With the Government’s response to its Internet Safety Strategy drawing heavily from some recent BCS work, Policy and Parliamentary Officer Theo Knott explains how the organisation is impacting public policy.

The children of today have never known an offline world and it’s fair to say that keeping young people safe online is a challenge commensurate with painting the Forth Road Bridge; just as you think you have things resolved, the online environment shifts and needs resolving again. Few of us would argue that the internet has been anything but a tremendous force for human good, but this ought not detract from the fact we have an obligation the keep the vulnerable as well protected as we can.

The government’s Internet Safety Strategy has been designed to try and arrest this issue by putting stronger measures in online safety into place. BCS have collaborated with the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), the department responsible for the strategy, to build an evidence base that will help ensure these new measures are fit for the purpose of protecting young people from threats online.

So, how did we get to this stage? Following meetings with DCMS last year, BCS agreed to conduct a poll of school children between the ages of 7 and 18 regarding their views on social media platforms and companies. This was sent to teachers in the Computing at Schools network, which includes those teaching at over 1,700 primary and secondary schools in England, asking them to ask their pupils to fill out the survey. The survey elicited a brilliant response, with over 6,500 young people providing their views, representing possibly the most comprehensive survey of this kind. These results were then shared with DCMS, in addition to analysis and recommendations on what the next steps should be.

Recently, the government officially released their official response to the Internet Safety Strategy consultation and BCS are referenced more heavily than any other non-governmental organisation. More importantly, you can see that our survey and wider work in this area has helped to inform and alter government thinking for the better; putting our values of Making IT good for society into action.

For example, our results found that there is a strong consensus among young people that social media platforms should be automatically removing abusive and offensive posts. The government has consequently committing to providing greater guidance on privacy controls through their forthcoming social media code of practice, so that users have more ability to block people who potentially could send this type of negative content to them.

Additionally, we found that a majority of children would like to be able to see how much bullying occurs on a particular social media platform. The reporting of this sort of abuse is now the first complaint category listed on the draft transparency report that the government wants social media companies to respond to on an annual basis.

One of the more eye-opening findings from our survey was that only 32% of children believe companies think about the online safety of people their age when designing a website or app. The government are now fortifying their Secure by Design model to encourage companies to inculcate safety features, particularly for young people, into new platforms they are designing.

Potentially the most significant change from consultation to response has been the willingness of the government to look deeper at the role that education must necessarily play in keeping children safe online. Our survey discovered that 72% of school children would like more online safety education and a key conclusion from our wider consultation responses was that online resilience through education must not be forgotten in a world where it’s impossible to entirely snuff out online threats.

The laws that will be passed at the end of this process will affect every internet user in the country, and playing a tangible part in making these laws the best they can be illustrates the cache that BCS have on some of the biggest tech issues around. As a membership organisation with immense expertise in tech and wide-ranging networks to call upon, we are uniquely placed to offer an informed role that is, at the same time, dedicated to the public interest. The results we’ve seen in the Internet Safety Strategy show how powerful and positive a force that role can be.