New online safety laws that make tech giants accountable for harmful content on their platforms have shifted a step closer to reality.
Under the Government’s draft Online Safety Bill, Ofcom will be in charge of regulating social media firms, with the power to issue fines and even block access for repeat offences.
The aim is to make the UK one of the safest places to be online in the world, especially for children.
But the plans will be scrutinised by a joint committee of MPs before they are finally brought to Parliament, so it could be a while until the rules come into effect just yet.
In the meantime, here are some measures parents can take now to protect children.
– Use parental controls
The majority of internet-connected devices have some form of parental control system but users can also install their own.
Both iOS and Google have features allowing parents to not only filter content but also set time limits on how long children can use certain apps.
For iOS devices, such as an iPhone or iPad, you can make use of the Screen Time feature to block certain apps, content types or functions.
On iOS, this can be done by going to settings and selecting Screen Time.
For Android, you can install the Family Link app from the Google Play Store.
Games consoles also support parental controls that can be set up manually – the UK Safer Internet Centre offers downloadable guides for different consoles on its website.
– Filtering content
Content filters capable of blocking particular websites from being accessed on specific devices via a home Wi-Fi network are made available by many internet service providers.
In some cases, this can also be used to set time limits.
Visit your service provider’s website for more details but it should be noted these features will only work while a device is connected to a home broadband network so additional steps will need to be taken to secure devices when being used outside the home.
– Understanding apps
Some concerns around social media can be better approached if parents know how the various platforms operate.
Net Aware, a website run in partnership between the NSPCC and O2, offers a range of useful information about each social network, including guidance on minimum age requirements and the types of content usually shared on that platform.
– Talking to children
Many charities, including the NSPCC, stress that talking to children “openly and regularly” is the best way to keep them safe online.
Its website features a number of tips on how to start a conversation with children about using social media and the wider internet, including having parents visit sites with their children to learn about them together and discussing how to stay safe online and acting responsibly.
Net Aware also offers a free helpline for any further questions or advice, which is on 0808 800 5002.