“It’s vital that we act now to make the internet a safer place”
Guest blog by Caroline Dinenage, Minister for Digital and Culture
Keeping your child safe is a basic instinct. Like any parent, I worry about what my children are up to online. Who are they talking to? What they might be seeing and sharing? Parents have previously rated online safety as a top concern, and this site has lots of great resources about online safety.
Driven by the desire to keep our kids safe, this week the government announced world-leading laws to protect them in the online spaces where they spend hours socialising, scrolling and posting.
At the moment, images or videos of horrendous crimes such as child sexual abuse and terrorism are able to spead across the web far too easily. It is completely unacceptable for anyone to see this material online, whatever their age. But some things that aren’t against the law, such as bullying or the promotion of self harm, can have a lifelong impact on children in particular.
Our new laws will mean online companies will have to put children’s safety first - removing the already illegal content from their sites but also stopping kids seeing things that would be harmful or inappropriate for them.
These much-needed rules of the road for the internet will go wider than just the most popular sites. Any website, app or online service which allows people to create and share their own content, or interact with others, will be in scope. Children will be protected wherever and whenever they are online - including sites that we know they’re accessing but aren’t meant for them.
For example, we know that children lie about their age in order to sign up to social media sites like TikTok and Instagram. These laws will prevent these companies from saying their site is for teenagers, but doing nothing to prevent younger children creating accounts.
Companies will need to do much more to understand the ages of their users. And if children are accessing these sites, they’ll have to put in strong measures so they aren’t being contacted by adults, in what will be a major blow against the scourge of online grooming by paedeophiles.
And before the next big social media craze ever becomes available on an app store, the new rules will force its designers, wherever they are in the world, to make these apps as safe as they can be for British children.
This new, fairer system will all be overseen and enforced by the trusted regulator Ofcom, which already holds TV broadcasters to high standards. Ofcom will get new powers to issue rogue companies big fines of up to 10% of their global annual turnover and even block sites that don’t fulfil their duty of care.
It was never a realistic option for parents to constantly be looking over their children’s shoulders as their lives increasingly play out online. Being online isn’t just a hobby - for so many it’s a necessity. That’s why it’s vital that we act now to make the internet a safer place for current and future generations - to stop them being bullied on Snapchat, being encouraged to self-harm on Instagram, or groomed on Facebook.
This government is acting to give parents much longed-for peace of mind that their children are growing up in a digital world that puts their safety first.