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Passing of the Online Safety Bill is a momentous day for children, says NSPCC chief

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The NSPCC has today welcomed the passing of the Online Safety Bill, a ground-breaking piece of legislation they say will radically change the landscape for children online.

After years of campaigning, tech companies will now have a legal duty to protect children from sexual abuse and harmful material on social media sites, gaming apps and messaging services.

The Government first promised regulation to help protect children online at the NSPCC’s annual conference in 2018, following the launch of the charity’s Wild West Web campaign, which called on people across the UK to sign a petition asking Government to bring in laws to make social media platforms protect young users online.

Since the campaign launched, at least 8,354 people in the South West signed the petition and helped play an important role in bringing about this life-changing piece of legislation.*

The charity has helped strengthen the legislation during its long journey through Parliament, ensuring that it results in regulation that comprehensively protects children online.

They said the legislation will mark a new era for children’s safety at a time when online child abuse offences are at a record high and children continue to be bombarded with harmful suicide and self-harm content on social media.

In August this year, the NSPCC revealed 34,000 online grooming crimes were recorded by UK police while the legislation was being discussed, up 82%, while there has also been a 66% increase in child abuse image offences over 5 years. 

The Online Safety Bill was published in May 2021 and has been subject to robust scrutiny and debate by MPs, Lords and civil society.

Its importance was starkly highlighted by the inquest into the death of 14-year-old Molly Russell in September last year, which ruled that the self-harm and suicide content that Molly had been recommended on social media had contributed to her death.

Sir Peter Wanless, NSPCC Chief Executive said: “We are absolutely delighted to see the Online Safety Bill being passed through Parliament. It is a momentous day for children and will finally result in the ground-breaking protections they should expect online.

“At the NSPCC we hear from children about the completely unacceptable levels of abuse and harm they face online every day. That’s why we have campaigned strongly for change alongside brave survivors, families, young people and Parliamentarians to ensure the legislation results in a much safer online world for children.

“Children can benefit greatly from life online. Tech companies can now seize the opportunity to embrace safety by design. The NSPCC is ready to help them listen to and understand the online experiences of their young users to help ensure every child feels safe and empowered online.”

The Online Safety Bill has been shaped in large part by survivors of abuse, bereaved parents and young people themselves who have campaigned tirelessly to ensure the legislation leads to real-world change for children.

One survivor, Louise*, who has campaigned with the NSPCC, said: “My abuser was able to gain access to me as a vulnerable 11-year-old girl, and was able to do so from the comfort of his own home in another country via the online world. The abuse lasted until I was 17.

“The effects of his abuse cannot be overstated. I had become so beaten down and traumatised that I attempted suicide on two separate occasions. He robbed me of my teenage years and of the memories I was meant to have.

“It is of the utmost importance that children have voices, both governmental and otherwise, that champion their safety on the internet. Children have the right to be safe online, just as they have the right play safely in parks. We have a duty to protect children in all the spaces they exist.”

Ruth Moss, alongside Ian Russell and other parents whose children died following exposure to harmful content online, formed the Bereaved Parents for Online Safety group to strengthen the protections in the Bill.

Ruth said: ‘For at least two years, we struggled to keep my daughter Sophie safe online. In spite of removing devices, restricting internet use, implementing parental controls and having conversations about internet safety, these were not enough to prevent her from being exposed to websites that promoted self-harm, suicide and contained dark, graphic, harmful material. Complaining to internet and social media companies was either impossible or futile.

“The impact of Sophie viewing this harmful material was a deterioration in her existing mental health struggles, with devastating consequences. Sophie was 13 years old when she died by suicide. We will never truly recover from her death and it is rightly every parents worse nightmare.

“This Online Safety Bill may not solve all the issues that children have online. But it is essential to start regulating online platforms. They have a duty of care to keep their users safe to the best of their ability.”

Members of the charity’s Young People’s Board for Change campaigned strongly for the legislation, meeting Ministers and MPs who worked on the Bill on a number of occasions.

In a statement the NSPCC’s Young People’s Board for Change, said:  “It is a huge relief now that companies will be legally obliged to keep young people safe online. It empowers us to have the freedom we deserve to use these platforms, whilst still being protected. The online world should always be a safe place for everyone.”

The NSPCC’s commitment to protect children online does not end with the passing of the Bill and they will continue to advocate to ensure it results in truly safe online spaces for children.

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