Our six tests for government to create laws to protect children online

Online sex crimes recorded against children pass the equivalent of 100 a day


Released today, our latest report titled How the Wild West Web Should Be Won, sets out how the upcoming Online Harms Bill must set the global standard in protecting children on the web.

With crucial decisions just being made in a few days, we are urging government to ensure children's online safety and that new laws will force tech firms to tackle the harm caused by their sites.

We have consistently highlighted the growing levels of abuse and harm children are facing on social media platforms, and we believe that the problem has been made worse by coronavirus.

Earlier this year, Boris Johnson signalled a personal determination to legislate for regulation that successfully fights child abuse. But we are concerned. If this isn’t translated by government into law, the opportunity to make online a safe space for children could be missed.1

We are worried that ministers are wavering in their ambitions to improve online safety, so we have released six tests which would help to create the robust regulation needed. NSPCC CEO Peter Wanless said that “failing to pass any of the six tests will mean that rather than tech companies paying the cost of their inaction, future generations of children will pay with serious harm and sexual abuse that could have been stopped”.

The warning comes on the back of the latest Home Office data. Analysis of their statistics found that between January and March 2020, the number of online sex crimes against children recorded by police reached the equivalent of 101 a day in England and Wales.2

Molly's story

The six tests are backed by Ian Russell, who has campaigned for regulation since the death of his daughter, Molly, by suicide, after she was targeted with self-harm posts on social media.
Mr Russell said:

"Today, I can’t help but wonder why it’s taking so long to introduce effective regulation to prevent the type of harmful social media posts we now know Molly saw, and liked, and saved in the months prior to her death. Tech self-regulation has failed and, as I know, it’s failed all too often at great personal cost. Now is the time to establish a regulator to protect those online by introducing proportionate legislation with effective financial and criminal sanctions. It is a necessary step forward in trying to reclaim the web for the good it can do and curtail the growing list of harms to be found online."

Wild West Web: our campaign

The six tests the government must pass to keep children safe online are:

  • Creating an expansive, principles-based duty of care. Tech firms should have a legal responsibility to identify harms caused by their sites and deal with them
  • Tackling online sexual abuse. Platforms must proactively and consistently tackle grooming and abuse images
  • Tackling legal but harmful content. The law must enforce firms to respond to the harms caused by algorithms targeting damaging suicide and self-harm posts at children 
  • The regulator must have robust transparency and investigatory power and demand information from companies
  • Hold industry to account with criminal and financial sanctions
  • Give civil society a legal voice for children with user advocacy arrangements. 

Peter Wanless, NSPCC Chief Executive, said:

“Industry inaction is fuelling this staggering number of sex crimes against children and the fallout from coronavirus has heightened the risks of abuse now and in the future.

“The Prime Minister has the chance of a lifetime to change this by coming down on the side of children and families, with urgent regulation that is a bold and ambitious UK plan to truly change the landscape of online child protection.

“The Online Harms Bill must become a Government priority, with unwavering determination to take the opportunity to finally end the avoidable, serious harm children face online because of unaccountable tech firms.”


Abuse can stop with a call to the NSPCC Helpline. Will you help us answer every call?


Names have been changed to protect identities. Any photographs are posed by models.


  1. 1. At the Hidden Harms Summit in May the Prime Minister said he is ferociously determined to urgently deliver the Online Harms Bill, including draconian action against tech firms who fail to protect children.

  2. 2. NSPCC estimates are based on the latest police recorded crime figures available (1 January 2020 – 31 March 2020) for England and Wales for Obscene Publication offences and Sexual Grooming offences. There were 7,476 Obscene Publications offences recorded by the police and 1,677 Sexual Grooming offences, totaling 9,153 offences. Divided by the 91 days of the quarter, equals an average of 101 offences a day. Published figures do not reveal how many of the Obscene Publication release offences involve images of children but results from the NSPCC’s previous Freedom of Information request suggest the vast majority are. For both offences, it is likely the majority of crimes involve the internet considering the role it can play in publishing and sharing images or the way it could be used by offenders to contact and build relationships with children.