Rushing internet regulation could harm child sex abuse victims, charity warns

Child victims of sexual abuse could be affected by unintended consequences if the Government rushes through internet regulation without taking a balanced approach, an internet safety charity has warned.

The Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) is urging politicians and policy makers to work with social networks to develop the best possible regulatory framework, rather than simply imposing it on them.

Recommendations have been set out by the charity ahead of the Government’s long-awaited White Paper on dealing with online harms, which is expected by the end of winter.

“We recommend an outcomes-based approach where the outcomes are clearly defined and the Government should provide clarity over the results it seeks in dealing with any harm,” said Susie Hargreaves, IWF chief executive.

“There also needs to be a process to monitor this and for any results to be transparently communicated.

“The UK already leads the world at tackling online child sexual abuse images and videos but there is definitely more that can be done, particularly in relation to tackling grooming and livestreaming, and of course, regulating harmful content is important.

“My worries, however, are about rushing into knee-jerk regulation which creates perverse incentives or unintended consequences to victims and could undo all the successful work accomplished to date. Ultimately, we must avoid a heavy cost to victims of online sexual abuse.”

(Ian West/PA)

As well as an appropriate legislative framework, the charity says that a well-resourced programme of education is required with long-term investment, as well as flexibility to use whatever technical tools necessary, most likely in partnership with internet technology giants.

It warns that regulation that is too restrictive could actually lead to increased suffering for victims and potentially cause businesses to leave the UK.

The Government will also need to provide clarity on the results it seeks in dealing with the harm, its recommendations go on to say.

Number of child abuse images removed
(PA Graphics/PA)

Culture Secretary Jeremy Wright and Digital Minister Margot James are currently in the US meeting with tech giants, including Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg, to discuss ways of tackling a number of internet safety issues.

The IWF, which identifies and removes online images and videos of abuse, recently revealed that 105,047 offending webpages were removed in 2018, up by a third on the previous year.

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