Social Media Platforms Urged To Stop Suggesting Children As “Friends”

Ofcom, the UK’s communications regulator, has recently taken initiative as the new online safety regulator. Melanie Dawes, the Chief Executive of Ofcom, expressed her determination to tackle online risks, especially for children. “Children have told us about the dangers they face, and we’re determined to create a safer life online for young people in particular,” she stated. This dedication is evident in their efforts to confront the escalating issues such as cyberbullying, the danger of exposure to inappropriate content, and the risk of inappropriate behaviours affecting children.

Startling Findings: The Online Reality for Children

Recent Ofcom research has revealed alarming statistics about children’s online experiences. The study found that 60% of secondary school students have had online interactions that made them feel uncomfortable. This includes receiving unwanted friend or follow requests and being exposed to inappropriate content. “Our figures show that most secondary-school children have been contacted online in a way that potentially makes them feel uncomfortable. For many, it happens repeatedly,” Dawes added. This is a reminder for adults to keep children safe online, as much as possible.

New Measures Under Online Safety Act

The Online Safety Act has brought forward new guidelines and expectations for technology companies. These guidelines are designed to ensure children’s safety online. They include keeping children off suggested friend lists, a measure to curb the efforts of online groomers, and ensuring that children’s location information is not disclosed in their profiles or posts.

Michelle Donelan, Technology Secretary, highlighted the significance of these regulations: “The publication of the first codes marked a step in making the Online Safety Act a reality by cleaning up social media and making the UK the safest place in the world to be online.” These regulations also extend to prohibiting children from receiving messages from strangers and demanding better management of private and encrypted communications.

Addressing Broader Online Dangers

Ofcom’s approach is not limited to child protection. The regulator is also focusing on other forms of illegal online content such as fraud and terrorist material. The draft codes propose measures like automatic detection of fraudulent content and blocking accounts linked to terrorist organizations. These proactive steps are vital in ensuring a safe online environment for all users.

The task ahead for Ofcom is daunting, given the scope and scale of the online services under its purview. However, Dawes remains optimistic about meeting these challenges. “We’re absolutely up for the task,” she affirmed. The regulator’s approach includes facilitating user complaints, removing accounts linked to harmful activities, and employing keyword searches to identify and eliminate problematic content.


A Joint Effort for Online Safety

Ofcom’s initiative requires collaboration across various sectors. The organization is consulting with experts, industry stakeholders, and the public to refine its approach. This inclusive process is crucial for developing effective and adaptable regulations that consider the dynamic nature of the online world.

Sir Peter Wanless, NSPCC Chief Executive, voiced his support: “It’s right that protecting children and ensuring the spread of child sexual abuse imagery is stopped is top of the agenda.” He emphasises the importance of listening to the experiences of children to shape effective safety measures.

The Road to Safer Digital Spaces

Creating safer online spaces is a continuous effort, with the Online Safety Act being a good way to start. Over the next few years, Ofcom plans to introduce additional guidelines and consultations, focusing on areas like adult content accessibility by minors and harmful content promoting self-harm and suicide.

The ongoing efforts by Ofcom, backed by government support and public consultation, mark a proactive approach to creating a safer online environment. There is a collective hope that the digital world will become a safer place for the younger generation, reflecting the care and concern we uphold in their physical lives.