BLOG POST

May 11, 2022

Tackling Illegal Harms Impacting Young People Online: Lessons from the Ecosystem

This blogpost provides the latest update from PUBLIC and Nominet’s partnership to research and tackle the key illegal online harms faced by young people when using the internet. Our most recent blogpost covered trends and developments of illegal online harms that young people face. These trends were then tested and validated with key stakeholders in the ecosystem, and the findings have been outlined below.

Who did we speak to?

Given the complexity and wide-ranging nature of illegal online harms faced by young people, there are a range of stakeholders involved. PUBLIC categorised these into eight groups, as shown below. 

PUBLIC connected with 20+ stakeholders across the stakeholder groups. We discussed which trends were impacting them and their work, the barriers that influence their decision-making, and where they are currently focusing efforts in the ecosystem.  

Where was there agreement?

There was general agreement among stakeholders relating to the trends identified in our latest blog. In particular, there was agreement on:

  • Young people are creating and sharing more self-generated CSAM: Stakeholders emphasised that self-generated CSAM is not only an outcome of persuasion from offenders, but can be a result of conversations amongst young people as well. This highlighted the importance of having the right reporting mechanisms and digital skills training for young people to be aware of the risks of self-generated CSAM

  • Young people are increasingly participating - and at risk of being groomed - in online eating disorder communities and suicide and self-harm communities: Stakeholders called attention to this trend and the importance of understanding how harms can impact, or provoke, other harms. There was particular concern around grooming and self-harm, with emphasis on the need to support young people as early as possible with safeguarding mechanisms and/or training.

  • Most existing digital skills training and online safety education (if offered) in schools are uncomfortable for students and teachers: Stakeholders shared that there are strong training programs available on the market for young people and adults, but they have not been disseminated at the scale needed for systemic change yet. Moreover, stakeholders highlighted that as children continue to engage on new technologies and platforms (including social media, gaming, virtual reality), training dissemination is becoming increasingly complex with heightened need for specificity. Stakeholders also stressed the importance of the correct tone and language to make topics more accessible and actionable.

  • Civil society organisations do not always have good access to - or representation in - technical forums: Civil society organisations and technology providers both stressed that there is a lack of access between stakeholder groups. While stakeholders shared there is no sole reason for this, they mentioned the importance of both groups understanding one another’s  capabilities and needs to ensure information is shared in effective and timely manners. 

Where was there some disagreement?

While there was general agreement on trends, there were sometimes differing opinions on the nature of the challenge, or how they should be prioritised. For example, stakeholders agreed on the underlying challenge of needing to continually adapt to evolving technologies to ensure mechanisms to protect young people online are effective and up-to-date. Our research highlighted livestreaming as an increasingly common technology to distribute and share CSAM, but some stakeholders placed more emphasis on deep fakes and a rising concern around the metaverse as issues to focus on. Similarly, whilst some stakeholders emphasised end-to-end encryption (E2EE) as a challenge to safeguard young people online, especially when adult groomers move young people to encrypted platforms to cover up harms, others focus on the importance of respecting and empowering young people through privacy. 

What barriers were emphasised?

Stakeholders also highlighted barriers to tackling key illegal online harms and the evolving trends faced by young people when using the internet. These barriers can be split into two categories - capability and operational environment. 

With regards to capability, stakeholders spoke to three issues - knowledge gaps, evaluation, and funding. They explained that there are sometimes knowledge gaps between civil society and technology providers, which could easily be tackled with further collaboration and joint engagement . This also links to evaluation, whereby organisations struggle to effectively evaluate initiatives, both online and offline, to support young people. For example, lack of access to data, especially due to E2EE, and limited funding restrict stakeholders' abilities to effectively evaluate the impact of initiatives in the long-term. On funding, stakeholders shared that funding in the ecosystem is oftentimes short-term and focuses on innovation. In addition to current funding options, stakeholders are looking for funding opportunities that go beyond minimum 6 months, and are able to support operational and evaluation needs as well as innovation. 

With regards to operational environment, interviewees highlighted challenges with platforms and lobbying. While there are a range of stakeholders in the ecosystem, civil society and Safety Tech struggle to compete with the strong, global decision-making and financial powers of platforms. Platforms ability to lobby at scale also makes it challenging for civil society and Safety Tech voices to be heard. Together stakeholders highlighted the imbalance of power between platforms and smaller players, and the importance of balancing the power overtime. 

How does this reflect in the system?

Leveraging interviewee insights on landscape trends and barriers, the PUBLIC team experimented with mapping our understanding of the current ecosystem. This is an iterative process, however, we would like to share a preliminary view, as seen below. The rows reflect priority trends identified in our research. The columns reflect different ‘depths’ at which a trend can be addressed. There are four depth layers based on an approach by author Stewart Brand:

  • Public Campaigns: Speaks to immediate evolving issues which require short-term responses.
  • Technological infrastructure: Includes structures/systems which provide day-to-day responses.
  • Governance: Incorporates gradual responses to longer-term issues. 
  • Nature & culture: Speaks to the root of the issue, and where the systemic opportunities to increase efficiency and collaboration may lie. 

The cells identify some of the organisations working on these trends, and at these levels - they are illustrative, not exhaustive or an indicator of best practice. 

What comes next?

The ultimate goal of the PUBLIC and Nominet project is to identify systemic opportunities to make the ecosystem more efficient, collaborative, and successful in tackling illegal online harms impacting young people. The research, stakeholder interviews, and preliminary systems mapping have highlighted a few key opportunity areas, and these will be outlined in our final blog post. Critically, these opportunities illustrate the need for cross-stakeholder and cross-functional response, and the importance of the ecosystem working together to enable systemic change. 

Feedback from stakeholders has been critical in shaping the project research, and we would like to thank the stakeholders who have engaged with us so far. 

As we continue to work in the open, we encourage interested stakeholders to engage with our blog posts and provide feedback. Please feel free to contact Maya Daver-Massion (maya@public.io) and share your thoughts on the findings in this blogpost or on the wider project. 

We also look forward to any feedback on our final blog post, which will be available in the next few weeks.

Partners

Our partner's logo

Nominet

Authors

Photo by the author

Maya Daver-Massion

Senior Associate

Articles you may enjoy

By 

Alexander de Carvalho

CIO & Co-Founder

Read more

May 11, 2022

April 6, 2022

By 

Sorcha Killian

Programme Manager

Read more

September 29, 2022

July 14, 2022

By 

Daniel Korski

CEO & Co-Founder

Read more

May 11, 2022

March 15, 2022

Join the GovTech Community

Sign up to our weekly newsletter to get the latest news and updates