What they said… Online Harms

Some reflections on the government’s Online Harms white paper, and how it affects the education and tech sectors

Dawn Jotham, pastoral care specialist, EduCare

Dawn Jotham

“Children and young people have been brought up with the internet and most find it easy to keep up to speed with new technology, often showing their parents how to use it. They are potentially exposed to harmful and illegal content; parents are limited as to what they can do and sometimes understand. Due to inexperience children are often unaware of the risks, or their perception of risk is different from that of adults.

“Putting strategies in place to help tackle this for all users can only be a good thing. Understanding and challenging harmful online content in a way that is appropriate following a framework will help develop rules and social norms, and understanding of what is acceptable.

“Making companies compliant with clear regulations will help to do this and as the white paper says, help empower people to keep themselves and their children safe online. There is no doubt this is going to be a complex process, but one that should not be ignored.”  

Jeremy Cooper, managing director, RM Education

Jeremy Cooper

“This White Paper is a good start, but we now urge the government to work with industry to ensure that internet technology developments allow organisations and individuals to continue to protect the most vulnerable from illegal and harmful content.

“As an example, whilst the focus to date has been quite rightly on social media platforms, we should not forget that in the strive for privacy, developments in the technical protocols such as DNS over HTTPS and Encrypted SNI may inadvertently prevent the technology used today to protect young and vulnerable people from working effectively in restricting such online harms. It is therefore essential that the companies that are behind the development of these protocols are also in scope for regulation, or else we run the risk of harmful content being more accessible than ever – not just through the social media platforms that are clearly within scope – but these other technologies as well.” 

Penny Patterson, senior inspector safeguarding, Havering School Improvement Service

Penny Patterson

“While there is considerable focus on age verification and suitability, this needs to be promoted through school resources too. It’s important for us to raise awareness and provide the right support and guidance for schools and parents in understanding the risks relating to online safety, and the impact it can have on children. Many schools are frustrated with current systems. For example, age verification is currently based on purchase and installation of apps, games and consoles rather than the use of the actual product or service.

“It’s encouraging to see that the white paper proposes the strengthening of responses to issues like cyberbullying and trolling; this is something that schools will certainly endorse. At present, it’s very unclear for teachers as there are no solid definitions for identifying and dealing with these issues, and so there would be welcomed clarity on these points, in order to help support schools manage these issues.” 

Lord Gilbert of Panteg, Chairman of the Committee

Lord Gilbert of Panteg

I welcome the government’s white paper and its recognition of the need to establish regulation to protect users from online harms using a statutory duty of care. While the internet has clearly created huge benefits, self-regulation by online platforms has not gone far enough to address abuses such as hate speech, the dissemination of fake news and extremist content. Major platforms have failed to invest in their moderation systems, leaving moderators overstretched and inadequately trained. There is little recourse for a user to seek to reverse a moderation decision against them. A duty of care is therefore needed to implement minimum standards and to give effect to human rights including freedom of expression. The need for further regulation of the digital world goes beyond online harms, however. 

“A comprehensive new approach to regulation is needed to address the diverse range of challenges that the internet presents, such as misuse of personal data and the concentration of digital markets.”  

You might also like: Government’s online harm plans should ‘go further’, says BCS

Free live webinar & QA

Blended learning – Did we forget about the students?

Free Education Webinar with Class

Wednesday, June 15, 11AM London BST

Join our expert panel as we look at what blended learning means in 2022 and how universities can meet the needs of ever more diverse student expectations.