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UK youngsters need support online, says iRights

A report by the iRights initiative aims to provide an insight into how government can join with technology companies, civil society and business to make a better digital world for young people

Children and young people lack the skills and knowledge necessary to navigate the risks of the internet or to benefit from its many opportunities, according to a report.

This is despite the fact they are often described as “digital natives”, said the report by iRights, a civil society initiative that seeks to make the digital world a more transparent and empowering place for children and young people.

The iRights initiative aims to encourage all companies and organisations with a digital footprint to enshrine a universal standard of rights into their digital services and communications to help protect and inform young people online.

Minister for internet safety and security Joanna Shields said the iRights report provides a “unique insight” into how government can join with technology companies, civil society and business to make a better digital world for young people. “We are using the iRights framework in education, business, and in our own services and digital communications,” she said.

Beeban Kidron, iRights founder and crossbench peer, said iRights would transform children and young people’s experience of the digital world. “They are spending an increasing amount of time online, yet fail to properly understand the internet’s many risks and abundant opportunities. We are therefore delighted by the UK government’s endorsement of our efforts, which will help move iRights from the theoretical to the practical,” she said.

The newly published iRights report, titled Enabling children and young people to access the digital world creatively, knowledgeably and fearlessly, is based on a year of research by the group.

The research showed that children and young people in the UK feel that online games and social networks are compulsive and dominate their time to an unhealthy extent, that they have deep concern that websites and apps which claim to delete their data have loopholes, and that they believe helplines and informed support should be universally available to them online

In response to the report, the children’s commissioner for England, Anne Longfield, has announced she is launching a taskforce, Growing Up Digital, dedicated to improving the online lives of young people through the iRights framework.

Read more about support for life online

This taskforce will build on iRights and work undertaken by Schillings, an international multi-disciplinary reputation and privacy consultancy, which published its own analysis of iRights, entitled iRights: The legal framework. The Schillings report shows that existing legislation strongly supports the five iRights principles and that the UK can set a worldwide precedent in terms of protecting children and young people online.

Schillings partner Jenny Afia said while research shows the law of England and Wales broadly supports the five iRights principles, the challenge is that the law is not being applied. “Our sense is there’s a big appetite among commercial entities to do the right thing by children and young people, but there is uncertainty as to what this entails in practical terms. To help companies overcome this challenge, Schillings will now embark on producing a set of guidelines that will enable companies to address this issue,” she said.

Major companies have already pledged their support for iRights and plan to launch their own initiatives to further its cause, including Sky, Barclays, the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC), the Southbank Centre and Freeformers, which provides digital skills training to young people for free. Earlier in July 2015, Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon signed the framework and launched a commission to establish how to make Scotland iRights-compatible.

The iRights group now has nearly 200 signatories from across government, business, technology, and children’s and civil society groups. The iRights coalition is currently hosted by leading children’s charity the National Children’s Bureau.

Anna Feuchtwang, chief executive of the National Children’s Bureau, said internet and digital technologies are fundamental parts of children and young people’s lives, shaping the world in which they live. “But digital technologies are rarely designed with their needs in mind. iRights provides an empowering framework for realising the potential of the internet for children and young people so they can enjoy a safe and vibrant digital life,” she said.

The five iRights

The right to remove
Every child and young person should have the right to easily edit or delete all content they have created.

The right to know
Children and young people have the right to know who is holding or profiting from their information, what their information is being used for and whether it is being copied, sold or traded.

The right to safety and support
Children and young people should be confident they will be protected from illegal practices and supported if confronted by troubling or upsetting scenarios online.

The right to informed and conscious choices
Children and young people should be empowered to reach into creative places online, but at the same time have the capacity and support to easily disengage.

The right to digital literacy
To access the knowledge that the internet can deliver, children and young people need to be taught the skills to use, create and critique digital technologies, and given the tools to negotiate changing social norms.

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