How charities are joining the fight to keep children safe online

We take a look at some of the dangers that children and young people face online and what charities are doing to help protect their service users.

Chrissy Chiu | 12th Aug 19
Image of teenagers on a phone representing child safety online

Children now grow up using the internet. The NSPCC reports that children aged 5 to 15 spend more than 15 hours a week online, and 44% of children own a smart phone. Social media is omnipresent – 90% of surveyed teens between 11 to 16 have a social media account.

Tech giants like Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter, while household names, aren’t the only social media platforms that children and young people use – there are countless others that are constantly emerging and changing, many out of sight of adults.

Video games like the popular Fortnite have chat functions; Instagram has direct, private messages; message boards letting anyone post and comment; there are simply so many avenues for strangers to contact children, or for children to be bullied by peers. In extreme cases, children are the ultimate victims – just this week, a teenage boy took his own life after bullying on the anonymous message board

> See also: Should charities be doing more to stop online bullying?

As some of the most prolific users of the internet in the world, one in three children in the UK say they have experienced bullying, with evidence pointing towards a correlation between heavy use of social media and harmful effects on young people’s wellbeing.

Speaking to the Guardian News, Sonja Jutte, from the NSPCC’s child safety online team said: “This is an area of concern for us. Kids are telling us these sites can facilitate bullying. We can’t say increased social media use is causing higher depression or mental health issues in teenage girls, but it is contributing to the pressures that young people are facing.”


The role of charity allies

Charities, NGOs, and governments are increasingly working together to protect children by supporting parents and offering safe online sites and digital tools to combat the risks they face.

Framing the efforts around safeguarding children, the UK government has set the ambition to be the safest in the world in accessing the internet. For example, the UK’s Online Harms White Paper outlines how illegal activity, bullying, and duty of care responsibilities need to come together.

Charities in particular recognising their role in the online world and are stepping up to help prevent children from harm, including providing recommendations, resources, and coordinating with government.

The NSPCC has been at the forefront of tackling these issues by offering advice to parents, including setting up parent controls, exploring sites children use and starting conversations on online safety. A helpline is also available for parents experiencing problems with setting online boundaries. The charity also offers e-learning courses to help parents protect their children.

Charity The Anti-Bullying Alliance offers an online anti-bullying tool for parents who want to recognise the signs of abuse or bullying. The charity also participates in a week-long awareness week to promote anti-bullying involving students, schools, parents and role models speaking out.

> See also: What are ‘digital ethics’ and why should charities care?

Seeing unwanted or harmful images is also a pervasive problem for children. The Internet Watch Foundation works with the UK Safe Internet Centre to identify and remove content. The charities search for child abuse images, videos, content and operate a hotline and anonymous reporting service. In 2017 alone, the charities helped evaluate nearly 78,000 reports of child sexual abuse webpages. The IWF also works on case law and the police to help catch perpetrators.


Fighting fire with fire

Sometimes the best weapon in the battle against digital dangers can be digital tools themselves.  SWGfL works in the education system and with families to build online digital tools to help safely navigate the internet. Most recently the charity helped launch a digital toolkit to tackle online hate called Social and Emotional Learning for Mutual Awareness (SELMA). Young people can access the toolkit and analyse how the content made them feel, and use practice exercise to protect against hate.

> See also: Sports charity issues cyber bullying warning to young people

Enlisting the help of celebrities, Stop Cyberbullying Day is an awareness day sponsored by the The Cybersmile Foundation. In and online campaign, celebrities have endorsed positive body image, free speech, self-empowerment and inclusion. The Cybersmile Foundation has also partnered with Rimmel cosmetics to launch an AI chatbot to reduce the problem of beauty-bullying.

“Cybersmile assistant not only delivers instant advice and support to internet users in need for existing and emerging problems which include bullying, cyberbullying, mental health struggles, reputation damage and many more – it also delivers results and resources tailored to the needs of that user at that moment,” said Dr. Deborah Gilboa from the Cybersmile Foundation.