Whilst the internet may seem to some like a dark pit of debauchery, the internet can and is used by young people to gain access to support on some extremely personal and sensitive matters. Government proposals to create compulsory control filters on the internet is a step in the wrong direction.
It's saddening that so many people don't realize that these measures will remove any illusion of active choice, by referring to these measures as "default on". No internet filter is 100% reliable and may indeed end up stopping young people from accessing vital services.
The "default on" setting may also lure people into a false sense of security, in that they simply assume young people are safe. The other issue is that by having a 'default on' filter may for example lead some parents to think they are partially absolved from looking after the welfare of their children.
In terms of support for young people, this "default on" option may cause an immense amount of harm. A default on feature may block any such beneficial content, or even lead parents to think they don't need to have healthy conversations with their children about internet safety.
For example, the charity YouthNet provides a number of digital services to young people aged 16-25 years of age. One of these services includes TheSite, which reaches over 1 million young people each and every year. YouthNet has spent the last 17 years using digital solutions to ease the isolation of young people, and make their lives better.
YouthNet have a keen interest in this issue, as these filters may potentially stop hundreds of thousands of young people accessing the information and support they need. YouthNet's Chief Executive Emma Thomas is very aware of this issue as well.
It remains unknown exactly how these filters will work in practice. Combined with the lack of understanding by some proponents of the filters, as to how the internet actually works, we could be lead into some unsavoury territory.
A number of charities provide support which includes advice on 'Suicide and self harm', drugs, alcohol and tobacco (to name a few). This support helps young people make sensible, safe and informed decisions concerning their own lives.
Impacting these services will impact the outcomes they achieve for people they serve. YouthNet for example, regularly communicates with the young people they serve. This is to make sure that their services are having a positive impact on the lives of young people; and they are told it most certainly does; 91% feel less isolated, 92% find the answer to a question they wouldn't feel comfortable asking elsewhere; 95% take action to improve their situation.
Some existing internet filters block websites purely by the presence of keywords. If this simple yet wide ranging method was used, where would young people go for anonymous support, whenever and wherever they needed it? Simon Blake, the Chief Executive for Brook, the UK's largest young people's sexual health charity has also expressed similar concerns.
Simple "black" and "white" (unsafe/safe) lists are not a safe way to progress. Several charities have had previous experience of their content falling in-between the cracks. It is a troubling thought as to how all ALL third sector online support providers, will coordinate with every single internet service provider.
I understand and accept the concerns regarding the need to keep young people safe online, though in this digital day and age, the online world is increasingly where young people will turn to first. 'Default on' controls that stop this happening are counteractive to young people's well-being and misleading to parents trying to keep their children safe.