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Online Harms White Paper — fit for families?

The Government has released its long-awaited online harms White Paper in which it sets out plans for regulation of social media and how it will tackle online harms.

The Government has said it wants to 'make the UK the safest place in the world to be online' and, through the proposals in the White Paper, it hopes to help parents keep their children safer when exploring the web.

Proposals in the White Paper include:

  • Establishing an independent regulator with the power to issue fines

  • Mandatory ‘Duty of Care’ for tech companies to keep services free of harmful content

  • Social media code of conduct — including making it easier to file complaints

  • Increased transparency — companies must give annual transparency reports

The right focus?

Parent Zone welcomes the intention to introduce regulation and to ensure large tech companies keep their services free of harmful content, however, it is vital that the government does not just focus on large companies.

We believe it is essential that smaller, lesser-known companies and websites are also held accountable. Children spend much of their time on new and emerging sites and they could potentially experience harm if appropriate safeguards are not in place.

Online gaming

The online harms paper is an important and welcome response to tackling the harms on the web of today, however, it also needs to look ahead at how families’ digital lives are evolving.

Aside from the headlines about large social media companies, there is also a need to consider other forms on online activity such as gaming. Online gaming is a rapidly growing and important part of many families’ lives and along with the benefits it can bring new risks.

Skin gambling is one such risk. Skin Gambling is a relatively new form of gambling in which players can bet real money in hopes of winning gear for their game characters. Our report into skin gambling from last year showed that children were accessing a large range of smaller websites to gamble for assets used in the game itself — such as skins and weapon camos. We believe that skin gambling can be a gateway to problem gambling for children and, although it’s not yet legally considered a form of gambling, it can lead to children potentially developing dangerous habits.

Digital resilience

Digital resilience is the foundation for staying safer and flourishing online. We are therefore pleased to see that the White Paper has acknowledged the Digital Resilience Framework. The Digital Resilience Framework was launched by the UK Council for Internet Safety and was designed to support all those who work with children and young people to prepare them for digital life.

A step forward

"It is important that parents and carers support their children to have positive experiences online" DCMS

A step toward clear and robust online legislation is a positive thing, as self-regulation has shown it is not enough. However, legislation is never enough on its own.

When it comes to keeping children and young people safer online, what really matters is parenting, education and support for young people. The White Paper acknowledges that there is not enough support available for parents to help them keep their children safe online.

“Users want to be empowered to keep themselves and their children safe online, but currently there is insufficient support in place and many feel vulnerable online” DCMS

Parent Zone has been supporting families with their digital lives for over 12 years and in the last 12 months we have reached over two million families and children - however, there is clearly still much to be done.

A voice for parents

Parent Zone is the parent representative on the UK Council for Internet Safety (UKCIS) and will be making a call to policymakers on the following specific aspects.

  • Ensuring the ‘duty of care’ goes further and that it meets the same levels that parents expect from teachers and other professionals who care for their children.
  • Broadening the scope of regulation to include smaller and emerging services that are popular with children

  • Ensuring, industry and organisations respond to all areas of digital family life - for example, online gaming

  • Ensuring parents and children continue to have a voice in the future of regulation and online safety at the highest level

Next steps

The White Paper is now open to public consultation until 31 July.

We acknowledge that the government's white paper is an ongoing process and the effects are not going to be immediate. In the meantime, parents can support and guide their children through existing challenges and help them be safer by ensuring they understand the important role digital plays in their child’s life. Our free resources and guides can help families explore these areas and build confidence.