Calls For End To 'Wild West Web'

Recent weeks have seen the return of children to school in Wales and the return of politicians to business at the Welsh Assembly.

For children the challenges they face in school – the dreaded times tables, handwriting exercises or getting to grips with mutations in Welsh – are now accompanied with issues in the online world that previous generations of young people didn’t have to grapple with.

There are positives to having the world at your fingertips – online learning, gaming apps and staying in touch with friends via social media – but these opportunities also come with risks.

Last year, police in Wales recorded 274 offences of sending a sexual message to a child last year and over the past two years, 2,895 offences of possessing indecent images of children were logged by the four Welsh police forces – on average four per day.

These statistics should not be tolerated as a normal part of the digital world. 

Those images and messages are sent through social networks and apps, which recklessly expose children to content and behaviours completely inappropriate for their age. 

Technology has developed so rapidly that governments, legislation and society have failed to keep up, resulting in social networks often becoming a gateway to child abuse. 

The NSPCC believes the dangerous side of the internet and social media, the ‘Wild West Web’, has claimed too many victims.

We are at a landmark moment – the UK Government has pledged to introduce legislation to keep social networks in check. 

The UK Government’s digital secretary Jeremy Wright and home secretary Sajid Javid have the power in their hands and they now need to take effective action. 

The NSPCC is calling on government to create an independent regulator, with the power to investigate and to fine social networks which fall short when it comes to protecting children who use their platforms. 

Sites must be required to take proactive steps to detect grooming, so that abuse can be disrupted before it escalates and social networks must be forced to publish annual transparency reports about the scale of abuse on their platforms. 

We already know from police that where the method used in grooming offences is recorded, more than 70 per cent are happening on Facebook, Snapchat or Instagram. 

In the coming months the UK Government will publish its white paper, proposing what social network regulation could look like. 

In Wales, shortly before its summer break, the Welsh Government published its online safety action plan.

It will be officially launched later this year but education, promoting safe use of the web and highlighting the risks, is at the plan’s core.

This plan, which has involved NSPCC Cymru in its creation, focuses on the education of children and young people in Wales. 

It also offers advice to adults – both guardians and professionals – on how to protect young people from harmful material online while promoting safe and responsible behaviour.

We will continue to work with the government to put a significant focus on internet safety across Wales, but it is also hugely important that Welsh ministers continue to work with their UK colleagues on plans to make social networks safer. 

At the NSPCC we will be doing all we can to make sure these laws are fit for purpose.

We’re asking parents, grandparents, millennials, students – everyone – to sign our petition to tell the UK Government how important this issue is. 

Social networks must be properly regulated for the sake of children today and for generations to come.

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