Independent regulator for social media is a must

By Des Mannion

| 28 September 2018

The Internet and social media has revolutionised how we can access information and communicate.

While some of my generation may find themselves perplexed by this modern phenomenon, children and young people are quite the opposite.

Digitally literate from a young age, many primary schools across the UK are, for example, teaching coding as part of the curriculum.

From tablets and consoles to handheld and laptop devices, young people have easy access to the online world - one which to them seems as tangible as the one around us.

While this world has many positive aspects such as the ability to stay connected with friends and easily access information to help with studies, it can also be very secretive.

There is a dark side to the web, especially around social media, which presents huge risks to our children's' safety.

Would-be groomers can target young children via the web as it provides a direct gateway to their intended target who may be too young to understand the motives behind a stranger contacting them on social media.

Cyberbullying and exposure to inappropriate content are also huge child protection issues online.

Childline receives numerous calls annually from young people seeking help or advice about issues encountered on the internet.

The NSPCC is saying enough is enough.

We want to see change in the way children are protected online and are making the case through our Wild West Web campaign.

We are calling on everyone to sign our petition and show the UK government - notably the home secretary Sajid Javid and Digital Secretary Jeremy Wright - that regulation of the online world is as important as in those areas of the everyday world where children's safety is at stake.

Simply-speaking, we want the creation of a tough, independent regulator to hold social networks to account when they fall short of their responsibilities to protect their young users; social media giants to publish reports stating the scale of risk on their sites and to take proactive steps to tackle grooming on their platforms.

In Wales, NSPCC Cymru has worked with the Welsh government already on developing an online safety action plan. The outline plan, published earlier this summer, will be officially launched in the coming months.

Education, promoting safe use of the web and highlighting the risks, is at the core of the plan in Wales. It also offers advice to adults - both guardians and professionals - on how to protect young people from illicit and harmful material online while promoting safe and responsible behaviour.

NSPCC Cymru hopes that the ministers and politicians in Cardiff will work with their Westminster counterparts on the issue of regulation of social networks.

Social networks must be properly regulated for the sake of children today and for generations to come.

Better education must also play a part in helping our young people - and those who care for them - fully understand the dangers of the digital world.

Des Mannion is director of service, NSPCC Cymru

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