8 April 2019

BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT, has welcomed the government’s plans to set up a new independent regulator to make the internet less harmful, but says regulation alone is not the answer. It also welcomes the government’s consultation on the role and remit of the intended regulator and will be submitting it’s view on this and other aspects of the white paper during the consultation period.

BCS, which is both an educational charity as well as the professional body for IT, has called for a national cyber-safety programme to be introduced in schools if young people are to be protected. BCS says its own research shows that younger pupils want to know more about how to look out for potential dangers online. 

Adam Thilthorpe, Director of External Affairs at BCS says: “Education is the key to preventing harm online and it should be introduced in tandem with regulation. Without also informing children and young people about the dangers and teaching them how to navigate the internet safely, then they will always be vulnerable and open to exploitation from unscrupulous elements online.”

In the government’s Online Harms White Paper, revealed today (8 April), a series of tough new measures are being proposed to clamp down on online companies themselves in order to deal with serious harms that are facilitated by the internet. Its scope is wide ranging and covers, for instance, a new statutory ‘duty of care’ to make companies take more responsibility for the safety of their users, and stringent requirements on tech companies to ensure child abuse and terrorist content is not disseminated online.

However, BCS, has called for the proposals to go further. Adam Thilthorpe said: “Blaming social media platforms for failing to keep us safe on the internet is only putting one side of the story. It means that not enough responsibility is being taken by either parents, schools or the government about the wider role of teaching children in how to stay safe.” 

BCS, has been helping the government’s Internet Safety Strategy Green Paper consultation process over the past two years. It ran a survey of more than 6,500 young people aged between 7 and 17 to ask what they wanted to see to help reduce their exposure to harmful material on the internet. The survey’s findings include:

  • Children and young people do not view the online and offline world as separate; they have grown up with technology surrounding them, and view socialising digitally and face-to-face as two sides of the same coin.
  • Children aged 8-13 are clear that they would welcome more education in schools about online safety (with an average of 72% believing this, including 87% of 9-year-olds).
  • They wanted that information to come from trusted sources.

Trusted sources such as head teachers are also calling for more action. Alan Johnson, head of Newent Community School in Gloucestershire speaks for many teachers when he says guarding young people from the potential dangers of the internet shouldn’t be left to regulation alone. He says: “The safety of our children is far too important to be left to chance. This was drummed into us when I was a child, learning to cross the road with ‘Tufty’ and the ‘Green Cross Code Man’. Yet today our young people are expected to navigate the dangers of an increasingly connected world without a coordinated strategy to keep them safe online.” 

Teachers, he says, have an important role to play and Newent Community School and Sixth Form Centre itself weaves cyber safety throughout its Personal, Social, Health and Economic (PSHE) courses, in addition to its computing curriculum.

It is teachers who often pick up the pieces of young lives affected by the harmful effects of the internet and Mr Johnson says learning about, and understanding, internet safety is not something that happens by osmosis: “Unfortunately, having witnessed the emotional, mental and physical impact on young people I am simply not willing to leave internet safety to chance, the stakes are too high.”

Mr Johnson adds: “We also provide extensive outreach to young people in local primary schools. In a recent visit I found that after explaining the potential risks to year 5 to 6 students they were actually angry that there was not more awareness nationally on the potential dangers of the internet.”

Adam Thilthorpe concludes: “The tech sector and the government need to work together to develop a government-backed national awareness campaign aimed at educating our young people. These young people are tomorrow’s adults, and it is society’s responsibility to help young people manage risks, reduce harms, but importantly understand how the internet works, so that they take full and empowered advantage of it in the future.”

Interviews available with Adam Thilthorpe, Director of External Affairs at BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT and Alan Johnson, head of Newent Community School. Contact Claire Penketh, Senior Press Office at BCS on 07727 247984.

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