At last we have the long-awaited Green Paper setting out the Government’s thinking on what a new internet safety strategy might look like.
Containing almost 60 pages of densely written text, it pretty much covers the entire online child safety and child welfare horizon plus a couple of extra bits e.g. fraud and older people. In addition, while online dating sites and hate speech have not, historically, been part of the children’s internet agenda, the fact is they definitely are now so well done to all for including them.
Three areas that I think are key headlines
- Use of sanctions – The Digital Economy Act, 2017, requires a Code of Practice to be developed to guide or at any rate describe how social media platforms are expected to behave across a broad spectrum of issues. This we already knew. What the Green Paper makes clear is that this could become linked to a sanctions regime to ensure compliance. Gulp! I must have missed that but the key word there is “could”. We shall see. Sanctions, or the threat of them, certainly seem to be doing the trick in Germany.
- A levy is to be established to fund awareness raising and preventative activity although here it is clear it will be voluntary. What is unclear is if the expectation is that it would simply siphon off funds companies are already spending e.g. on initiatives such as Internet Matters or if it would go into a kitty that the Government would control.
- Getting transparency – without wishing to diminish the importance of either of the above, for me the truly encouraging bit of the Green Paper concerned what the Government are asking for in terms of transparency.
More knowledge, responsibility and transparency to keep kids safe online
We simply do not know the truth about the real scale and nature of what is happening to children and young people on the different platforms and how well, or otherwise, the companies responsible are addressing them, within what timescales and so on. And just to make it clear, the we here is not just policy wonks, it is parents, teachers and children and young people themselves.
Given the absolutely central role the internet plays in all our lives it is no longer acceptable for companies to ask everybody to take everything on trust. With great power comes great responsibility and with great responsibility also comes a need for accountability.
There can be no real accountability without transparency. The transparency dimension is also to be voluntary but on the Today programme on Radio 4 this morning Karen Bradley MP, Secretary of State with responsibility in this area, was quite clear (paraphrasing)
If this voluntary approach does not work we will legislate.
We have all been warned.
Closing date for comments on the Green Paper is 7th December.
Watch short clip featuring Carolyn Bunting, CEO of Internet Matters discussing how the new strategy hopes to improve children’s online safety.