Childnet gave evidence on Tuesday 26th February 2008 to the Culture Media and Sport Select Committee in response to their inquiry on Harmful Content on the Internet and in Video Games.
Childnet’s CEO Stephen Carrick-Davies joined Professor Sonia Livingstone from the London School of Economics and John Carr from the Children’s Charities Coalition for Internet Safety in Portcullis House to discuss these issues.
The Committee, chaired, by John Whittingdale MP asked a series of questions on the benefits and also the risks to young people of online engagement, whether there was an exaggeration of the risks by the media, where the boundaries should be drawn on harmful content and the current regulatory framework for this area.
Responding to the Committee, Stephen highlighted the very real danger of neglecting the benefits of the Internet by merely focusing on the dangers. He clarified that the vast majority of internet users, including children and young people, see the Internet as a hugely positive phenomenon giving evidence of the 80% adoption rate of the internet by households with children between the ages of 5 and 17. He highlighted that when technology was properly embedded within the learning environment, schools were seeing increasing levels of attainment and recognised that ICT was a tremendous motivator for children’s learning. However, in commenting about media reports of children being harmed online he emphasized that whilst there were real potential risks that should be properly identified and recognized that it was important to contextualize these risks and maintain a balanced view.
In response to the Committee’s questioning as to whether tighter regulation was needed in this area he outlined the challenges that could arise from stringent regulation in this area and the possible unintended consequences of limiting freedom of expression, cautioning that it may not secure the best outcomes for children and young people in an environment that was changing so rapidly. Rather he outlined that it was important to identify what was already working and to prioritise these initiatives by recognising the successes that the UK has seen in implementing a self-regulatory model, notably the reduction of child abuse images hosted in the UK through the work of the IWF and the Mobile Operator’s code of practice including the commitment to provide information and tools to help protect children from certain types of content.
In thinking about the future of media literacy initiatives, he shared with the Committee the importanc8e of embedding e-safety within the curriculum. He said that Childnet had welcomed the inclusion of reference to e-safety within the Key Stages 3 and 4 curriculum, but called for the inclusion of e-literacy and e-safety lessons at the time when children are beginning to use these services at younger ages. He shared with the Committee how Childnet had worked with the TDA, Becta, and Microsoft in producing training resources for teachers and trainee teachers (which can be accessed at www.childnet.com/kia) who needed greater understanding of the risks to children and how this topic of e-safety could be covered within the existing curriculum in schools.
Childnet was pleased to share a positive message with the Committee, balancing the risks that can be found online against the many benefits and looks forward to hearing the Committee’s findings on this subject later in the year.
Childnet’s written response to the inquiry can be accessed on the policy section of the Childnet website.