Report Harmful Content – Why Is This Service So Important?

09 Jul 2021 Andy Robinson

We spoke with Kathryn Tremlett, Manager of Report Harmful Content (RHC), to discuss the importance of RHC and the impact it has had since it first began.

Many of us know what Report Harmful Content is, but for those who don’t, could you give us a brief outline?

Report Harmful Content is a national service that encourages anyone to report harmful content online by providing advice on how to report harm online to industry platforms. This includes providing the links to the correct reporting channels and offering mediatory support where the correct reports have already been made to industry.

Having received a report, RHC will either explain and justify the providers reply or provide further assistance to take action as required.

Report Harmful Content:

  • Provides information on community standards
  • Directs victims to provider reporting mechanisms
  • Provides recourse for victims/ witnesses
  • Provides mediatory support encouraging industry to take action against 8 types of harmful content online

What was the basis for deciding to launch this reporting platform?

RHC is the first service globally to provide cross platform recourse for victims of legal but harmful content online. Our experience in running three separate helplines at SWGfL, tells us that harm online rarely happens in isolation. Instead, it’s calculated, coordinated and often unrelenting across a multitude of different platforms.

Until RHC’s creation, victims of online harm would have to navigate multiple websites and industry safety centres to find out how to report and seek support for harmful content online.

Ww noticed that there is a distinct lack of support services available for adults experiencing or witnessing harm online. We are the only service in the UK that offers mediatory support to all members of the public needing assistance with harmful but legal content online. Until now, victims of online harm were unable to get this kind of support which causes a great deal of distress and concern.

Can you explain how RHC helps people who have already submitted reports to industry?

Our mediatory role comes in when people have used the correct reporting routes with industry but have not had the outcome they hoped for. Report Harmful Content will check submitted reports and industry responses against platform-specific community standards to provide users with further explanation and advice on actions they can take.

Our relationships with industry platforms are unique,  we work together to ensure that correct platform reporting mechanisms are utilised where possible before escalating issues to these partners for them to action.   The RHC website provides advice about all manner of harms online, including how to report specific issues on commonly used industry platforms. This is tailored to the needs of our clients and is regularly updated and refreshed based on insights obtained from our helpline services as well as behavioural trends.

Where we act in a mediatory capacity, we encourage industry to take action on 90% + reports.  This doesn’t just involve removing harmful content but also helping victims of harm regain access to accounts and encouraging industry to apply sensitivity filters to content which is unsuitable for viewing by a younger audience.

However, RHC are not a traditional helpline service, in that we do not communicate with victims via telephone. All our support is offered online, ensuring that everything is logged and responses take place in an efficient manner.

Part of the RHC website includes correct legislation and online harms advice, which has been developed and edited in line with changes to behavioural trends and insights observed from reports. Our online safety expertise is at the heart of our advice and guidance which will guide future development.

What impact has the service had and what trends have you seen in regards to reports?

RHC’s latest annual report, Through These Walls, is due to be released later this week, analysing data  between January 2020-December 2020. The report shows that the RHC website received 17,406 visitors and practitioners dealt with 644 unique cases, a 292% rise on the previous pilot year.

Cases involving bullying and harassment were most common, followed by pornographic content, abuse and impersonation. RHC found that online harassment disproportionately affected women and was often perpetrated by ex-partners.

Three common trends were identified:

  • Domestic abuse, coercive control and harassment issues: This trend disproportionally affected women and in a quarter of cases involved intimate image abuse as an additional harm
  • A 255% rise in reports with a wider issue of hate-speech. Most reports had a primary issue type of harassment or abuse
  • Young males actively searching for harmful content and reporting it. Pornography was the only harm that was predominantly reported by males

What plans are there for the future?

The insights we have gained from running RHC have helped to shape new service development for customers, including a downloadable button for organisations to install on their website. This button provides ease of access to all commonly used platform reporting mechanisms for their website community. Other industry platforms can include the button on their website to link directly to RHC if a user experiences or witnesses any harmful content online. We aim for this service to be a staple part of online reporting and, from the engagement we’ve seen so far, it is encouraging to see it being used across a wide demographic. 

As we work hand in hand with industry, we onboard many of them as industry partners, these partners include social media sites, dating and gaming platforms. Already we have partnered with 24 globally recognised industry platforms and we look to build even more partnerships as the years go on.

Why is RHC so important for the digital age?

At a time where the government has pledged that the UK will be the safest place in the world to be online, this pioneering approach is exactly what is needed and what will help with upcoming regulation of the internet through the Online Safety Bill. Government and Ofcom policy makers are taking note as they recognise the value of RHC in this space.

RHC is one of the UK Safer Internet Centre’s helplines operated at SWGfL. It is the only services in the UK who has a unique relationships with industry enabling effective removal of content with a success rate of over 90%.

We believe no one should suffer the consequences of harmful content online and RHC exists to help realise this.

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