After the draft Bill was scrutinised in Parliament this week, connectivity provider TalkTalk has teamed up with its partner Internet Matters – online safety and wellbeing experts – to give teenagers and their parents a voice in this highly charged debate.
Among the findings of the focus groups held earlier in March:
- There is broad support among young people for increased regulation of the internet to fight against online harms
- Regulation of content promoting self-harm and eating disorders and curbs on scam adverts are two of the most pressing concerns for teenagers
- However, they fear that the Online Safety Bill could impact their privacy
Teens call for Bill to target self-harm content
Throughout the focus groups, teenagers were unanimous in agreeing that the Bill must tackle issues connected to unrealistic body image, self-harm and eating disorders. There is a strong view that posting negative content connected to these topics should be a criminal offence.
In particular, young people were at pains to stress the impact that poor body image has on mental health. The focus groups initially raised questions about how far the Bill in its draft form could deal with legal but harmful content related to body image, but teenagers are clear that all activity encouraging self-harm should be illegal.
Supporting research** from a poll of 2000 parents by TalkTalk shows that 89 per cent of parents believe content promoting self-harm should be made illegal, supporting young people’s views that more needs to be done in this area.
Support for Government announcement on scam adverts
Paid advertising, especially across social media, is another issue that resonates strongly with teenagers. The focus groups revealed that fears among young people over scam adverts have been exacerbated by poor experiences of reporting them to social media platforms.
Parents agree, according to TalkTalk research, with more than two thirds (69 per cent) saying tech platforms currently don’t do enough to keep young people safe. What’s more, 46 per cent regularly worry about their children being the victim of an online scam, and 37 per cent speak to them about the dangers of scammers to help them know what to look out for and to be safer online.
Both children and parents alike will welcome the Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries’ announcement this week that social media sites and search engines will need to block paid-for scam adverts appearing.
Stephen, 53, from London worries that his son Raffy, 17, doesn’t know enough about how to keep himself safe online:
“Raffy is very relaxed about his online safety, and it’s a concern to me. He plays a lot of online games with people he doesn’t know and I’m conscious that they could ask for his financial information or personal details, and he might not think twice about why they’d want this. He is very relaxed about the whole thing, so any extra protection the Online Safety Bill can provide would be reassuring.”
Some fears remain over privacy
Despite broad agreement that the Online Safety Bill is necessary for curbing certain issues, teenagers are adamant that it must not come at the expense of privacy. This was the critical issue when discussing the Bill in focus groups, amid fears increased regulation could lead to invasions of personal online activity.
Young people reported taking proactive steps to guard their privacy, using different platforms with different groups of people in their lives to create a sense of separation – WhatsApp for family, Telegram for ‘business’, such as investments in NFTs and Cryptocurrencies. Teenagers also reported setting up separate accounts on the same service so they could have greater control over who saw what.
Tristia Harrison, CEO of TalkTalk and parent of two teenagers, said: “The Online Safety Bill is one of the most important pieces of legalisation in recent years and it’s crucial that young people’s views are considered. The importance of the internet cannot be overstated. Internet traffic on our network has increased by 40 per cent over the past two years, demonstrating the vital role it continues plays in people’s lives.”
Carolyn Bunting, MBE, CEO of Internet Matters, said: “This is the generation who will shape the future digital world, so it’s important to hear their views, as much as it is the experts and the politicians, on what this piece of legislation means for them in the here and now.
“Getting to grips with what they see as the problems, opposed to what adults think are the problems, is a key part of understanding how we keep kids safe online and make The Online Safety Bill the most effective it can be.
“We’re proud to have worked with our partner TalkTalk to deliver such an important piece of research, which has no doubt put some of the issues into context.”