Culture, Media and Sport CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by the Family Online Safety Institute

Executive Summary

The Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI) submits these comments to the Commons Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport to inform and educate the Committee as to the nature of the online environment in which children and families are currently operating, and the approaches being used to ensure that interactions on the Internet are being kept as safe as possible. Ultimately, opportunities created by the Internet far outweigh the risks that may be encountered online, and children can be taught to embrace the benefits of the Internet whilst learning about protecting their privacy and staying safe online.

FOSI is working to create an online culture of responsibility that encourages governments, law enforcement agencies, industry, parents, teachers and children to work together to make the online world safer. Through this work, founded in research and with the benefit of international policy expertise, FOSI and its member companies are working together to develop best practices to help keep kids safe online.

Teaching children how to embrace their rights and responsibilities whilst online will help to minimise risks and maximise the benefits of the Internet. The government can aide this process by funding research into online behaviours, prioritising digital literacy in the classroom, and informing parents of both risks and opportunities online. The continued collaboration between industry, teachers and the government to build these messages will ultimately empower parents to use existing tools, establish household rules and engage in a conversation to create digital citizens capable of navigating the online world safely, privately and in their own best interest.

Submission of the Family Online Safety Institute

1. The Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI) is pleased to offer this submission to the Commons Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport. It is our hope that these comments will provide the Committee with clarity about the online environment that children are currently experiencing, as well as further insight into their behaviours on the Internet. The submission also aims to highlight collaborative approaches that can help to ensure online safety.

2. FOSI is an international, non-profit membership organisation1 working to make the online world a safer place for children and their families. We do this by identifying and promoting the best practices, tools and methods in the field of online safety and privacy that also respect free speech. FOSI convenes leaders in industry, government and the non-profit sectors to collaborate and innovate new solutions and policies in the field of online safety. Through research, resources, events and special projects, FOSI promotes a culture of responsibility online and encourages a sense of digital citizenship for all. With roundtables, forums and conferences around the globe, FOSI plays an important role in driving the international debate.

3. FOSI achieves this aim in a number of ways. Firstly, through engagement with policymakers around the world. In the United Kingdom, FOSI has long been an active member of the UK Council on Child Internet Safety (UKCCIS) and now sits on the executive board. Since the inception of the European Commission’s CEO Coalition to Make the Internet a Better Place for Kids, FOSI has had a high level of participation. In the United States, FOSI regularly engages at the federal and state level to provide resources and raise awareness about online safety efforts.

4. Secondly, FOSI achieves this aim through events. FOSI holds premier, highly visible conferences and forums around the world each year. We convene government leaders, industry members, teachers, parents, law enforcement professionals and charities to discuss and collaborate on finding actionable solutions to the challenges presented by the Internet. Whilst at the same time working to highlight what can be done to responsibly take advantage of the infinite opportunities.

5. Thirdly, FOSI has developed comprehensive, user-friendly resources for professionals and consumers. For professionals, we provide the Global Resource and Information Directory (GRID).2 GRID aggregates online safety laws, education initiatives, research and active parties in over 190 countries, and is monitored by an editorial team to ensure accuracy after notable events or legislative shifts. Additionally, FOSI has developed a resource for parents, teachers and teenagers, called A Platform for Good,3 which is designed to allow users to “Connect, Share and Do Good” online. It provides examples for teachers on how to incorporate technology into the classroom and gives children the opportunity to share stories on ways that they have used the Internet to help others or to enhance their own learning. Most importantly, A Platform for Good gives parents suggestions on how to talk to their children about staying safe online and provides interactive features and robust resources to help empower parents to become more engaged with the online lives of their children.

6. Finally, FOSI has conducted numerous research studies in the United States into the online behaviour of teenagers and the concerns of parents. Our initial effort looked at the use of parental control tools,4 the second examined online behaviours and digital citizenship,5 and the third explored the varied attitudes towards online safety between the generations.6

7. In July 2011, FOSI and Hart Research Associates looked at the ways in which parents chose to monitor what their children were doing online and examined the awareness and use of technical parental control tools.7 Online safety remained an area where parents did not feel that their child was in danger, with 86% of parents reporting that they felt that their child was “very” or “somewhat” safe online. The proportion of parents who felt that their child is “very safe” decreased notably as the child grew older and spent more time online.

8. Findings showed that virtually all parents claimed to have talked to their children about their online behaviour and the associated risks and benefits, but just over half of parents say they have used technological parental controls for Internet use. Amongst those parents who did not use parental controls, the most oft-cited reason was that they felt that they were unnecessary, owing to household rules or because they trusted their child to act safely and responsibly online. Nearly all (93%) parents said they had set rules or limits in one or more ways to safeguard their children online.

9. Notably, parents felt more knowledgeable about how to protect their children’s safety and privacy online when using a computer, as compared to smartphones or other handheld devices. Due to the constant increase in the use of mobile devices, this is an area in which more education and awareness raising should be encouraged. In response to these findings, FOSI created online safety contracts and other materials to help parents establish household rules and talk to their kids about setting limits for the sites they visit, amount of time they can spend online, and how they manage new devices.8

10. Also in 2011, FOSI and Pew Research Center examined online behaviour and the notion of digital citizenship.9 The research showed, unsurprisingly, that social media had become pervasive in the lives of American teenagers. 95% of those surveyed were online, and of that 80% were social media users. The majority of teenagers using these services reported that their peers were largely kind to each other on these sites. However, 88% of users had witnessed other users being mean or cruel on social network sites, yet only 15% of teenage social media users had experienced such harassment themselves in the past 12 months.

11. Encouragingly, minors reported more positive personal outcomes than negative ones from interactions on social network sites: 78% report at least one good outcome, 65% had had an experience on a social network that made them feel good about themselves and 58% felt closer to another person because of an experience on a social networking site.

12. 95% of social media-using teenagers who had witnessed cruel behaviour on the sites say they had seen others ignoring the mean behaviour, but 84% had seen people defend the person being bullied. Children continued to rely heavily on parents and peers for advice about online behaviour and coping with challenging experiences.

13. The Online Generation Gap study,10 undertaken in 2012, compared the attitudes and behaviours of parents and children with respect to online safety. There was a stark difference between the amount of knowledge that parents had about their children’s activities on the Internet, and the realities of what their children were actually doing. However, both teenagers and parents felt that they were generally safe online, and, importantly, minors exhibited an awareness of their digital reputation, with over 80% having actively adjusted their privacy settings. Of concern was the statistic that 43% of teenagers admitted to posting something online that they later came to regret, a fact that emphasises the importance of education around privacy and reputation management.

14. It is essential to have an understanding of the environment in which children operate in order to create new initiatives and policies to enhance online safety and privacy. For now, it is hoped that the research findings, in conjunction with FOSI’s international expertise and policy knowledge, will provide the Committee with a constructive context to their inquiry.

15. The Internet enhances the educational and social lives of children in the United Kingdom and around the world. Their use of media permits them to gain knowledge in a variety of new and engaging ways. Children are able to create and share their own content and express their ideas, thoughts and experiences on a worldwide platform. The Internet allows experiences that go far beyond their homes and communities; they are able to explore the world, immerse themselves in different cultures, geographies and periods in history instantaneously. The skills children learn through their online exploration in early life prepare them for their future and provide knowledge as well as the digital abilities that are vital for functioning in the modern technology-driven world.

16. The accompanying risks and challenges that go along with living in an online world can not be discounted. Often, the skills and knowledge children have about new media far exceeds that of their parents. There is illegal activity online, just as there is offline, and there is a possibility that children can be exposed to content and actions that are harmful to their development and well-being.

17. Consequently, at FOSI, we believe the key to keeping children safe and ensuring that they have safe, productive and private experiences on the Internet, is to build a culture of responsibility online. This can only be accomplished if six separate entities work together to create a safer Internet. The key components are: 1) government; 2) industry; 3) parents; 4) law enforcement; 5) teachers; and 6) children.

18. Reasonable government support and oversight are essential components of this approach. An atmosphere of cooperation needs to be created amongst stakeholders, and cross-sector bodies, such as UKCCIS, are a great example of this. Funding for research into online behaviours and educational efforts that promote digital literacy and parental engagement, are vital.

19. Effective oversight of industry self-regulatory efforts allows for maximum innovation and development of creative solutions, whilst ensuring that industry continues to raise the bar in the field of online safety. As part of this, FOSI encourages robust and comprehensive industry self-regulation. As a membership organisation, FOSI brings together leading technology companies, who often compete with one another on other issues or for market share, to discuss emerging issues and create best practices and new solutions to increase privacy measures for children and adults alike.

20. There has never been a time when so many resources have been available for parents, grandparents, teachers, and care givers to provide protection from online risks. All of the major operating systems and search engines provide family safety settings and mobile operators, social networks, and Internet Service Providers offer tools and settings to help protect families. Technological parental controls cannot replace involved and empowered parents, but they do continue to be a part of the solution in keeping children as safe as possible online when used to the best of their capacity. Technology develops at a rapid pace, and with each new development companies are working to stay current by creating new and innovative safety tools for parents and teachers.

21. Engaged and knowledgeable parents are vital to ensuring that children have a safe online experience. Providing and encouraging the use of online safety tools is a community-wide effort and each player in the online safety eco-system can play a role in helping parents to learn about and embrace the tools available to them. Parents can be reached through education campaigns through schools or the media, website safety blogs, school initiatives, and government outreach campaigns.

22. Law enforcement must be fully resourced and given the tools and training to combat the rise in cybercrime. Cross-border and cross-industry cooperation is vital to allow law enforcement officials to apprehend and prosecute those involved in illegal online activity, including the creation, sharing and downloading of child abuse material. Similar to the challenges of industry regarding the development of updated parental control software, the ever-evolving nature of criminal activity via the Internet means that providing law enforcement with proper support is essential for the success of their efforts.

23. Superior technology training must be provided to all teachers. This will enable them to incorporate digital citizenship teaching across the curriculum, helping children navigate the online world safely and providing them with the skills to operate in an increasingly technical world.

24. Ideally resilient children would make wise personal choices about the content they access and post online, the people they choose to engage with, and how they conduct themselves overall online. Additionally, as part of the culture of responsibility it is vital to teach children to be media and digital literate.

25. Children must be educated on how to operate as good digital citizens. To know about the rights and responsibilities that come with being online, to understand the consequences of sharing of information and online behaviour and to empower them to make the right decisions when they see upsetting content or inappropriate behaviour. Through teaching children to make good choices on the Internet, they can be better protected from the risks that exist online. The skills that they learn through this process will assist them throughout their digital lives, teaching them to be informed and resilient.

26. The terms of reference of this inquiry examine how best to protect minors from accessing adult content; methods of filtering out extremist material, including images of child abuse and material intended to promote terrorism or other acts of violence; and ways of preventing abusive or threatening comments on social media can all be responded to through the combined use of tools, rules, and educational messaging.

27. It is essential to provide guidance for children on the types of material that they should be accessing, as well as what to do if they come across content that they may find upsetting. Effective promotion of the availability and use of technological parental controls, as well as the need to talk to children about online expectations, will help parents monitor and protect their children from inappropriate content. Finally, regular parental messaging about the importance of good digital citizenship and the responsibilities that associate with being on the Internet will help to ensure that positive experiences are had by all on the Internet.

28. In this submission, FOSI highlighted the research that has been done into online activities and focused on the need to build a culture of responsibility online. Government engagement in the form of funding research, and education efforts for both parents and children forms an important part of the eco-system designed to ensure online safety. Whilst we do not seek to diminish the existence of risks on the Internet, they are no more prevalent than they are in the offline world. While recognising the risks, FOSI wants to ensure that young people can safely access the extraordinary opportunities and benefits of the online world.

September 2013

1 For more information see FOSI members include: Amazon, AOL, AT&T, BAE Systems Detica, BT Retail, Comcast, Cyber Guardian, Disney, Eclipse, Entertainment Software Association, Facebook, France Telecom, Google, GSM Association, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Mind Candy, Motion Picture Association of America, NCTA, Nominum, Sprint, Symantec, Telecom Italia, Telstra, T-Mobile, The Wireless Foundation, Trend Micro, Verizon, Vodafone and Yahoo.

2 For more information see

3 For more information see

4 2011, FOSI, Hart Research Associates. “Who Needs Parental Controls? A Survey Of Awareness, Attitudes, And Use Of Online Parental Controls.”

5 2011, Pew Research Center, FOSI, Cable in the Classroom. “Teens, Kindness and Cruelty on Social Network Sites: How American teens navigate the new world of ‘digital citizenship’“

6 2012, FOSI. Hart Research Associates. “The Online Generation Gap: Contrasting attitudes and behaviours of parents and teens.”

7 Ibid. 5

8 See

9 Ibid. 6

10 Ibid. 7

Prepared 18th March 2014