Children to be taught to fend off online abuse
CHILDREN need to be equipped as early as the age of five to fend off potential paedophiles online by being taught how to refuse their consent, the Education Secretary has said.
Amid growing concern at the failure of social media firms to take action over online harms, Damian Hinds said new compulsory relationship lessons, to be introduced next year, would help pupils to handle the risks from the internet.
But he also urged the tech giants to use their “great expertise” to screen out damaging content and ensure “the next generation isn’t exposed to things that are going to be harmful”.
The Government is set to legally force social media firms to remove illegal content and protect young and vulnerable users.
Announcing the crackdown, Margot James, the digital minister, will today accuse the firms of behaving as if they are above the law and creating an environment for bullying and abuse.
Speaking at a Safer Internet Day conference, she is expected to say: “We will introduce laws that force social media platforms to remove illegal content and to prioritise the protection of users beyond their commercial interests.”
Voluntary codes of conduct had failed, she said. A Government white paper on online harm is to be published next month but the content of a planned compulsory code of conduct for technology firms has not been revealed.
In an interview with The Daily Telegraph, Mr Hinds said: “Consent has changed with the sharing of data, the sharing of pictures, perhaps with people who are pretending to be something they are not, and in the worst cases someone who is trying to groom a child.
“Or with sexting, where once you have released an intimate photograph to what you think is one person but who then onward distributes [it]. Trying to withdraw consent at that point doesn’t work. You have lost control.
“I want children to be learning about the concept of consent from a very young age. That doesn’t mean talking about sexual consent. It has to be what is appropriate to that age group.”
The guidelines for sex and relationship lessons, due to be published shortly, will require pupils by the end of primary school to know the rules and principles for keeping safe online.
Mr Hinds said a forthcoming White Paper would spell out “legislative options” to regulate social media firms.
“I want them to be turning their great expertise in what they do to try to screen out these images and make sure that they are not readily accessible,” he said.
He praised The Telegraph’s “broad and sustained” campaign for a statutory duty of care to force the tech giants to do more to protect children from online harm.
The National Crime Agency has developed its first teaching packages for four to seven-year-olds, warning them not to share pictures or reveal personal detail.