Social media sites failing to protect children

Next Government must crack down on internet companies who fail to keep children safe

Children using devices

We're calling on social networks to be regulated and fined when they fail to protect children after it was revealed that 4 out of 5 children feel social media companies aren't doing enough to protect them1.

Out of 1,696 children and young people who took part in our Net Aware research, 1,380 thought social media sites needed to do more to protect them from inappropriate or harmful content.

When asked about what they were coming across on social media sites, children reported seeing:

  • pornography
  • self-harm
  • bullying and hatred.

What we're calling for

We're calling on Government to draw up minimum standards that internet companies must meet to safeguard children.

These standards must include:

  • age-ratings in line with those for films set by the British Board of Film Classification
  • safe accounts automatically offered to under 18's – with default privacy settings, proactive filtering of harmful content and mechanisms to guard against grooming
  • fines for companies who fail to protect children.

Results revealed on Net Aware

Our latest Net Aware guide produced in partnership with O2 revealed ASKfm, Omegle, IMVU, and Facebook were some of the most risky sites for children.

Net Aware survey

"It had no strict controls which led to lots of hurtful messages being spread about people, which I believe contributed to people self-harming or just feeling negative about themselves."
16 year old girl / Reviewing ASKfm

Net Aware - our guide to keep children safe online

Net Aware is the UK's only parents' guide to 39 of the most popular social media sites, apps, and games used by young people. The guide is informed by 1,696 children and young people and 674 parents and guardians.

On Net Aware, you can find:

  • O2 Guru tips to show you exactly how to help your child block or report someone targeting them
  • new apps like Pokemon Go, Periscope, IMVU, and
  • the latest reviews, news, and warnings relating to your child's online world.

NSPCC CEO Peter Wanless' open letter to the Times

Peter WanlessSir, further to your investigation into social networks hosting images of child abuse (Apr 14), it is time for the government to take bold action to hold internet companies to account.

Online safety is one of the biggest issues for children and young people today and one that the government must tackle head-on. It is high time for online companies to come under robust scrutiny from an independent regulator with bite and to face fines when they fail to keep children safe.

A regulator must require social networks to display clear age ratings to reflect the kind of content displayed on their sites, in the same way that films are categorised by the British Board of Film Classification.

We already protect children from viewing inappropriate or violent content at the cinema and on television. Given that today's children spend their free time online, why do we not afford them the same protections in this sphere?

Social networks must be required to offer children accounts that are tailored to protect them. Default privacy settings, guards against 'groomers' and filtering of harmful content would go a long way towards keeping children safe. Whichever party wins the general election must commit to ensuring that Britain has the right tools to keep children as safe online as they are offline.

Peter Wanless
Chief executive, NSPCC


  1. The NSPCC surveyed 1,696 children and young people aged between 11- 18 in schools across the UK and through Childline engagement platforms. They surveyed 674 parents and guardians through YouGov. With both the young peoples' and the parents' surveys, respondents were asked a series of general questions about their confidence, knowledge and understanding of online safety. Young people respondents could leave up to 4 reviews of a specific app, site or game and adults were asked to complete at least one review.