Building the Digital World that Young People Deserve: Priorities for the Online Harms Bill

Today, the 5Rights Foundation, led by Baroness Beeban Kidron, publishes Building the Digital World that Young People Deserve, our blueprint for sensible, proportionate regulation to prioritise young people’s needs and rights in the design of the digital world.  

One billion young people are online, making up one in three internet users worldwide. Yet the digital world still largely fails to acknowledge their presence, preferring instead to treat ‘all users equally.’ That is, to treat all users as adults. This puts young people at risk of both legal and illegal harms including sexual abuse, pro-suicide content, mis- and dis-information, consumer harms and online bullying.

Our report calls for digital service providers to be required to conduct regular Child Impact Assessments to reveal known harms, unintended consequences and emerging risks their services pose to young people. Companies must then be accountable to the new Regulator for the risks their platforms pose, and for the mitigations they put in place. 

We anticipate that most companies will be eager to comply. But where they do not, the Regulator must have an escalating ladder of enforcement powers. Alongside significant fines for both companies and individual directors, it must have the power to require closure or change of individual features or services which pose a risk to children (such as services which continue to suggest children as “friends” to stranger adults, or which allow known child sexual abuse imagery to be shared).

The Online Harms Bill offers a singular opportunity to prioritise young people’s needs and rights in the design of the digital world, it is something that successive UK governments have promised. We owe it to our young people to act decisively, swiftly and comprehensively to build the digital world they deserve.