Government urged to link up with charities to protect online users

Think tank New Philanthropy Capital wants to see government and charities work collaboratively on online safety issues.

Joe Lepper | 5th Jul 19
Image of person on a computer representing online safety

Charities should be at the heart of efforts to improve online safety, according to charity consultancy and think tank New Philanthropy Capital (NPC)’s call to government.

The think tank wants ministers to be more collaborative in their work with the voluntary sector to ensure users are protected online.

The recommendation comes in NPC’s response to the government’s Online Harms White Paper consultation. This outlines plans to set up an independent regulator for the online sector, a duty of care on firms and greater powers for users.

“Online safety is dependent on social norms which change rapidly,” said NPC Policy Manager Grace Wyld.

“The whitepaper makes few references to the role of civil society and charities as part of the solution. To succeed, we believe the Government and its new regulator must work in partnership with charities to co-design efforts to empower users and build a better internet.”

Evaluating evidence

NPC is specifically calling for government to make use of existing charity sector initiatives to protect users and set up a What Works Network for online safety looking at measuring and evaluative evidence from successful schemes. This should involve charities working alongside government.

In addition, NPC is calling on funders and philanthropists to be more involved in online safety initiatives.

NPC’s Digital Lead, Alex Green added: “We welcome the initiatives the Government has laid out, but it would be better to build on what already exists, rather than setting up everything from scratch. There’s lots of great work already being done by charities up and down the country, which could significantly improve online safety with more investment.

“Online safety is best understood in the wider policy context of child safety as a whole. Online risks are almost always an extension of offline ones. More evidence is needed on how these interrelate, especially in relation to socio-economic status. We’re therefore proposing setting up a What Works Network for Online Safety to build the evidence base and improve evidence-based decision making.”

“At present, most online safety funding is from tech companies. It is undoubtedly a good thing that tech companies recognise their responsibilities, but they cannot be expected to do everything or to ignore commercial pressures. Foundations and philanthropists need to step up to create a more diverse funding landscape.”

Charity initiatives

In March this year tech social enterprise Reason Digital teamed up with former sexual health worker Sara Rowbotham to develop a set of guidelines for parents to keep their children safe online.

Also earlier this year the NSPCC revealed that nine out of ten parents back the creation of a regulator to ensure social network firms are legally responsible for protecting children.

Last year a partnership of three UK charities, involving Internet Watch Foundation, South West Grid for Learning and Childnet received £2.2m in European Union funding to help protect children online.