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4 in 10 kids have seen harmful content online

Online Safety
3 October 2022
Child with tablet 0 ld

Almost half of English children have seen harmful content online including images of self-harm and suicide, a shocking study shows.

Research published by the Children's Commissioner found that 45% of 8 to 17-year-old children have come across material they thought was inappropriate or which worried or upset them.

As well as seeing content that promoted self-harm and suicide, children also reported seeing pornography, sexualised and violent imagery, anonymous trolling and anorexia.

Young girls reported being approached by strangers over the internet and asked for details of where they live. England's Children's Commissioner, Dame Rachel de Souza, commented:

“Girls as young as nine told my team about strategies they employ when strangers ask for their home address online. In a room of 15- and 16-year-olds, three-quarters had been sent a video of a beheading.”

“[Content] is promoted and offered up to them by highly complex recommendation algorithms, which are designed to capture and retain their attention. When harmful content is reported...little is done”.

The report comes as Ministers consider changes to the government's flagship Online Safety Bill, which has been strongly criticised for threatening to undermine free speech.

CARE has joined several civil liberties groups in expressing concerns about free speech but urged Ministers not to water down child safety measures in the proposals.

Provisions in the bill on age verification seek to prevent children inadvertently stumbling on pornographic content. CARE has campaigned for these measures for many years.

Responding to the study this morning, a CARE spokesman said:

"Aspects of the Online Safety Bill are problematic and threaten to cast the net of regulation too widely, undermining free expression. However, studies like this one show better safeguards are needed online.

"At CARE, we want to see a world where children have the same level of protection in the online world as they do when they are offline. The government's plans, done rightly, can take us closer to this objective."

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Online Safety

For children and young people, access to harmful online content is only a click away. CARE is working towards a society where they are as well-protected online as they are offline.

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