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UK youngsters exposed to violent stuff online, regard it as 'inevitable', survey finds

Rows of residences lay in front of the Canary Wharf skyline in London, Britain, March 19, 2023

LONDON, March 15 (mod1s) - Children in Britain stumble on violent content online, including material inciting self-harm, while still at elementary school and feel it is a "inevitable part" of using the internet, according to study released on Friday. 

The research underscores the difficulty confronting international governments and tech corporations, such as Meta (META.O), opens new tab, which owns Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp, Google's (GOOGL.O), opens new tab YouTube, Snap Inc's Snapchat (SNAP.N), opens new tab, and ByteDance's TikTok, to apply safeguarding measures, particularly for minors.

Britain approved laws in October that imposed stronger standards for social media companies, including a need for them to protect children from accessing dangerous and age-inappropriate material by enforcing age limits and age-checking mechanisms. 

The bill granted Ofcom the right to pay tech firms if they fail to comply with the new criteria, but the sanctions have not yet gone into place as the regulator must develop codes of practice to execute the policy.

Messaging companies headed by WhatsApp have resisted a clause in the bill they claim might compel them to violate end-to-end encryption. 

All of the 247 youngsters, aged between 8-17, questioned for the survey - commissioned by Ofcom and carried out between May and November - came encountered violent material online largely via social networking, video-sharing and messaging sites and apps, Ofcom said. 

In a statement, Ofcom said the analysis by research organization Family Kids & Youth revealed that violent game material, verbal prejudice and video of street fights were often experienced by the youngsters.

Many youngsters indicated they felt they had little influence over the information provided to them and had only a limited comprehension of recommender systems - which utilize data to forecast someone's favored content. The youngsters referred to these systems as "the algorithm," the paper claimed. 

"Today's research sends a powerful message to tech firms that now is the time to act so they're ready to meet their child protection duties under new online safety laws," Gill Whitehead, Ofcom’s Online Safety Group Director, said.

She said Ofcom will discuss on how it can expect the sector to guarantee children enjoy an age-appropriate, safer internet experience.


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