Memorandum submitted by Childnet International
Childnet International is a registered charity,
established in 1995, working with children, young people, teachers,
parents and carers, industry, government and policy makers to
help make the Internet a great and safe place for children, both
in the UK and on a global level.
As a charity committed to promoting the safety
of children and young people, Childnet's response focuses on the
potential risk posed to children and young people on the Internet
rather than to all consumers. However, Childnet would urge the
Committee's thorough consideration of the elements of risk posed
to all different types of consumers particularly those with learning
difficulties and disabilities.
Childnet's response consists of an introduction
to Childnet and Childnet's overarching thoughts on the topic of
online safety. Childnet's submission then outlines the benefits
of the Internet, particularly the opportunities it offers to create
and discover content and to connect with others. In considering
the risks, Childnet's submission outlines attitudes to risk and
dealing with risk. It is in the dealing with risk section that
Childnet discusses the current regulatory approach in this area.
Childnet's response contains three main conclusions:
1. The need for ongoing education and awareness
initiatives as new generations continue to come online and with
the advent and development of new technologies and applications.
2. The recognition that while filtering and
monitoring can be a useful tool, there is no substitute for parental
involvement in communicating key messages regarding online safety.
3. The importance of multi-stakeholder engagement
and the need for industry accountability.
Childnet would welcome giving evidence to the
Committee as part of this inquiry if called to do so, but recognises
the wide remit of this inquiry and would be happy to meet with
Committee members separately to talk about the work that Childnet
has undertaken in this area if required.
4. Childnet International is a registered
charity, established in 1995, working with children, young people,
teachers, parents and carers, industry, government and policy
makers to help make the Internet a great and safe place for children,
both in the UK and on a global level. For the past 12 years, Childnet
has sought to promote the positive use of technology by highlighting
the creative and beneficial things that children are doing with
new technology, as well as responding to the potential risks.
5. Childnet believes that the Internet offers
a large number of opportunities and benefits, but accepts that
risks are part of life and believes that it is important for children
and young people to learn to understand, assess and manage risks,
both offline and online, as part of the growing up process.
6. This does not mean however that children
and young people should be left unsupported on the Internet and
Childnet believes that there should be a shared responsibility
with clear roles for all relevant parties to play including government,
industry, schools, the media, parents and of course children and
young people themselves in ensuring the safety of young people
and children online.
7. Childnet has developed a number of resources
in partnership with the UK Government and others designed to help
young people and parents assess and manage the risks that they
may encounter online. Some of these resources are mentioned in
the main body of Childnet's response to the questions asked in
the review document and a full list of Childnet's resources is
laid out at Annex A.
8. Childnet's response focus on children
and young people rather than consumers in general as this is the
focus of Childnet's work.
9. Childnet welcomes the attention that
harmful content on the Internet has received recently and understands
that this review is separate from, and has a wider remit than
the Byron Review. As emphasised in Childnet's response to the
Childnet believes that it is vital that the Culture. Media and
Sport Committee recognise the work that has already been undertaken
in this area.
10. There are various different initiatives
designed to further E-Safety underway, including government and
industry working groups, education initiatives for teachers, parents
and children and the development of better filtering and monitoring
tools. However, it is important that real multi-stakeholder participation
is achieved in order to produce a meaningful and consistent message,
and that there is not duplication of work. Childnet has always
stressed the shared responsibility for this work and believes
that the Committee's findings of this inquiry must be careful
not to polarize and proportion blame on any sector, but actively
engage and appreciate the tremendous challenges that exist in
catching up with the changes in technology and the global nature
of the medium.
11. At the outset it is important to reiterate
that Childnet does not believe that there is a "silver bullet"
type solution that will act to ensure the safety of children and
young people online or minimise potentially harmful content online
overnight. Rather securing the safety of children and young people
as they engage with and use new technologies is a long term process
requiring education aimed at the behaviour of various user groups
and providers of the technology. Childnet believes that an integrated
approach to sharing key messages and empowering Internet users,
particularly children and young people to use the Internet and
mobile phones safely is vital.
12. The Committee's consideration on harmful
content on the Internet should keep a balance between recognising
the very real fear and concerns that many parents and other late
adopters of the technology have, with the undoubted benefits and
positive opportunities which the new interactive, mobile and gaming
services provide for childrenboth within the family and
within the whole-school community.
13. The Internet provides a wide number
of benefits to children, young people, society and the economy
alike. Over the last few years, the Internet has become an indispensable
part of family life. 61% of homes in the UK now have Broadband
access and 84% of those households have a broadband connection.
14. Current academic and public policy research
shows that the use of technology assists teachers and tutors,
improves attainment and motivates students in new ways. This has
most clearly been demonstrated by raised standards and improved
learners' attainment in schools and further education colleges
where technology had been effectively embedded.
Use of technology also helps children and young people to develop
key skills required for thriving in today's economy.
15. Furthermore, the Internet presents a
great number of opportunities for children and young people to
discover content, create content and connect with other people.
16. The Internet can be likened to the greatest
library in the world. Search engines facilitate effective searches
through vast reams of data which, with due care and caution, can
be utilised by children and young people in doing their homework,
and investigating subjects of personal interest.
17. The Internet also empowers young people
to create content in new and exciting ways. The Childnet Academy
awards programme which ran from 1997 to 2005,
acted to showcase some of the ways in which children around the
world were creating content online and using the Internet for
18. The Internet can act to bring children
and young people together, connecting them through diverse applications
and in many instances the Internet offers the opportunity to break
down barriers such as geography, thereby enabling peers to connect
inter-globally as well as breaking down barriers created by disability
that may be a block to conventional dialogue and interaction.
19. The creation and development of applications
termed as Social Networking Sites, such as Facebook, YouTube,
Bebo and MySpace have added to the ways that children and young
people are able to express themselves and publish material online
giving them a voice and enabling them to post creative content
without the need to learn html and specific coding languages.
20. In addition to these advantages for
children and young people there are tremendous advantages for
society and the economy to the extent that it is now generally
recognised that the Internet is becoming an indispensable part
of family life, and those without access are disadvantaged from
access to cheaper products and 24/7 services, shopping, access
to information, participation and the very democratization within
society. Increasingly the skills required in the new "Knowledge
Economy" are the skills which the Internet fosters such as
creativity, presentation, networking, retrieving information,
assessing value, analyzing and reviewing.
21. It is important to balance these positive
factors against the risks that children and young people may face
online. Childnet believes that there are three main risks facing
children and young people in the online world; Content, Contact
22. There is a risk that when using the
Internet or other online services and technologies, young people
may be exposed to inappropriate content. This may be material
that is pornographic, hateful or violent, encourages activities
that are dangerous or illegal, or is just age-inappropriate or
biased. One of the key benefits of the web is that it is open
to all, but unfortunately, this also means that those with extreme
political, racist or sexist views also have a voice. However it
is important to clarify that both harmful and illegal material
can put children at risk and children may be placed at risk by
accessing content that may not be illegal or considered harmful
in its rightful context.
23. Children and young people are also put
at risk by accessing content that may not be accurate. Use of
unverified websites may put children and young people at risk
from accepting content to be true when in fact it is not. Anyone
can write what they want and post it on the Internet, and as a
result not all the information available online is good information.
Inaccurate information can be misleading or even dangerous in
some situations, for example when it covers health advice. Plagiarism
and copyright are also key issues, particularly in relation to
copying schoolwork and downloading music or games, as popularised
by many filesharing services.
24. The Internet is a fantastic tool for
keeping in contact. However there is an element of risk involved
in this and children and young people can be at risk from unwanted
contact on the Internet from those who may seek to bully them
and also sadly from sexual offenders. Childnet's youth panel highlighted
a lack of awareness surrounding children and young people verifying
new contacts and checking their reliability, perhaps most evident
in the willingness to add "friends of friends" to their
personal contact lists in various online fora. The youth panel
also underscored a lack of awareness regarding privacy online.
This is an issue both in terms of sharing contact details and
also in sharing financially sensitive details.
25. The Internet is also a commercial environment.
As young people and children have migrated online from other forms
of entertainment so the marketing industry has developed sophisticated
and innovative techniques to chase them. Children and young people
may be placed at risk in the commercial environment online where
data protection rules and marketing codes of practice are flouted,
hidden persuasion techniques are employed in the form of advertisements
and commercial messages that cannot be easily identified by children
and where products and services that have a legal age limit are
advertised indiscriminately such as gambling and dating. Childnet's
recent research report titled "Fair Game? Assessing commercial
activity on children's favourite websites and online environments"
co-authored with the NCC and Dr Agnes Nairn highlighted the impact
that commercial activity has on children online.
26. The proliferation of Social Networking
Sites such as Facebook, YouTube, Bebo and MySpace has also led
to wide variety of risks. Children and young people are not discriminate
about the information that they "put up" and make available
for others to see online and many young people are uploading music,
images or videos without thought about the long term consequences.
27. Social networking sites also bring the
very real danger that young people may readily share personal
information or images that could put them at risk, both emotionally
28. Furthermore, there has been an increase
in online "peer abuse" and in the UK, a reported 22%
of children and young people claim to have been the target of
In 2007, Childnet was commissioned by the Department for Children,
Schools and Families to produce advice and guidance for schools
on preventing and responding to cyberbullying. Childnet worked
in close consultation with a wide range of sectors including children
and young people, schools, industry, law enforcement, professional
bodies, parent groups and child welfare organisations to produce
this well-received guidance.
Childnet have also produced a DVD resource which can be viewed
by pupils, staff and parents, to help build a whole-school community
approach to dealing with this problem.
29. Childnet believes that the risks outlined
above are extended by the ongoing convergence of technology. As
the Internet is increasingly accessible from ever sophisticated
mobile phones, the risks are extended by the fact that mobile
phones are personal, meaning that children and young people can,
and often do use them away from supervision. Furthermore, the
portable and private nature of mobile phones combined with the
fact that children and young people are not discriminate about
when they turn their phone off, renders it likely that are always
reachable via their phone.
30. However, research has told us that there
is a difference between the reality of the dangers experienced
by children and young people online and the perception of their
parents and carers of the extent of these experiences.
31. There is also a difference of opinion
as to what constitutes online risk. Very often parents are unaware
of the risks posed by technology, which in itself is a risk as
lack of discussion on these areas may lead to potential isolation
of the child or young person in their online experience leaving
them more vulnerable than a young person or child exploring the
Internet with parental supervision. For example, a child may not
confide in their parent about a negative experience in a chat
room if the child felt that their parent did not know what a chat
room was and how it operated and thereby might not be in a position
to give advice. Conversely, children and young people might be
reluctant to share their experience through fear of the potential
response of the parent or carer in dealing with the problem, such
as their mobile being confiscated or their internet access limited.
The technology has become such an important and integral part
of children's educational and social lives that the risk of losing
is would be terrible. One child in a focus group held by Childnet
in 2004 said, "If you take away my mobile phone you would
take away a part of me".
32. In many instances, what parents perceive
to be the key and immediate danger for their children is not the
same thing as that which children perceive to be a danger. Focused
Childnet discussion sessions with young people has suggested that
their biggest fear online is their peers, with many concerned
about suffering at the hands of their peers through a "practical
joke", or through their email account being hacked into for
33. Childnet's work with adult in parent's
focus groups has revealed that there is also a split in perception
of risk based on the user's own experience. Users who are more
technology savvy themselves are aware of the subtle consumer manipulation
and content related risks that in many instances young people
may encounter on the Internet.
34. There are a range of mechanisms that
exist to help children, young people and parents manage the potential
or actual risks of engaging with the Internet. Childnet firmly
believes that the key universal point of access in engaging with
children, young people and schools in managing the potential and
actual risks of engaging with the Internet is through schools.
35. The most comprehensive work in the UK
to date which identifies the risks that children and young people
are faced with is the UK Children Go Online Survey (2005). However,
nearly one third (30%) of children and young people questioned
in the study reported having received no lessons at all on using
the Internet, risking the dangers of ill-informed use. Childnet
firmly believes that a three pronged approach comprising of inspection,
curriculum and continuing professional development should be implemented
in the UK, and would like to see e-safety as a mandatory part
of the National Curriculum.
36. Managing, guiding and regulating children's
Internet use is a delicate and challenging task and one that Childnet
believes will most effectively be pursued with children's cooperation,
particularly by empowering them to manage their own online experience.
37. It is crucial that parents are helped
in this area, and are brought up to speed with the technology
their children are using, and also the potential risks and the
key safety messages they need to ensure their children know. In
2007 Childnet produced a CDROM called Know IT All for Parents
for the DCSF, and in only a few months over 1 million of these
had been ordered. There is a great demand for information here.
38. Other mechanisms also exist to help
children, young people and parents. The majority of ISPs in the
UK are committed to helping and supporting their customers to
manage their own online experience. Many ISPs provide access to
forms of parental control that users can apply themselves through
a selection of various levels of protection. Equally, ISPs provide
advice and guidance on a range of other issues as well as operating
help lines for their customers. There are also a wide range of
tools offered by ISPs to their customers on a cost basis. However,
despite the many filtering tools on offer there are still parents
who are unaware how to use these tools or who deactivate them
as a result of over-blocking. Furthermore, many users are not
aware of the very basic tools that are available to them, or how
to use them. It is important to make sure that people are aware
of the existence of such tools and that they understand how to
39. In considering the revisions to the
regulatory approach in this area, Childnet accepts the importance
of the self-regulation to the Internet industry in the UK and
would be hesitant to propose stringent regulation or the creation
of any new regulations in this space.
40. With regards to industry, the self-regulatory
regime set out in the Communications Act is ongoing, and while
widely considered to be successful it is not monitored. There
are strong industry best practice messages coming from industry
bodies such as the Internet Services Providers Association (ISPA)
and the best practice guidelines set out by the HOTF,
but these valuable guidelines are not mandatory and there is currently
no way to easily verify how far industry is conforming with good
practice advice. It is crucial that industry do take up the recommendations
outlined in the industry good practice to ensure that the key
child protection issues have been addressed and built into the
services that they provide.
41. As an international organisation, Childnet
has had the opportunity to share its resources on a global and
level and also to review online safety initiatives elsewhere in
the world. One initiative that the Committee might be interested
in considering is the scheme announced by the Australian Government
in 2006, aimed to provide every family with a free Internet filter.
Under this scheme it was proposed that every family would be provided
with a free Internet filter as part of a $116.6 million package
of measures to crack down on Internet pornography. Under this
scheme, called the National Filter Scheme, families were offered
a filtered service or a free filter for their home computer either
for download from a dedicated website or delivered to them on
CD-ROM. ISPs were also required to offer filters to new and existing
customers at no additional cost.
42. A crucial part of this campaign was
the comprehensive national community education campaign, conducted
to ensure that all Australian families were aware of the benefits
of regulating their children's Internet experience by using a
safe and effective computer filter. It was envisaged that the
filters would allow parents to set access limits based on their
own family values to protect children from offensive content on
the Internet and emerging new mobile content services. An important
and key part of the approach involved educating parents about
the dangers present on the Internet and equipping them with the
tools they needed to make sure their children remained safe online.
43. In highlighting this initiative, Childnet
only seeks to highlight to the Committee approaches taken to minimize
the availability of harmful content in other parts of the world,
and to inform further thinking on this topic. It is important
to reiterate that software tools are not 100% effective and should
not be seen as panacea to internet safety, but rather as a helpful
44. Because children will be increasingly
accessing the Internet on their mobile phone, it is crucial that
they and their parents/carers are aware of the tools which exist
to assist them in this area. For example, the Mobile Operators
in the UK have signed up to a Code of Practice around helping
parents keep their children safe, and this includes several commitments
to provide information and tools to help protect children from
certain types of content.
However Childnet has found that despite these tools being available
to parents, not all parents whose children have mobile phones
are aware of these tools, or even of what services are available
on their child's phone. To respond to this Childnet have developed
a Checklist for parents who are thinking of getting their child
containing questions that the parent needs to ask the mobile operator
to ensure that all the available protections for their child's
phone are in place. O2 are using this Checklist in their communications
with their customers, and Childnet is continuing to work to get
more operators to take on this Checklist to help ensure parents
are taking up all the information and protections that are available
45. This Childnet mobile checklist for parents
illustrates a really important point, namely that there is a need
for companies to better promote the existing tools and services
they have established to parents at the point of sale. Having
tools is one thing, helping parents use and feel confident about
them, evaluating their impact and value in protecting children
is quite another thing. Childnet is committed to working with
various partners in promoting and also distributing Childnet's
A copy of the checklist as an Appendix B of this submission as
an example of how parents could be made more aware of tools and
how to better use them.
46. It is important that all Stakeholders
in this area engage in meaningful dialogue and also play their
part in dealing with harmful content on the Internet.
47. Childnet believes that industry should
consider how best to verify the success of best practice measures
in this area and implement meaningful methods of assessment.
48. While filtering and monitoring can be
a useful tool, there is no substitute for parental involvement
in communicating key messages regarding online safety.
49. Childnet believes that there is a need
for ongoing education and awareness initiatives as new generations
continue to come online and with the advent and development of
new technologies and applications.
A summary of Childnet's resources is available
at Annex A.
Childnet has developed an exciting range of
award-winning online projects resources and offline resources
for children, young people, parents/carers and teachers.
Childnet worked in conjunction with The UK Mobile
Operators to provide parents with a checklist of important questions
to ask their Mobile Operator when purchasing a mobile phone so
that they can ensure that they have the tools and support to help
their protect children and to make sure they get the most out
of using their mobile phones safely.
Chatdanger is a site all about the potential
dangers on interactive services online like chat, IM, online games,
email and on mobiles. Aimed at children and young people it offers
tips about keeping safe and presents true life stories of how
some young people have been affected by danger online.
In 2007, Childnet was commissioned by the Department
for Children, Schools and Families to produce advice and guidance
for schools on preventing and responding to cyberbullying. Childnet
worked in close consultation with a wide range of sectors including
children and young people, schools, industry, law enforcement,
professional bodies, parent groups and child welfare organisations
in producing this material.
Digizen is Childnet's latest online offering
aimed at promoting "digital citizenship". Digital citizenship
is not just about recognising and dealing with online hazards,
rather it is about building safe spaces and communities, understanding
how to manage personal information, and about helping an individual
use their online presence to grow and shape their world in a safe,
creative way, and also to inspire others to do the same. The website
offers information, advice and resources for using Social Networking
Services with young people, a competition and the opportunity
to customize a personal Digizen widget and information and advice
on recognizing and tackling cyberbullying.
"Jenny's Story" is a hard hitting
film based on the true story a young teenager who chats to a stranger
online using Instant Messenger. The film shows how through online
chatting, Jenny reveals personal information which results in
her being contacted in real life, and ultimately hurt.
The film and accompanying supporting resources
aim to challenge young people about the dangers of chatting to
strangers on the Internet, but also help them reflect on important
issues such as trust, flattery, personal information and how they
can develop strategies to avoid being manipulated or feeling "trapped".
The teachers' resources will help teachers prepare this as a classroom
activity for secondary school pupils from KS3 and upwards. http://www.childnet.com/jenny/
Kidsmart is a unique Internet safety programme
run by Childnet in schools throughout the UK and beyond. With
sections for young people, teachers and parents and careers the
resource contains games designed to test online safety knowledge,
lesson plans, leaflets, posters, information on activities and
interactive and resources, facts on filtering, and practical steps
to help create a safer environment for young people online.
KNOW IT ALL
Know IT All is a set of award-winning resources
developed by Childnet to help educate young people, parents and
teachers about safe and positive use of the Internet.
Know IT All for Parents contains
advice for parents and carers but the section for children and
young people is designed to be shown to them. There is also an
interactive section where families can create and print out their
own agreements about using the Internet.
The DCSF have made the latest version of the
Know IT All for Parents CD-ROM available to all maintained schools
in England free of charge.
Getting to Know IT All was a special
presentation designed for volunteers to deliver in schools. The
programme was piloted in 2005 and has now been updated and rolled
out by the Child Exploitation Online Protection Centre) as part
of their education programme called Think U Know.
Previous resources in this series
included Know IT ALL for Schools. Know IT All for Schools was
originally distributed free of charge to every school in the UK
in 2005. This has now been replaced by Know IT All for Parents
which includes the earlier modules from the schools pack, plus
new content presented by young people themselves and advice for
Know IT All for Teachers and Know
it ALL for Trainee Teachers are currently in production and will
be launched on 10 December 2007. These resources have been designed
to empower teachers and trainee teachers with the knowledge and
understanding to effectively teach e-safety in the class-room.
Supported by The Training Development Agency, Becta and Microsoft,
these new resources reflect the growing supporting role teachers
play, alongside parents, in teaching children about e-safety.
KIAfTT will include a DVD with support for tutors to deliver E-safety
training face to face in initial teacher training, including a
"Let's Fight it Together" is a powerful
film produced by Childnet for the Department for Children Schools
and Families to help sensitize young people to the pain and hurt
which can be caused through cyberbullying.
Childnet has produced a special website and
leaflet which gives advice on Peer2Peer, file-sharing and downloading
on the Internet for parents and young people. This is currently
being updated, and the updated resource will include special advice
Childnet has produced a number of resources
for parents including the world's first interactive safety resource
for parents and a special audio seminar for parents. The animation
is designed to be accessible and represent the main concerns that
parents have for children from a range of ages and backgrounds
STAY SMART ONLINE
Staying SMART Online is a special interactive
learning module produced by Childnet for Microsoft, aimed at 8-12-year-olds.
Staying SMART Online has been designed to deliver the safety messages
regarding children's use of the Internet in a fun and interactive
way to primary aged children. It can be used as a presentation
tool for teachers, or as a stand alone tool for children. By playing,
reading and answering multiple choice questions, children will
be encouraged to think about Internet safety.
23 Childnet's Award-winning resources can also be accessed
through the Childnet website www.childnet.com Back
See http://www.childnet.com/publications/policy.aspx Back
National Statistics Omnibus Survey; Northern Ireland Omnibus Survey;
Survey of Internet Service Provider, (28 August 2007) http://www.statistics.gov.uk/cci/nugget.asp?id=8 Back
Learning in the 21st century: The case for harnessing technology;
(17 September 2007). http://publications.becta.org.uk/display.cfm?resID=33996 Back
See this for examples of previous winners: http://www.childnetacademy.org/ Back
This is available on the policy documents section of the Childnet
website at: www.childnet.com/publications/policy/aspx Back
Research carried out for the Anti-Bullying-Alliance (ABA), P Smith,
J Mahdavi et al 2006. Back
This can be accessed in summary version http://www.digizen.org/downloads/cyberbullyingOverview.pdf.
A full text of the guidance copy is available from the DCSF http://www.digizen.org/downloads/cyberbullyingOverview.pdf Back
This is evidenced by the UK Children Go Online report which revealed
that although 57% of children and young people between the ages
of 9 and 19 had come into contact with online pornography, online
16% of their parents thought that their child had seen pornography
on the Internet UKChildrenGoOnline; Surveying the experiences
of young people and their parents (July 2004). http://personal.lse.ac.uk/bober/UKCGOsurveyreport.pdf Back
See http://www.police.homeoffice.gov.uk/operational-policing/crime-disorder/child-protection-taskforce Back
The UK Mobile Operators-Orange, O2, T-Mobile, Virgin Mobile, Vodafone
and 3-signed up to a Code of Practice in January 2004 with the
stated aim of helping parents keep their children safe (see www.imcb.org.uk/assets/documents/10000109Codeofpractice.pdf).
As part of this code they agreed to certain conditions concerning
the provision of new content and services on mobiles, including
Internet content and services. Back
See http://www.childnet-int.org/downloads/mobilesQ.pdf Back
Such as the DCSF who distribute a range of Childnet resources
to schools through their prologue distribution service. Back
Not printed. Back