Young people are increasingly exposed to illegal online harms, such as hate, explicit content and sexual abuse and exploitation. Recent research from the Internet Watch Foundation noted a 374% increase in reports of self-generated child sexual abuse imagery from 2019-2021. These challenges will only be further exacerbated as children spend more time online in new technological environments, such as the Metaverse and End-to-End Encrypted (E2EE) environments, and as perpetrators evolve their methods to target them.
In parallel, the development and implementation of solutions to safeguard young people online has grown rapidly. Upcoming legislation in the form of the Draft Online Safety Bill will set out new responsibilities for service providers to regulate harmful content. Platforms are now making design decisions that prioritise the safety of users. The growing Safety Tech Industry is developing tools to combat the rising levels of illegal online content. From machine learning applications to detect hate speech, to hash matching that prevents uploads and distribution of child sexual abuse imagery, there is no shortage of innovation taking place across the sector.
However, there still remains a disparity between the scale of the risks that young people now face online and the capabilities of organisations working against these harms. The WeProtect Global Alliance’s Global Threat Assessment 2021 notes that current levels of investment are not proportionate to the scale and scope of the issue, and organisations will struggle to deliver the required changes in their global threat response.
As an internet infrastructure provider, Nominet has a track record of supporting non-profit organisations tackling online harms. Since 2019, they have run the Countering Online Harm Tech Innovation Fund and supported change makers such as the UK Safer Internet Centre and the Safety Tech Innovation Network. Together, PUBLIC and Nominet both believe that addressing illegal harms online will require actors to embrace a systems-based approach, bringing together different components of the ecosystem to collaborate on long-term cultural, technical and digital infrastructure challenges.
PUBLIC has therefore partnered with Nominet to conduct research into the emerging trends shaping young people’s digital lives, and the role of the Safety Tech ecosystem, non-profits, research bodies and the wider digital economy in keeping them safe.
Through this research, we aim to identify new opportunities to counter illegal harms online. Over the next few months, we will engage across these arenas to test our findings and co-develop our research.
If you would like to learn more and be involved in the research, please contact Marco (email@example.com). We are particularly interested in speaking with civil society organisations, non-profits and academic experts.
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