The regulation of social media - if not now, when?

By Des Mannion

| 08 February 2019

For over a decade tech giants have failed to protect their young users.

It is a troubling fact that despite the assurances of our politicians that these tech giants are entering the last chance saloon, we are no closer to the regulation and legislation needed to protect our children.

We know that child sex offenders are increasingly exploiting the digital realm to target and commit crimes against our nation's youngest and most vulnerable citizens.

Just last month, the Office for National Statistics published new figures which stated 9,543 cyber-related crimes were recorded in the last year by Welsh and English police forces.

Rape, sexual assault and grooming are included in the crimes committed against children where the offender has contacted their victim on the internet.

Every year, thousands of young people are counselled by the NSPCC's Childline service about issues related to the internet and social media including bullying, body image, self-harm, being exposed to inappropriate content and sexual abuse.

The pressure on the UK government to act is building.

The science and technology committee believes social media companies must be subject to a legal duty of care to help protect young people's health and wellbeing when accessing their sites.

At the end of last year, in a report about the future of policing, the home affairs select committee recommended the regulation of internet companies.

In a report about online abuse experienced by people with disabilities, MPs on the petitions committee said the UK government must accept that self-regulation of social media had failed.

It is becoming increasingly clear that the internet and social media giants have failed to protect children who use their services and we can't waste any more time waiting for them to clean up their act.   

The NSPCC is campaigning for the UK government to legislate without delay, to make social networks accountable and punish them if they fail to keep children safe.

The scale of the threat means it's too late for tech giants to voluntarily clear up their own platforms - we know harmful content and groomers are spread across many social networks and sites.

The only way to make sure all networks are safe for children is by having a regulator to make them all accountable and punish them if they fail to keep their young users safe.

Sites must be required to create safe accounts for children and take proactive steps to detect grooming so this behaviour can be disrupted before it escalates.

We urge the public to sign our petition calling on the UK government to take action now to protect more children and young people from the dangers of what the NSPCC has termed the Wild West Web.

Des Mannion is head of service NSPCC Cymru

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