Children’s Commissioner and Police Chief quizzed on screen time and online harms
The Education Committee will question representatives from charities and the National Police Chiefs’ Council, followed by Dame Rachel de Souza, the Children’s Commissioner, in a session on online harms and the effectiveness of the Online Safety Act.
The cross-party Committee will question the first panel of witnesses on the impacts of social media on children’s wellbeing and safety. Evidence submitted to the inquiry from various organisations has criticised the way that algorithms used by social media platforms can be addictive and direct harmful content to children.
Deputy Chief Constable Ian Critchley of the National Police Chiefs’ Council will be asked about police forces’ ability to investigate harms that take place online, and whether provisions in the Online Safety Act will improve police powers to charge perpetrators of online crimes against children.
MPs will be interested to hear whether there are signs that the Online Safety Act is encouraging social media companies to take action to minimise risks of harm, and how quickly Ofcom, now acting as regulator, can implement the Act effectively.
The Committee will then question Dame Rachel de Souza on her work on online safety for children. This will include looking into her research into children’s views on screen time, and the number of underage users of social media platforms.
The Children’s Commissioner will be asked to comment on the strengths of the Online Safety Act, whether recommendations she made to government are reflected in the Act, and what she believes Ofcom must do to ensure it is implemented as effectively as possible. She will also be questioned on how the issue of underage use of social media could be tackled by companies, and whether the Act should have included provisions regarding harmful content generated through AI.
Research by Ofcom shows that access to the internet is almost universal among children and young people. Children aged 9-10 will spend over three hours a day online, rising to an average of 4 hours and 45 minutes by ages 15-16.
Another 2020 Ofcom study found that 30% of 5-7-year-olds use social media, rising to nearly 90% by ages 12-15. The study also found that by ages 12-15, 31% of children have seen worrying content online, and 5% have encountered material promoting terrorism or radicalisation.