“At NICCY, we strongly feel that safety must be at the centre of our children’s lives online. With the ever-increasing rise in popularity of AI, the dangers presented by fake news and misinformation, and new and emerging technology appearing at a greater pace, perhaps, than ever before, the need to safeguard children and young people online is one of the most important issues we face today.

“The internet offers our young people many positive opportunities – but, sadly, it is often negative online experiences that our children and young people experience on a daily basis. Shockingly, new online figures from The Internet Watch Foundation said children under the age of 10 are increasingly being targeted by paedophiles online. Of the confirmed 275,655 reports that the internet watchdog received that contained abuse images on websites in 2023, 39% of them were found to contain images of children under 10. 

“The social media giants and multi-national corporations that dominate the online space can – and undoubtedly should – be doing a lot more to protect our children. There is an urgent need for much more robust and accountable regulation of the companies that seem to do little to protect our young people from ever-increasing online dangers.

“We can all take steps to safeguard our children’s safety, however. We all have a duty to talk honestly to children about what it is they are doing online, which platforms they are using, and who it is they are talking to. We need to be having conversations about young people’s perspective on new and emerging technology and new social media platforms. We cannot leave our children exposed to negative influences online because we do not know which online spaces they frequent. It is only by actively caring about our children’s online lives that we can help them use the internet in a safe and positive manner.

“Education is key. It is important that parents and carers move from a position of being ‘protectors’ to ‘educators’ of their children and young people. Schools are also key educators – and NICCY welcomes the mandatory requirement for the inclusion of age-appropriate, comprehensive and scientifically-accurate education on sexual and reproductive health and rights, which must also include supporting young people’s digital resilience and literacy.

“We also welcome the new powers of Ofcom through the Online Safety Act 2023 to protect UK users online, particularly children and young people. It is critical that there is a child-centred approach to developing forthcoming guidance, codes of practice and duties on online services, ensuring that these are informed by how children and young people themselves experience and view the reality of their online lives.

“We can all inspire change and influence the way young people feel about and use the internet. NICCY is proud to support Safer Internet Day and be part of the conversation that can make a real difference to the daily lives of our children and young people.”

Chris Quinn

Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People