We’re calling for the Online Safety Bill to create a children’s watchdog that stands up for them against Big Tech

As the Online Safety Bill goes through Parliament, polling shows nine in ten (88%) of UK adults overwhelmingly support a watchdog to fight for children at risk of online sexual abuse1.

  • More than three in four (79%) of UK adults don’t trust tech firms to deliver their responsibilities under upcoming social media laws and think they’ll likely downplay the harm their sites cause children (77%)1.
  • Our current plans for regulation would see children at risk of online sexual abuse given less of a voice than Post Office users or passengers on a bus.
  • We’re calling for the Online Safety Bill to create a statutory watchdog to advocate for children as users of their services, funded by a levy on the tech industry to counterbalance their well-funded attempts to influence the regulator.

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The need for an Online Safety Bill watchdog

We want the advocate to act in a similar way to the statutory role played by the likes of Citizens Advice, which advocates for the rights of energy consumers and offers support and critical challenge to the regulator.

The watchdog would function as an early warning system to alert the regulator Ofcom of threats to children as they emerge, which is vital in the wake of risks already seen in the evolving Metaverse.

The call for a statutory watchdog is backed by abuse survivors and online safety campaigners, including Ian Russell, as well as a majority of UK adults.

Our YouGov poll of more than 2,500 UK adults found1:

  • 88% think it’s necessary for the Online Safety Bill to introduce a requirement for an independent body that can protect the interests of children at risk of online harm, including grooming and child sexual abuse (CSA).
  • 72% think children should receive at least the same amount of representation from an independent body as customers in other regulated sectors - including users of postal services, buses and trains.
  • Among those with an opinion, more than three quarters (79%) think it’s likely tech companies will try to avoid having to comply fully with regulation.
  • 77% think it’s likely social media companies will seek to downplay the impact of their products on children.
  • If the government doesn’t commit to an independent body almost three-fifths of UK adults (58%) feel that children would be less protected from online harm.

 

Frida's* story

The abuse I endured over five years was so complex that I struggle to comprehend it all, even now, and platforms have never acknowledged those complexities.

 

Being groomed made me feel incredibly vulnerable, isolated, and weak. I felt I had no one who was on my side. We have the chance now to change that, to put the experiences and rights of children at the centre of regulation.

 

A user advocacy body is key for the realities of abuse and the rights of young people like me to be acknowledged and addressed by social media platforms.

Frida*

The responsibilities of the Online Safety Bill watchdog

Our call for a watchdog comes days before MPs start scrutinising the Online Safety Bill. In a new report, we recommend creating a statutory body to protect children’s interests for generations to come, and we’ll be giving evidence to the Online Safety Bill Committee on Tuesday May 24. The body should:

Children make up one in three UK internet users and are inherently vulnerable. The watchdog would be an expert voice on safeguarding and would work with the regulator to ensure it fully understands and responds to the harm children face online.

The watchdog would act as an early warning system to flag emerging risks and call for swift action to protect children.

A powerful watchdog is needed to take on the influencing power and resources of some of the largest companies in the world.

"The low priority tech firms place on reacting rapidly to protecting children relative to other business imperatives won’t end with regulation, which is why it’s so important to have a watchdog to stand up for children at risk of abuse on their platforms. Access to dangers faced by children in real time will equip industry and the regulators with the information they need to respond quickly. Other regulated sectors have bodies that promote the interests of users and Ministers have the opportunity to ensure that children are given that voice in the online space. The landmark Online Safety Bill will compel companies to finally address the way their sites put children in harm’s way and its effectiveness can be bolstered by a watchdog that ensures children are at the heart of regulation for generations to come."
Sir Peter Wanless, NSPCC CEO

"I know how isolating it can feel when speaking up about harmful online content; a small voice crying into a violent storm. From my experience, I understand how beneficial it would be to formalise a system to amplify calls for change. Coordinated user advocacy would ease the burden placed on those directly affected by harmful content and help to bring about the prompt change required to create a safer online world. The creation of a statutory watchdog would also help raise an early alarm when future harms are first encountered. So, I support the NSPCC’s call for the Online Safety Bill to create a statutory watchdog to advocate for children and help ensure their safety is at the heart of the new regulation."
Ian Russell, Molly Rose Foundation

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

*DISCLAiMER

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


References

  1. 1. All polling figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. The total sample size was 2,501 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 04 - 07 February 2022.  The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK adults (aged 18+).