21 May 2018

In publishing its response to the Internet Strategy green paper, the Government has acknowledged a substantive survey of the attitudes of six and a half thousand young people to social media carried out by BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT.

The survey, believed to be the largest of its type, revealed how little confidence young people have in social media giants ensuring that they’re protected from abusive behaviour online.

Nearly half of those questioned (42% of under 13’s, 41% of 13-18 year olds) said they didn’t believe tech companies think about the online safety of people their age when they’re making websites or apps. The research also highlighted that nearly two-thirds of young people want social media companies to take a different approach to combatting abuse and bullying online by deleting abusive messages before a complaint is made, and three-quarters (81% of under 13’s and 69% of 13-18 year olds) said they should go a step further, by automatically stopping such posts from showing up in the first place.

In its response to young people’s views on automatically removing abusive or offensive posts, the Government has made a specific commitment to be “... providing guidance on privacy and controls through the code of practice, we will ensure that users have more opportunity to control who can contact them”.

Our survey, run via the Computing At School network, also highlighted that young people believe the ability to view how much bullying happens on social media platforms would be useful. In its response, the Government has said it will impose a requirement on social media companies to issue an annual transparency report, which will require, amongst other things, companies to identify what moderation policies each site has in place and how are these reviewed, as well as the number of complaints, how they’ve been dealt with and volume of content taken down.

When it comes to the development of apps, our survey highlighted that only 30% of 12 year olds thought that “most companies think about the online safety of people your age when they are making their websites or apps”. The Government, in its response has said that it will “seek to influence the development of new and emerging platforms. Critical to this work is persuading developers and designers to include safety features in new applications and platforms from the start”.

Commenting on the Government’s response, BCS’s Director of Education Julia Adamson said:

“We are delighted to see that the Government has taken such notice of the strong results produced by BCS’s survey of over six and a half thousand school children. The results suggest that children themselves recognise there is a gap in their digital resilience education, and that younger children particularly would welcome more support from schools to help them deal with the challenges of the online world.

“With our survey’s troubling finding that most young people don’t believe social media companies consider their safety when designing their platforms, BCS welcomes the Government’s commitment to putting children and young people at the forefront of any new legislation. We look forward to ensuring increased digital resilience education is built firmly into any new measures, alongside the new plans for online products and services to be safe and secure for children by design.”

Elsewhere in the Government’s green paper response, the issue of MPs being abused online is addressed with the Government saying it is taking forward work relating to internet safety and the actions for social media companies. BCS has been working to convene a dialogue between the major UK political parties and social media companies, in an effort to create some constructive and cross-party progress on the issue. BCS’s efforts are supported by the Committee on Standards in Public Life, who recently reported on the subject and included this kind of proactive dialogue among its recommendations to all parties.

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BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT, sent their survey via the Computing At School network, to teachers in more than 1,700 primary and secondary schools in England between 27 November 2017 and 1 January 2018, and asked them to get their pupils to take part in the research. Six and half thousand young people aged between 7 and 18 agreed to be part of the research, and they appear eager to have more information on how to stay safe online. Two-thirds of under 12’s (67%) and nearly half of over 13’s (46%) would welcome increased online education in schools.

Full details and results of the survey