Social networks have a duty of care to protect youngsters from online abuse - Laura Collins, YEP Editor

Call It Out: Why social networks have a duty of care to protect young users as our society turns to a digital reality in post-lockdown life.

Monday, 7th September 2020, 6:00 am
Social networks have a duty of care to keep their young users safe in a digital world. Picture: Shutterstock

To many our digital society has become something of a lifeline during this once-in-a-generation crisis.

At the simple click of a button we have been able to work remotely from our spare bedrooms, video call our shielding relatives and quiz online with our extended circle of friends.

Our routines have transformed significantly but as a society we have never been better connected thanks to modern technology.

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We were forced to move away from offices and classrooms into a virtual reality as our cities and towns were plunged into lockdown at the start of the year.

For many youngsters they’ve swapped textbooks for an online world after spending several months away from the classroom due to the pandemic.

This virtual world has given their young minds access to reams and reams of information to help inform their learning.

And it has seen their social circles move online while they have been physically parted from their friends and family.

But with all the wonders of the world wide web there is an incredible sense of duty to ensure that our young people are properly protected from the dangers that lurk online.

A new study today reveals that six out of ten teachers say they are concerned about their pupils’ safety online owing to the dependence of the internet to continue learning in lockdown.

Of the 1,004 teachers surveyed by Opinium for Internet Matters, two-thirds said technology is now more important than textbooks for learning, while 96 per cent think it is important children have access to a connected device.

The online child safety organisation is calling for parents to stay on top of their child’s internet activity as it launches a new campaign on issues young people might be facing, including cyberbullying, screentime, peer pressure, online grooming and viewing inappropriate content.

Last week a senior supervisor at the Leeds Childline Centre warned that the lives of thousands of young people in our region are being devastated by online abuse.

Childline’s Calm Zone, a website designed to relieve stress, has seen visits rise from 1,600 a week to 10,000 a week during lockdown.

And as part of the Yorkshire Evening Post’s Call It Out campaign we spoke to one brave young person who was so badly affected by online abuse on social media that she had suicidal thoughts.

Emma, not her real name, first called Childline when she was 14 after a friend set up a social media group named ‘we wish Emma was dead’ following a small argument.

She said: “I dreaded going to school because I’d see the bullies there too and they would often follow me home. It completely took over my life.”

It doesn’t bear thinking that if Emma had not reached out to the charity and her family for support her story could have had a very different ending.

We’re backing the NSPCC’s calls to the Government that it makes Online Harms legislation, designed to better protect children and young people, a priority this autumn.

Social networks have a duty of care to keep their young users safe in a digital world.

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