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it is now a year since the Digital Economy Act required age checking for pornography web sites . A growing number of providers (from Age Checked through Call Credit to Yoti ) offer the services necessary to help improve child safety. Many of them offer secure anonymity in line with PAS 1296 (why do most ISPs or on-line website/retailers need to know any more than that you are over or under a given age?). But the law requiring websites and ISPs to use reputable age checking services has not yet been implemented. This appears to be because a determined rearguard action by the Open Rights Group has spooked officials and regulators.
Now we have evidence as to the scale of ongoing suffering caused by the delay.
The London Grid for Learning which provides secure on-line connectivity for around 10% of UK schools has published an analysis of 40,000 responses to a survey of children’s views. Perhaps the most startling headline is that 1 in 10 of those who video chat with strangers have been asked to change or undress on camera.
Overall there is a shift in risk from contact-based to content-based with:
• Sexting and child sexual exploitation via live streaming flagged as a major issue by children and young people
• A marked growth in mental health issues, especially self-harm and distress caused by sharing of sexual and violent videos
• A greater prevalence of violent or sexual content – whether sending or receiving, volunteered or coerced
• Conduct – the third C of the 3Cs of online safety (content, contact and conduct) – remaining as challenging as ever and shaping all aspects of online safety.
The report focussed on six main topics including: video chatting and live streaming; experiences on apps, sites and games; contact risk – making friends and meeting people online; seeing, sending and receiving content; pornography; online friendships, bullying and mental health.
The report also flagged the elements of the online world pupils enjoyed, including the opportunity to learn new skills, build relationships and broaden their horizons.
Key findings included:
Video chatting and live streaming
• Nearly one in ten children who video chat with people they haven’t met have been asked to change or undress on camera
• Youngest pupils (aged 7 – 8) were just as likely to be asked to get undressed as students in the first four years of secondary school
• One in eight pupils said they had video chatted with someone they had not met in person.
Experiences on apps, sites and games
• 3.5% said that the apps helped them feel good about their body
• Over 50% of pupils wanted privacy settings to be made better, easier and clearer
• 18% of children said their online activities helped them make new friends
• Nearly 1 in 3 pupils say it’s hard to stop using apps, sites and games
Contact risk – making friends and meeting people online
• One in three young people have made new friends online (who they did not know previously)
• Boys are more than twice as likely as girls to chat to people they have never met face-to-face or go on to talk to new gaming friends on other sites or messaging apps
• Half of those who chat to people they met on games went on to talk to them on other platforms
• One in ten 7-16 year olds have made friends with an adult online for the first time
• Of those who met an online friend in person 81% took or told somebody else.
Seeing, sending and receiving content
• 22.4% of pupils had seen violent images/videos online
• 12.8% of these had received these from a young person and 6.2% from an adult
• Boys were a quarter more likely than girls to see this material
• 41% of 15-16 year-olds have seen violent images or videos online
• 9% of those surveyed had received a naked or semi-naked image from another young person
• 15.1% of secondary students had received a sexual message; 5.4% from an adult
• 5.1% of secondary students said they had sent a sexual message themselves; 1.8% to an adult.
• 14.5% of secondary pupils admitted to having seen pornography online
• This began from 5.3% in the first year of secondary school, doubling to 10.8% of 12-13 year olds, 18.1% of 13-14 year olds, 24.2% of 14-15 year olds and 31.9% of 15-16 year olds.
Online friendships, bullying and mental health
• 1 in 4 pupils report being bullied online
• 1 in 13 pupils admitted to bullying others online
• 1 in 3 pupils has witnessed bullying online
• Almost 1 in 6 pupils have seen something that encourages self-harm.
Commenting on the survey Mark Bentley, Online Safety and Safeguarding Manager at LGfL DigiSafe said, “The danger of meeting strangers online is often treated as the main online safety concern. This report however, shows that today violent or sexual content has become far more prevalent. We are concerned by the mental health concerns raised by the survey, particularly regarding self-harm.
“It is however encouraging to see that so many pupils consider the internet a force for good. Comments on the things pupils love about their online lives included learning new skills, broadening their horizons and building strong relationships. Another huge positive is the fact that 73% of pupils said they trust parents on online safety with 71.2% of pupils who spoke to someone telling a parent or carer and 36.1% telling a teacher about negative experiences.”
John Jackson, CEO at LGfL concluded, “LGfL’s ground breaking survey underlines our commitment to protecting children and equipping teachers with the knowledge and tools to help pupils in their care. The dangers of the internet are real and serious. However, so are the many opportunities – it’s important we prepare young people to navigate the worst and thrive on the best of the online world.
“It’s incredibly important that we all harness the findings from the survey to drive positive change and a much better understanding of how technology, particularly social media, is impacting children.
“It is encouraging to see government getting behind these calls for change with papers such as the Internet Safety Strategy. It’s crucial that technology companies embrace these policies and put safety first when it comes to new developments.”
The full LGfL DigiSafe Hopes and Streams report on the 2018 Pupil Online-Safety Survey is available on the LGfL website at pupilsurvey.lgfl.net
The full range of LGfl support material on online safety and safeguarding including teaching and classroom resources is at saferesources.lgfl.net
My personal view is simple.
Of course no technologies are perfect and of course some adolescents will find their way round any obstacles placed in their way (on-line or off-line) but the time has come for balanced debate, based on evidence not allegation. It is time for those suppliers who believe that the Internet should be a safe place for the whole of society to step up to their responsibilities. Those who believe that new technologies, such as AI, offer new solutions should be aware that some of these are already in use, both to exploit and to protect children. The response of the CEO of Barnardo’s to the DCMS call to the Tech Giants to also step up to the plate is apposite. Once again we need open and honest debate, not obfuscation and claims that these are technical matters, too difficult for anyone other than the “experts” to understand.