YouthNet believes that the internet can be harnessed for good for young people to get easy access to support on the most sensitive of subjects. For this reason, we’ve been engaged in the debate about internet safety for young people. Yesterday it was leaked that the government will suggest regulations that ISP providers not only introduce compulsory internet control filters, but remove any illusion of active choice by referring to the new parental controls as ‘default on.
It’s just terminology, right? What difference does it make? Well, quite a bit actually. As no internet filter is infallible and may actually stop young people accessing the support and information they need, a ‘default on’ setting creates a false sense of security and may do more damage than good. We need to find a solution that actively considers how young people can still access information on sensitive topics that can be trusted and that will do them good. A default on feature could block all such beneficial content and could dissuade parents from having healthy conversations with their children about internet safety.
YouthNet has a particular interest in this issue because it is these filters that are potentially going to stop thousands of young people accessing the information and support they need via our digital service for 16 to 25 year-olds, TheSite, which reaches more than 1 million young people in the UK each year. How these filters will work in practice is as yet unclear. However, the filters used by Talk Talk to block websites include ‘Suicide and self harm, ‘Drugs, alcohol and tobacco’, areas where we provide vital support and information to young people online, when they don’t feel they can approach anyone else for help. Where will they go for anonymous support, whenever and wherever they need it?
The suggestion is that the filters will work with ‘white’ & ‘black’ lists, yet YouthNet along with other charities has had issues with content falling between, and how will all third sector online support providers liaise with all ISP providers? Of course young people need to be safe online, but it is also one of the first places that they will go to find out information on issues impacting their lives; ‘Default on’ controls that stop this happening are counteractive to young people’s wellbeing and misleading to parents trying to keep their children safe.