My Lords, I too congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, on her sterling work and on securing this important debate. I declare an interest as vice-president of the charity Barnardo’s, which in 2004 produced the first ever publication in the UK to address growing concern about the ways in which children and young people may be at risk of harm online. Just One Click outlined the ways in which children were sexually exploited using the internet and mobile phones. Some were forced to pose for abusive photographs. Others were subject to sexual assault broadcast live via pay-per-view websites.
Barnardo’s 2015 report Digital Dangers recommended that there needs to be an assessment of products, such as games and apps—both those currently in use and those in development—to ensure there are safeguards in place to prevent children being harmed. This should include manufacturers providing evidence that every effort has been made to ensure that children are safeguarded.
Each day, every nine minutes, a web page shows a child being sexually abused. To combat this harrowing crime, countries need to work together on an international level. I appreciate the challenges that social media companies face daily to monitor content. On an average day Facebook has 1 billion users sharing photos, live videos and messages in a vast variety of languages. However, in 2017 it came to light, through a BBC investigation, that Facebook failed to remove up to 80% of images that were reported by users as containing sexual images of children. By failing to adequately address harmful content, or put in place effective mechanisms of reporting, corporations are blatantly avoiding the moral responsibility to protect those vulnerable children and young people in our society.
Last month, an investigation by the Times revealed that child sex abuse images continue to be published on YouTube. I hope the Minister will be able to tell the House how this material can continue to be available in the light of the role of the Internet Watch Foundation? I hope he will also set out how the accessibility of this type of material will be affected by a number of new policy initiatives.
First, will YouTube come within the scope of the social media code of practice that is proposed as part of the internet safety strategy and, if so, how will the code constrain similar content? Secondly, will the children’s age-appropriate design code, which will be introduced after the Data Protection Bill becomes law, reduce the amount of this sort of material on YouTube—a site that is so popular with many young people? Thirdly, how will the BBFC tackle this sort of material in its role as age-verification regulator under the Digital Economy Act 2017?
In 2016 and 2017, I raised the question of how social media and media sites would be treated under the Digital Economy Act. In her evidence in 2016 to the Lords Select Communications Committee, on which I sit, the noble Baroness, Lady Shields, stated:
“Twitter is a user-generated uploading-content site. If there is pornography on Twitter, it will be considered covered under ancillary services”.
We know that a vast amount of pornography shown on media sites is user-generated. I should be grateful if the Minister would update the House on the remit of the regulator in relation to user-generated content on YouTube channels and other social media. How is it coming along?
The Government have made a good start, first with the Digital Economy Act 2017, publishing the Internet Safety Strategy Green Paper, and working with the tech industry. However, for us to become the safest place in the world for children and young people online, we need to create a culture where social media and online platforms act ethically and feel a sense of social responsibility, integrity and morality when creating, maintaining and updating platforms, and are subsequently held to account. For the sake of the future, let us put children’s well-being first.