The Online Safety Bill needs a deterrence factor beyond fines - Helen Westerman

Each week we look at the different potential harms our children face in their online world. The internet is a wonderful resource but it is all too apparent that it wasn’t designed with children in mind.

Wednesday, 26th May 2021, 11:45 am
ALAIN JOCARD/AFP via Getty Images

Each week we look at the different potential harms our children face in their online world. The internet is a wonderful resource but it is all too apparent that it wasn’t designed with children in mind. The pandemic has highlighted this, when our children spent so much more time online to stay connected and keep up with their learning but consequently were exposed to a perfect storm of potential online abuse. Whilst the internet wasn’t designed with children in mind the same cannot be said for today’s big tech companies who have the opportunity and resources to ensure that their games, apps and platforms can be designed with children in mind right from the outset. They have no excuse not to put our children’s safety first and foremost on their list of priorities and for too long our children’s safety has been compromised by their corporate priorities.

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The recent announcement of the Online Harms Bill is an opportunity for the UK Government to take real action that could have far reaching consequences, transforming our children’s online world. But sadly, it could fall short and be a missed opportunity to really force through change and move away from the status quo where tech companies act only after serious harm has occurred. The Online Safety Bill is regulating some of the world’s biggest companies and if it is to do what it’s tasked to do – keep children safe – there needs to be a deterrence factor beyond fines. We want to see the Government commit to senior management liability that is directly linked to senior managers being personally accountable for decisions on product safety. There is precedent and the Culture Secretary should learn from other regulated sectors that hold named managers responsible for the safety of their products, with the threat of fines, censure and, as a last resort, criminal sanctions leading to a culture of compliance.

We will continue to push for a truly robust Online Harms Bill which is a transformative piece of legislation which works for children and families, and not just what’s palatable to tech firms. But as we lobby the Culture Secretary and MPs, as parents and carers it beholds us to do all we can to help keep our children safe online. And as ever regular online safety chats, along with exploring their online world together will be the best line of defence. Being open and honest about concerns, your children will have the confidence to come and tell you, or a trusted adult or indeed Childline if ever anything upsets or worries them online. Remember you can find more information about your child’s wider online world and the most popular apps, sites and games they’re using at www.net-aware.org.uk.