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Social Networking Sites

Volume 734: debated on Wednesday 11 January 2012


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what additional measures they are planning to take to prevent bullying on social networking sites.

My Lords, the Government are committed to tackling bullying on social networking sites by working with industry, academia, charities and parenting groups to develop tools and information for children and parents aimed at keeping children safe online. The Government are pressing the internet industry in the UK and in Europe to implement clear and simple processes for dealing with abuse online. The Government have also recently reviewed their cyberbullying policy.

The Minister will be aware of the hugely increasing problem of cyberbullying by and of children and young people, particularly in schools. She will also be aware of how easy it is for children under age to set up and operate an account without parental permission. Will she meet the industry, teaching organisations and children’s welfare organisations to discuss the problem and how further safeguarding of our young children can be put in place?

My noble friend speaks with great experience from his distinguished teaching career. The Government are aware of how proficient young children can be at setting up accounts and using the internet generally. We are backing the launch by the UK Council for Child Internet Safety of a one-stop approach to advise on online safety which will occur on 7 February. On my noble friend’s last question, I should be very happy to go ahead with the meeting as he suggests.

Does the Minister agree that schools have an extremely important role to play in ensuring that young people and children are aware of the risks of social networking, in building resilience, and in ensuring that young people are aware of the harmful impacts that their online behaviour can have on others?

Yes, indeed; I entirely agree with what the noble Lord said. In July the Government published guidance to schools on behaviour and bullying that summarises legal obligations and encourages schools to identify the motivations behind bullying and encourage people to seek further help and advice as necessary. This is an issue that the Government take very seriously.

Is the Minister aware of the importance of stopping children wanting to bully in the first place? That is the best way of dealing with bullying. In the light of that, is she aware of the programme called Roots of Empathy, which has now been rolled out into two-thirds of the local authorities in Scotland? It is already very well evidenced. Will she undertake to look at the evidence of this programme in Scotland which is already reducing the incidence of bullying in schools, and see how the Government could encourage its rollout across the rest of the UK?

Yes, I do indeed undertake to my noble friend to look at that programme. She and others in this House have been very involved with encouraging programmes such as PSHE which teach children self-respect and respect for others and identify the motives behind bullying. Obviously, legislation can only go so far. We need a change in the culture so that bullying is an unacceptable activity.

My Lords, the Minister will know that one of the problems we face is that parents are way behind their children in keeping up with technology and are often oblivious to what is happening under their own roof. Does she agree that one small way in which the social networking sites could help, and should help, both parents and schools would be to ban children using fake names or multiple names to disguise their identity?

The noble Baroness makes an interesting point. Some of these things are always much more difficult to implement than they are to suggest. Although the internet service providers are being extraordinarily helpful and supportive of the Government on ways of tackling this, and that will certainly be one aspect they consider, whether it is feasible to stop the worst cases of bullying is another question.

My Lords, will the Government consider having a campaign to make parents and schools aware of how social networking sites can also be used to groom children for sexual exploitation?

My noble friend raises another interesting point. The initiatives which the Government are taking at the moment encompass parents as well as children to try to make sure that families are aware of the dangers of the internet. Of course there is no way that anyone wants to stop the spread of information and the freedom of information, but we need to get the right balance between that and things which are offensive and illegal online.