Almost since its inception, the OII has engaged in some of the most significant policy debates around child protection and the Internet. Starting from the fundamental belief that the Internet offers children and young people unique opportunities for education and the development of key social, motor and media literacy skills, much of our work has focused on supporting the development of proportionate and effective policy responses to recognized risks of Internet use. One of the OII's earliest policy reports, presented at the European Commission, identified regulatory options for controlling risks posed by 3G mobile phones, whilst a current project seeks to inform policy too often driven by media headlines by exploring evidence of actual harms resulting to children and minors as a result of Internet use. We have also sought to capitalise on the OII's status as a neutral and independent forum for debate, bringing together key policy players to discuss issues such as the recommendations of the Byron Report, or the challenge of balancing and protecting different human rights in the child protection context. In each case, our activities have been driven by a desire to inform and support evidence-based policy-making in this vital area.
Evidence on the extent of harms experienced by children as a result of online risks: A critical synthesis of research
The quantity and quality of academic literature detailing the risks and opportunities of online activity for children and young people has risen substantially in the past ten years. Whilst this has done much to increase our understanding of what children of different ages do online, what risks they face and also what strategies are employed by parents and educators to minimize risk, there is still relatively little empirical evidence on the links between perceived risks and actual harms, or the efficacy of different interventions. This project undertakes a critical synthesis of the evidence to date from across social and medical sciences and including data from professional as well as academic sources. In reviewing the available research and data, we hope to make three different assessments:
The scope of the actual harms experienced by children and young people as a result of their online activity (e.g. psychological, physical, social, economic).
The scale of the actual harms experienced by children and young people as a result of their online activity and the frequency of their occurrence.
The efficacy of existing interventions in limiting either children's exposure to the risks associated with these harms, or even in limiting the harms themselves.
Project outputs will include a summary report for policy and practitioner communities as well as more conventional academic journal articles. This work is supported by the Oxford University Press's Fell Fund (Decmber 2011-June 2012).
Child Protection, Free Speech and the Internet: Mapping the Territory and Limitations of Common Ground
In 2009, the OII was awarded a grant by the Oak Foundation (Principal Investigator, Victoria Nash) to facilitate a dialogue between child advocacy NGOs concerned with children's and young people's use of the Internet and related digital technologies, and NGOs who work or campaign to protect free speech and free expression on the internet and related digital technologies. Advocates of online child protection and freedom of expression both share a deep-seated belief in the vital importance of protecting basic human rights which are grounded in fundamental values of human autonomy and dignity. Yet a shared belief by both camps in the importance of state protection of these core human freedoms is often clouded by perceived (and real) opposition in the actual practice of law, policy and regulation. This has consequently restricted the policy options available for dealing with threats to both child safety and free speech online, and has often resulted in non-governmental organisations representing these interests being portrayed as necessary opponents. In practice this has meant that proponents of both child safety online and freedom of speech have found their efforts to promote basic human rights through self-regulatory, regulatory and policy frameworks have been hindered at local, national and international levels.
The grant enabled us to hold two policy forums, in 2009 (Child Protection, Free Speech and the Internet: Mapping the Territory and Limitations of Common Ground) and 2011 (Child Protection, Free Speech and the Internet), bringing together high-level members of representative NGOs to discuss both familiar and newly-emerging policy issues with a view to promoting a better understanding of the different groups' positions and sharing perspectives and information. Both forums were successful in developing new relationships of trust between participants from the different groups, enhancing understanding of both areas of consensus and disagreement, and facilitating frank discussion on difficult policy concerns. We hope to continue with this model of engagement in the future.
This work has been supported by the Oak Foundation and Oxford University Press's Fell Fund.