processed through Parliament. Her concerns are listed below:
- Children’s daily lives are now shaped by highly complex algorithms. These can push and amplify harmful content to children’s accounts. Heart-breaking cases where children have taken their own lives, such as Molly Russell and Frankie Thomas, are symbolic of the real-life harm of unregulated algorithms. I pay tribute to their families who have done so much to raise awareness about this issue and the change that is needed.
- A huge number of children are using platforms when they are too young. In a recent survey I found that between 36%-79% of users aged 8-17 are under the minimum age across 7 social media platforms. I have repeatedly challenged tech firms on the number of underage children using their services, yet still they are slow to develop meaningful age assurance and to abide by their own terms and conditions.
- Social media platforms don’t listen to children’s complaints. My recent survey of children aged 8-17 found that just 50% of children report to platforms, of these 25% hadn’t received a response. Worryingly, children are less likely to report harmful content the older they get – despite being more likely to be exposed to harm. Platforms must rebuild children’s trust by operating reliable and responsive complaints routes, operated by human analysts.
- Pornography is just one click away for most children. Unlike in the offline world, where strict legislative and regulatory rules are in place, children have free access to adult content online. There is currently no legal duty for platforms hosting pornography to verify the age of users. The burden is placed on parents and carers to deploy monitoring and filtering tools – leaving many children without protection from the harms of pornography.
De Souza also stated her priorities are to “see a strong Online Safety Bill pass through Parliament, which will place the onus on tech firms to protect children from harm” and that she “will continue to challenge tech giants and urge them to step up to the plate” in order to mitigate the potential risks of online activity to young people.