Huge public support to fight child abuse through the Online Safety Bill

Survey shows child protection a public priority for new legislation

Polling by NSPCC/YouGov asked two and a half thousand adults for their views on online grooming. The results show there is a broad consensus across the UK for stronger measures. We agree.

  • 82% UK adults think social media companies should have a legal duty to work together to prevent cross platform grooming.
  • 86% want the law to make companies work out how groomers and child abusers use their sites to abuse children or share abuse material and take action to prevent it.
  • 82% would support the appointment of a senior manager, or safety controller, to be liable for children’s safety on social media sites.
  • 65% of those with an opinion would support that manager being prosecuted if they failed to protect children from serious harm.

In addition, more than 40,000 people have signed our open letter to Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries, demanding she tighten the legislation to protect children from groomers.

Working for better legal protection for children

We are warning that the Online Safety Bill needs significant strengthening to make it fit for purpose, just weeks before proposed new laws are due to be published.

  • We first secured commitment for laws to keep children safe online
  • We know that significant changes are needed if the Online Safety Bill is to be fit for purpose
  • Expert analysis shows current proposals will not tackle online grooming 
  • We urge the government to strengthen its commitment to child protection in the legislation.

What's missing from the Bill?

Four years after we secured a commitment from Government to legislate, we are telling ministers to bolster the Bill or risk missing its fundamental goal of keeping children safe.

Our analysis shows current plans fail to address the complex nature and dynamics of online abuse and will not prevent children from coming to avoidable harm.

We warn that proposals to hold tech bosses to account risk being ‘all bark and no bite’, with senior managers escaping liability for exposing children to harm from negligent product decisions.

It comes as new polling shows overwhelming public support for the robust regulations the NSPCC say are crucial to combat child sexual abuse – but are missing from the current plans.

What we want from the Online Safety Bill

To focus minds at the highest level in tech firms, we want a senior manager to be held liable for:

  • children’s safety on every platform
  • fines and censure for non-compliance
  • criminal sanctions to deter negligence.

We are also calling for the Bill to place duties on digital media companies to tackle grooming pathways where offenders can exploit social media sites to commit abuse across multiple platforms.

Experts said ministers must close a gap in the legislation that allows child abusers to continue legally using social media as a shop window to advertise their sexual interest in children.

This allows them to form networks with other offenders and post so-called digital breadcrumbs linking to child abuse content on third party sites.

"Ministers must not forget the Online Safety Bill began as a child protection measure. But unless it is significantly strengthened this landmark legislation will fail to protect children from grooming taking place on an industrial scale. A succession of Parliamentary committees have drawn attention to child protection weaknesses within the draft Bill and public opinion is clear. There is now overwhelming support for Government to take steps to toughen up the legislation and focus on comprehensively preventing abuse. We want the Culture Secretary to act on this consensus and do everything possible to ensure social media can no longer be exploited by groomers to target our children for abuse with devastating ease."
Sir Peter Wanless / Chief Executive of the NSPCC

Strengthening the Online Safety Bill

In the last few months 3 parliamentary committees have also recommended the Online Safety Bill is strengthened to disrupt abuse and our poll shows there is now overwhelming consensus from the public, civil society and MPs for much bolder action.

In December a joint committee of Lords and MPs called for a number of changes to the draft Bill to  prevent child abuse more effectively. The Petitions Committee also called for the Bill to be strengthened last month.

They recommended introducing a ‘safety controller’ liable for failure repeated and systemic failings that result in significant risk of serious harm and for a clear legal responsibility on online firms to work together to stop harm and abuse that spreads quickly across their platforms. The process sees tribute pages to known victims created by offenders, while algorithms and hashtags spread harmful content and accounts like wildfire to users seeking to abuse children.

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And in January, the DCMS Committee backed the NSPCC’s calls for companies to have to disrupt how offenders game social media design features to organise around material that facilitates abuse but doesn’t meet a criminal threshold, by law.

Our detailed analysis of the draft Online Safety Bill and assessment of whether legislation meets its tests to deliver for children is set out in the Duty to Protect report.

Source data

All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 2,501 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 4th - 7th February 2022. 

The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK adults (aged 18+).