Government investing in resources that keep us all safe? No.

Batten down the hatches for the white noise that is Safer Internet Day 2018, and the smokescreen of a challenge to industry that hides this government’s failure to invest in our collective online safety.

The fact is it’s easy to attack the all-encompassing internet industry. When it wasn’t easy, ie in the beginning, many people simply didn’t challenge what was a new, venture capital-funded, and fledgling group of startups. The seduction of the technology itself was exciting and the complexities and unintended consequences too much for many to contemplate, let alone understand.

The irony is that it’s now populist to turn on the internet companies, even those like Facebook who have made significant improvements.

What’s wrong online is driven by the behaviour of people and, when it comes to bad behaviour, people never fail to disappoint.

Moderating behaviour is a responsibility of government – they have the authority and in fact a duty to keep us ‘all’ (and the public spaces we occupy, including those created by industry) safe.

This is something they’ve simply failed to do. The government would rather throw insults at the online industry and confusing statistics at the public than get their own act together.

We are told that in the last few years there’s been a 700% increase in reports (the majority of which actually come from industry) of potentially harmful online activity in the UK.

purple shield with a question mark in itSo how have government invested in the resources that keep us all safe; beyond ‘cheap’ rhetoric? The answer is they simply haven’t.

evidence2010Safeguarding children is led by two key principles; the application of professional curiosity and respectful challenge. We must ask this government the difficult questions and challenge them to lead by example.

When I gave evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee in 2010, CEOP had a budget of £12.5million. When I gave evidence to the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) this year CEOP was receiving £14.5million; £10million of which comes from the seemingly elastic ‘WePROTECT’ money.

The most frustrating fact however, is that no-one is actually challenging them on their level of real investment. Not even the army of so-called internet safety experts. From the big children’s charities to the one man or woman bands, being popular with government (or at least not at odds with them) is the easy option. It’s the new cop-out.

icon of a hand holding a heartThere is so much the government could do beyond demonising industry. They could start by simply taxing or licensing internet companies to fund the education, social care and policing resources needed to make our online lives safer.

If ultimately they cannot stomach a new tax or opening the public purse, they must at the very least open their closed minds, step outside their current comfort zone and actively consider creative new approaches like vetted and trained volunteer digital detectives.

The internet is integrated into every aspect of our lives, so continuing to treat it as novel is part of the problem. On the day we celebrate the 100th anniversary of women getting the vote it might have been wise to have focused Safer Internet Day on the continuing struggle for equality; critically the part the online world plays when it comes to the bullying and harassment of women. That however would have required some thought and planning, not the simple default to the same old, same old.

I won’t hold my breath. In fact I doubt anything will actually be heard in the mishmash of messages, strap-lines, hashtags, sound bites and press releases that Safer Internet Day has become.

You’ve probably tuned out already.