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Government proposes changes to make Britain safer online

The UK government has unveiled plans for an internet safety strategy to protect the British public from ‘worrying or nasty’ content online

The UK government has announced its plan to reduce online dangers such as cyber bullying, trolling and porn after figures reveal that many children are being exposed to “worrying and nasty” content.

The Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) announced the government’s Internet Safety Strategy, which aims to reduce dangers online while ensuring British people can still benefit from being online.

The strategy involves implementing a social media code of practice, which will aim to stop bullying, intimidating or humiliating online content. It also calls for a levy to be paid by social media companies and communications service providers, which will be used to help raise awareness and reduce dangerous content.

DCMS added that it will create an annual report to demonstrate progress, and that startups will be supported to ensure safety is a top priority when they are developing online services.

The government said 20% of 12-15 year olds encountered something online that they “found worrying or nasty in some way” in the past year, and 64% of 13-17 year olds have seen images or videos offensive to a particular group.

In March, the House of Lords Select Committee on Communications called for more to be done to improve online safety, particularly when it comes to children’s use of web services.

Meanwhile, around half of adult users also said they have seen something that has upset or offended them on social media.

Karen Bradley, secretary of state for DCMS, said while “the internet has been an amazing force for good, it has caused undeniable suffering and can be an especially harmful place for children and vulnerable people”.

“Behaviour that is unacceptable in real life is unacceptable on a computer screen. We need an approach to the internet that protects everyone without restricting growth and innovation in the digital economy,” she said.

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The strategy also outlines the role that education will play in raising online safety awareness. There will be compulsory school subjects such as relationship education at primary and relationship and sex education at secondary to support online safety.

Social media companies will also be encouraged by government to offer safety advice and tools to parents and safety messages will be built into online platforms.

The government has also proposed that the UK Council for Child Internet Safety becomes the UK Council for Internet Safety to consider the safety of adults as well as children.

“Meeting the challenges of the digital age is something parents do every day. It is encouraging to see the government proposing concrete steps to ensure that industry is doing everything it can to support families and make the internet a place that contributes to children flourishing,” said Vicki Shotbolt, CEO at Parent Zone.

David Wright, director at the UK Safer Internet Centre, welcomed the announcement. “Technology plays a fundamental role in everyone’s lives presenting both opportunities and threats,” he said.

“Our aim is to promote national collaboration around these issues to deliver positive change among children, young people and those who support them through education, and [through] increased awareness of the safe and responsible use of technology.”

Separately, Huawei is working with independent not-for-profit organisation Internet Matters in the UK to improve online child safety. The Chinese company joins BT, Sky, TalkTalk and Virgin Media, and will work alongside organisations including the BBC, Google and Facebook.

Carolyn Bunting, CEO of Internet Matters, said: “Partnering with Huawei is another big step towards building an industry collective with a common purpose, working together to improve children’s internet safety.”

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