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Internet Matters’ response to Ofcom’s approach to protecting users from illegal harms online

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Lizzie Reeves from Internet Matters responds to Ofcom’s consultation into protecting people from illegal harms online.

About this submission

We are delighted to offer the evidence below in support of Ofcom’s approach to its new duties to protect users from illegal content under the Online Safety Act.

We see children’s online safety and wellbeing as a shared responsibility between service providers, Government and regulators, as well as parents and the professionals who support families and children – for example teachers and social workers. Although it is shared, we think that much more needs to be done to protect children by design, i.e. by service providers.

The Online Safety Act is a landmark development in the journey to keep children safer online. Ultimately, we would like approaches to children’s online safety to shift from a position of protection and restriction, to one where children of all ages can benefit from being online safely and confidently – independent regulation is a key plank for achieving this. We welcome the speed with which Ofcom has assumed its new duties in the Act and there is much that is positive in this first draft code of practice.

Key points from our response

Alongside our work to support parents and professionals, we also conduct an extensive research programme. From these insights we believe that there are a number of key areas in which Ofcom can improve the way it approaches its new duties relating to illegal harms. This submission includes our latest evidence on children’s experiences of illegal harms – as well as parents’ concern and awareness of these issues – and we begin our submission (in response to Question 1) with more granular information of the risks to children of illegal content and behaviour.

Summary of points

  • Children’s experience of illegal harms is unfortunately widespread and commonplace, particularly for teenagers.
  • We suggest that Ofcom differentiates its approach to child-on-child sexual abuse in the illegal harm Codes of Practice.
  • We recommend that Ofcom addresses the clear omission around proactive steps to detect and remove new CSAM from circulation as outlined in the illegal harms Codes of Practice.
  • There is a disappointing lack of reference to the roles of parents and caregivers in the draft illegal harms Codes of Practice.

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