Navigating the Digital Policy Landscape - what the UK Online Safety Act and EU Digital Services Act Mean for Families

May 20, 2024

This blog was written ahead of the FOSI 2024 European Forum, which takes place on June 5, 2024. Read on to get a better understanding of the online safety policy in the EU and the UK and how it affects parents and their families.

If you're a parent like me, you've probably noticed that our children are growing up in a world vastly different from the one we did. The Internet has become an integral part of their lives, offering endless opportunities for learning, entertainment, and connection. But with these opportunities come risks, and as parents, it's our job to help our kids navigate this digital landscape safely.

Now, imagine my relief as a parent based in England[AP1]  when I heard about the UK Online Safety Act and the EU Digital Services Act – two legislative initiatives aimed at making the online world a safer place for everyone, especially our children. But what exactly do these acts entail, and how will they impact us as parents and families?

The UK Online Safety Act

The UK Online Safety Act which came into force in October 2023 seeks to regulate may of the social media platforms that our children use.

This groundbreaking piece of legislation aims to hold online platforms accountable for the content shared on their sites. It introduces a new regulatory framework that requires social media companies, search engines, and other online services to take measures to protect users from harmful content, such as cyberbullying, hate speech, and misinformation.

As parents, this means we can breathe a little easier knowing that the platforms our kids frequent will be taking proactive steps to keep them safe. It also means that we'll have more tools at our disposal to control the content our children can access online, empowering us to create a safer digital environment for our families.

But it's not just about protecting our kids from harmful content – the UK Online Safety Act also aims to tackle online grooming and other forms of child exploitation. By requiring platforms to implement robust age verification systems and reporting mechanisms, the act seeks to prevent predators from targeting vulnerable children online.

The EU Digital Services Act

Now, let's shift our focus to the EU Digital Services Act. This legislation, which applies to online platforms operating within the European Union, aims to foster a safer, more transparent digital environment for users of all ages. It introduces new obligations for online intermediaries, such as social media platforms and online marketplaces, to combat illegal content, including child sexual abuse material and terrorist propaganda.

For us as parents, the EU Digital Services Act represents another layer of protection for our children online. By holding platforms accountable for the content they host and the algorithms they use, the act aims to reduce the spread of harmful material and create a more positive online experience for young users.

But what do these acts mean for us in practical terms?

Well, for starters, we can expect to see changes in how online platforms moderate content and interact with users. Platforms may introduce new features, such as age verification tools and content filters, to comply with the requirements of these acts. They may also be required to provide more transparency around their content moderation practices, giving us greater insight into how our children are interacting online.

In addition, these acts could have implications for the way we as parents approach digital literacy and online safety education. With platforms taking a more proactive role in protecting users, we may need to adjust our strategies for teaching our kids about the risks and responsibilities of navigating the online world. This could involve having frank conversations about privacy, consent, and critical thinking skills, as well as staying informed about the latest developments in online safety. There is a lot of parents to learn and take in though – more tools to help us but little or no consistency across platforms so it requires a lot of learning!

Of course, it's important to remember that legislative measures alone won't solve all of the challenges we face in the digital age. As parents, we play a crucial role in shaping our children's online experiences and empowering them to make responsible choices online. By staying engaged, informed, and proactive, we can help our kids reap the benefits of the internet while minimising the risks.

While these legislative initiatives certainly represent a step in the right direction, it's up to us as parents to continue advocating for the safety and well-being of our children in the digital world. Together, we can create a safer, more positive online environment for generations to come and my advice – treat online safety like any other parenting job – stay engaged, talk to you children, be interested in what they are doing and create an environment where they feel confident to talk to you about that they are worried about!

Let’s not be scared of the online world and let’s use the newly regulated environment as an opportunity to have more conversations!

Written by

Charlotte Aynsley

Charlotte has a broad range of experience in the field of digital safeguarding - for 10 years she led Becta’s advice and support to Government, local authorities and schools on keeping children safe online.  She also worked with Dr Tanya Byron on her review of Safer Children in a Digital World - leading the implementation and co-ordination of the education recommendations in the Review as part of the UK Council for Child Internet Safety (UKCCIS).

In April 2010, Charlotte became Director of Practice at the children’s charity – Beatbullying, where she was responsible for the innovative Cybermentors programme, a peer to peer online support service for children and young people.  In 2011, Charlotte was seconded to NCA CEOP where she conducted a review of CEOP’s educational programmes and made recommendations to CEOP’s board on the future direction of the Thinkuknow programme which has been delivered to thousands of professionals across the country.

In 2013 Charlotte started her own consultancy – Charlotte Aynsley Consultants – Rethinking Safeguarding and she has worked on several high profile programmes and initiatives including the NSPCC’s Share Aware campaign, The It Starts With you online safety campaign from Walt Disney/Club Penguin, Parent Zone’s Parenting in the Digital Age programme, the Keeping Children Safe online safety guide and the Sexting in schools – what to do and how to handle it document

She has spoken about digital safeguarding at several key national and international events including the UN and supported local authorities, the police, children’s organisations and international NGO’s in educating professionals, parents, children and young people on all things online safety related.

In 2016 Charlotte worked with UKCCIS and NCA CEOP authoring national advice on responding to incidents of sexting – Sexting in schools and colleges: Responding to incidents and safeguarding young people.  Since the advice has been published she has delivered training to over 500 professionals supporting them in planning their response to incidents of sexting.

More recently Charlotte has been working with several high profile organisations including the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), NCA – CEOP, the Princes Trust, Girlguiding, The Mayor of London and the NSPCC to develop leading edge safer platforms and advice and resources for professionals working with children to keep them safer online.