THE BLOG

Internet Safety Day - Is It Enough?

13/02/2017 15:35 GMT | Updated 13/02/2017 15:35 GMT

'Anything that's invented between when you're fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it...and anything invented after you're thirty-five is against the natural order of things'.

These often quoted tech truths from Douglas Adams may explain why your offspring's stimulated by continuous phone swiping and you're not. Best known as the author of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy; he's summed up the current social media generation gap in 237 characters. A shade over Twitter's required 140, but not bad.

I'm sure you're a Facebook familiar, and emojis come effortlessly. However, if you're overwhelmed by the Reddits, Voats and Quora's, you're not alone. The Guardian's Jess Zimmerman go to guide for social media support will at least talk you through the Tinder and Snapchat basics. Before you can say 'I'm fluent in Phoenix', you'll be computer coding with your teen and bonding before bed time.

Children now, of course, are growing up digital. A whole host of us, including England's Children's Commissioner, Anne Longfield, believe that the online odds are stacked against them. We're campaigning for legal and practical changes, flagged up in my last blog here, to empower and protect our kids online.

As part of my work for the Children's Commissioner, I simplified and revamped Instagram's 17 pages of Terms and Conditions version into one page of text. This prompted an appearance on BBC's kids show Newsround, evoking much nostalgia. The peg: this week's Safer Internet Day plus a Newsround ComRes survey which revealed that 96% of 13 to 18 year olds are signed up to Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Whatsapp. Three quarters of those under 13 are on at least one of these, despite being below specified age limits.

The Newsround kid contributors told me that sometimes social media makes them anxious. Selfies, they say, are fun, but come with a catch. "It's important to look good...when I look at photos of celebrities I worry a bit about how I look", said one. "Sometimes I take 10 or 15 pictures before I am happy with the one I put on the site", said another.

The flip side of the so called 'fun' selfie culture can be more sinister. The survey also discovered that one in five 10 to 12 year olds with a social media account has been bullied online. Past tragedies include US teenager Ryan Halligan, who had learning difficulties. He was harassed online. In 2003 he took his own life. In 2014, Hannah Smith from Leicester, did the same, after abusive messages from internet trolls. She was only 14. Thankfully, there are now online and offline support networks for both children and parents, who find themselves facing this kind of trauma (Ditch The Label, for example, is fantastic). But that will be of no comfort to the parents, family and friends of Ryan or Hannah.

Building up our children's resilience so they can handle any online horror that comes their way is only part of the picture. They need to be able to tell their parents, be taken seriously and know who else to speak to when things get really out of hand. Easier said, than done, of course.

But the law needs beefing up too. That's what the Children's Commissioner's campaign is aiming for. We welcome the potential new child data protection laws which are lined up for 2018; however, social media companies need to take the lead in acting responsibly too. When it comes to our kids, these huge organisations shouldn't be forced into doing the right thing for fear of litigation.

In the meantime, this week's Internet Safety Day is welcome. But your children and mine remain vulnerable. They are unwittingly, via their images, likes and dislikes, allowing the great algorithm makers in the sky to invade their private worlds. As a mum and a privacy lawyer, I am worried.