Sergeant Steve Shepherd is a serving Devon and Cornwall Police Officer working alongside the UK Safer Internet Centre. In this article he explains what the Centre does and some of the resources available to professionals, parents and children. This year, the Centre has started to focus on radicalisation and extremism.
The UK Safer Internet Centre is a unique organisation working at very much the frontline in the world of online safety. What makes the centre unique is the collaborative and partnership approach it takes to tackling the wide range of online safety issues, from digital self-harm to online extremism and radicalisation, working hard to raise awareness and offer resources for everyone.
The centre is tasked with three main areas of work, the first being an awareness centre, making sure that people are aware of the latest online safety issues and then creating resources and information to tackle that issue.
Then there are the two telephone services, a Hotline tasked with reporting and removing criminal online content including child sexual abuse images hosted anywhere in the world, as well as criminal obscene adult content hosted in the UK and non-photographic child sexual abuse images hosted in the UK. The second telephone service is a helpline created for professionals who work with children and young people, which provides support with all aspects of digital and online issues and dealing deal incidents of bullying, sexting, online gaming and child protection online on a daily basis.
To allow for all these functions, the centre is made up of three different charities: The South West Grid for Learning (SWGfL), Childnet and the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF). Within these teams comes a wide range of experts, including teachers, professors, IT and security experts, social workers, police officers and a whole host of others. By combining the different talents of the amazing people from these three charities, the centre has been recognised both nationally and internationally as the go-to centre for online safety.
As well as the normal blog posts, social media and articles on websites, the UK SIC raises awareness of online safety with two major projects. The first of these is an online safety roadshow. The team travels the length and breadth of the UK, delivering free two-hour presentations to professionals who work with children and young people. These fast-paced briefings allow the audience an insight into the online safety world and then point out available resources that can be used by them.
In addition our education teams visited 493 schools and spoke to 6189 parents, 4822 teachers and 44,602 children last year. These briefings and school visits are designed to get to the heart of education and integrate it with online safety at all levels.
We also co-ordinate Safer Internet Day (SID). Childnet co-ordinates the main event, supporters and all the planning and preparations, including the preparation of resource and education packs. SWGfL is responsible for making the video content for the day. Last year was the biggest event ever. Over 1,000 organisations supported the day and the list of supporters included major social media organisations, television and radio broadcasters, mobile phone companies, banks, football clubs, partner charities and many more. We were also supported by 757 schools. The day started with a ThunderClap on Twitter, which saw the hashtag #SID2016 trend all day in the UK from 0800hrs to 1700hrs, and reached 4.03 million people.
As well as social media the team delivered numerous national and local interviews on both radio and television, including a slot on BBC Breakfast. When the day was over ,2.8 million children and 2.5 million parents had been reached.
The other two main aspects of our work are our Helpline and our Hotline. The helpline is run by SWGfL and is affectionately know as ‘POSH’– the Professionals Online Safety Helpline. It operates a telephone service between the hours of 10:00hrs and 16:00hrs and is designed to assist anyone working with children and young people who may have a digital online concern or question. The team works hand-in-hand with many of the leading social media organisations around the world. Many people think that this is just open to teachers, but it really is open to anyone who works with children and young people, including foster parents, social workers and law enforcement. Last year saw the team support the UK Police Service with calls and assistance going up by 70 per cent.
The Hotline is run by the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF). Again, this year’s annual report shows a dramatic increase in the number of reports that investigated and removed content from the Internet. In fact, the take-down rate was increased by 150 per cent. This effort was recognised in the New Years Honours List when CEO Susie Hargreaves was awarded an OBE.
This year has also seen the centre start to focus on radicalisation and extremism. Childnet has produced a great resource for schools called ‘Trust Me’ that focuses on critical thinking skills and developing emotional intelligence around what children and young people may see on the internet.
SWGfL in collaboration with VOX-Pol, has produced a 45-minute presentation aimed at educators. This presentation looks at the history of extremist content on the Internet and then goes on to show some of the today’s content that children and young people are being exposed too. At the end of the session those who attend have a better idea of exactly what is being produced by a verity of organisations that want to influence young minds.
As mentioned earlier, three separate charities come together to form the UK Safer Internet Centre. But what runs through the heart of it all is a passion for online safety and helping others to say safe online. Each team member and organisation is driven to deliver the best resources, education, technical solutions and help it possibly can to make the Internet as safe as possible for people to work, learn and play.