The Government has repeatedly set out its undoubtedly laudable aim of making the UK “the safest place in the world to be online” but turning such an ambition into a reality is no easy task.
The appointment of broadcasting regulator Ofcom as a new internet watchdog, with powers to fine social media companies that do not protect users and particularly children from harmful content such as sexual abuse and graphic violence, is a step in the right direction but concerns have already been expressed as to whether the measures go far enough.
Julian Knight, chairman-elect of the Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, has said the Government has failed to “demonstrate the urgency that is required” to ensure internet giants tackle harmful content and called for the imposition of potential prison sentences for those that break the law and the ability to disrupt the activities of businesses that fail to comply.
While child protection charities have welcomed the new regulation plan as a sign that the Government is willing to stand up to Silicon Valley, the NSPCC is leading calls for Ofcom to now be given powers to proactively “lift up on the bonnet” on websites and hold company directors criminally accountable for putting children at risk.
Anything that makes the internet a safer place for children is undoubtedly a good thing and criminal liability would undoubtedly focus minds at the top of multi-billion corporations that can easily pay off fines. But families also have a role to play in educating and empowering young people to use the internet in a healthy, positive and, most importantly, safe manner.