On Monday 8th April the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport alongside the Home Office launched the much-anticipated and long-awaited Online Harms White Paper.
Much of the content had previously been widely trailed and there are no major surprises lurking within the 102 pages. Besides which, much of the depth and the detail is yet to be decided, let alone published. We don’t yet know whether Ofcom will be given the regulatory powers to enforce the code of practice for online content, or whether it will be a completely new body. What we do know is that the regulatory body will initially be tasked with building a code of practice across several areas covering the range of players from giant global tech companies to start-up SMEs.
What does the paper tell us that we don’t already know?
The document sets out much that is already known. The harms are set out as the challenge. They are placed into the context of the power and benefits the internet can bring, but against a backdrop of growing concern and a loss of confidence of users in their own personal safety or that of others, especially vulnerable groups and children. It sets out the current arrangements and regulatory framework, that it recognizes as a patchwork and ineffective. And it argues for a more coordinated and coherent approach bringing together the stakeholders to bring about much needed improvements in online safety.
Empowerment of users to grow confidence in online safety
Though most of the document is taken up by either technical solutions or the responsibilities of technology companies or the new regulatory framework, Part 4 section 9 shifts the emphasis onto empowering users. It states that users want to be safe and want to be empowered to manage their online safety and that of their children. Furthermore, it emphasizes the curriculum changes that have already taken place that put online safety at the centre of learning. And it flags that there is a desire to work toward and to support the development of a new online media literacy strategy.
Children want to know more
This section refers to the UKCIS report Children’s online activities, risks and safety research review in October 2017. This states that 67% of children under the age of 12 would welcome more online safety education. The DfE have already responded through the introduction of Relationships Education, that has both direct and indirect reference to online safety. They will shortly be producing supporting information for schools on how to teach about all aspects of internet safety, not just those relating to relationships, sex and health, to help schools deliver this in a coordinated and coherent way across their curriculum. This is a fantastic opportunity to ensure that future generations are empowered to stay safe online.
Children will only learn online safety effectively if practicing it
We would argue strongly that children cannot be taught how to stay safe online without early access to opportunities to communicate and collaborate online through safe platforms. Those platforms should enable teachers to model and to teach ways of communicating respectfully online, of ways for children to recognize efforts to coerce and manipulate them and should embed in children skills, knowledge and understanding to enable them to be effective digital citizens. Children need this experience before they begin communicating online through games and social media and under the current climate this happens in early KS2. May be the white paper will bring a paradigm shift where technology companies assert their age restrictions, where PEGI ratings are respected and where parents are not complicit in their children by-passing these. May be there will be a shift in the norms and rules. This would be a very welcome outcome.
Want more info?
If you want to know more about how we support the use of EdTech in the teaching of online safety, then get in touch.