This week, the UK government’s Culture Secretary Karen Bradley announced the publication of a new green paper outlining the government’s Internet Safety Strategy, saying the aim is to make the UK the safest place to be online.

The Internet Safety Strategy outlines the awareness campaign that the government is taking to prevent cyber-bullying, trolling and the accessing of pornography by minors. The government has come under increasing pressure in recent years to take decisive action to curb the growing problem of online abuse and harm to minors from accessing age-inappropriate websites.

In a recent press release announcing the new Internet Safety Strategy, Bradley said “In the past year, almost one fifth of 12-15-year olds encountered something online that they ‘found worrying or nasty in some way’ and 64% of 13-17-year olds have seen images or videos offensive to a particular group.” The problem is not confined to minors. Adults too have been offended or upset by material they have viewed on social media sites, and the new strategy will also help to keep adults safe and protected online.

The aim of the new proposals is not censorship of the Internet – the UK government continues “to embrace the huge benefits and opportunities the Internet has brought for British citizens.” The aimof the government’s Internet Safety Strategy is simply to make the Internet a safer place and prevent harm to vulnerable people, especially children.

Bradley said, “Behaviour that is unacceptable in real life is unacceptable on a computer screen. We need an approach to the Internet that protects everyone without restricting growth and innovation in the digital economy.”

The Internet Safety Strategy tackles a range of online issues using several different methods – a combination of improved efforts to educate children and the public about online dangers and acceptable online conduct, social media advice, the promotion of safety features for parents to use to protect their children, and the use of Internet filtering in schools.

Some of the key elements in the Internet Safety Strategy are:

  • Developing a new social media code of practice to address bullying, intimidating, or humiliating online content
  • An industry-wide levy so social media companies and communication service providers contribute to raise awareness and counter internet harms​
  • The publication of an annual Internet safety transparency report detailing the progress made at reducing abusive and harmful content and conduct
  • Providing support for start-ups and tech companies to help them build safety features into their products and apps at the design stage
  • Compulsory new subjects in schools: Relationship education at the primary school level and relationship & sex education at secondary level
  • Encouraging social media companies to provide social media safety advice to parents and build that advice into their platforms
  • Promoting the use of social media and Internet safety features by parents
  • Changing the name of the UK Council for Child Internet Safety to the UK Council for Internet Safety, to show the safety of all Internet users is of concern

In the new green paper, the Keeping Children Safe in Education (KCSIE) guidance is highlighted. The guidance details the steps that schools and colleges in England should take to protect students and keep them safe online. The guidance was updated in September last year to include a new section on safeguarding children online. Schools were reminded of their responsibility to prevent children from accessing harmful and inappropriate website content, explaining Internet filtering in schools is a requirement. Solutions that allow Internet filtering in schools should block inappropriate content and also allow the monitoring of the attempted access of inappropriate material.

The use of similar controls by parents is being encouraged, first by making sure the options are available – the big four ISPs in the UK all offer Internet content filtering controls – and to improve education on the need to implement content filtering solutions to protect children at home.

Vicki Shotbolt, Chief Executive Officer at Parent Zone – an organization set up to provide expert information to families, schools and family professionals on the Internet safety – said, “It is encouraging to see the government proposing concrete steps to ensure that industry is doing everything they can to support families and make the Internet a place that contributes to children flourishing.”