Internet is 'lawless jungle too dangerous for children to use’, former government adviser warns

Caught in the web: It is central to the lives of the young but current laws fail to protect them, says adviser

The internet is a “lawless jungle that will soon be too dangerous for children to use”, a former government adviser has warned.

In an interview with The Independent to mark the first in a week-long series of articles about the role of the internet in the lives of children and young people, Anthony Smythe, the managing director of BeatBullying, says current law is “not fit for purpose”.

Mr Smythe, who was a senior policy adviser at the Department for Education, says the lack of regulation online is putting vulnerable children at risk of self-harm and even suicide.

Following a series of high-profile cases of teenagers taking their own lives, The Independent is calling for tougher legislation to make the internet a safer environment for young people. The series calls on the Government to introduce a legal definition of bullying, to make it easier to prosecute people suspected of grooming children online, and to change internet security filters to require that people opt out rather than opt in.

Read more:  Cyberbullying: How anonymous attacks changed me for ever
Number of children who self-harm jumps 70 per cent in just two years
Safety net: We must do more to stop online bullies and groomers  

“For many years the Government has failed to stand up to the industry. We’ve hit a point now where we need to introduce legislation if children are going to be safe online,” said Mr Smythe, who specialised in child safeguarding before taking over as managing director of the charity BeatBullying last year. “I can’t think of any other environment where there are no laws to protect [young people].”

Cyberbullying affects one in three young people, with one in 13 “so consistently” bullied that it leads to anxiety, self-harm or suicide. BeatBullying carried out research in 2008 into suicide among 10- to 14- year-olds in the UK that found that “44 per cent of suicides were linked to bullying”.

Video: 'The landscape of bullying has completely changed'

“Back then [young people] weren’t using technology in the same way we’re using it today,” Smythe said. “[BeatBullying research] predated social networking sites. If we did the research now the percentage would be a lot higher. That percentage will only increase as we see more and more bullying and that’s largely down to the internet.”

He said bullying had become inescapable for the children who were targeted. “They are being bullied on the way home by text and instant messenger, at home on their computer. It gives the target of the bullying no respite, no time off; if you are being bullied 24/7, if you’re a target every minute and hour of your life and you feel there is nowhere to go. That is why we’re seeing these tragic cases. That is why we are seeing more self-harm and suicide.”

BeatBullying, which represents the victims, says the government needs to review current legislation. The Communications Act and the Protection from Harassment Act, both of which could theoretically be used, are rarely if ever implemented in cases of cyberbullying. “The problem with the current law is that bullying is not defined, therefore it goes unused when dealing with bullying,” Mr Smythe said. “A law which, for the first time, legally defined bullying would help address this, and would help young people understand that bullying behaviour can lead to legal sanctions.”

A recent study showed 12 per cent of seven-year-olds with special educational needs claimed they were being bullied A recent study showed 12 per cent of seven-year-olds with special educational needs claimed they were being bullied "all the time" Current laws also have high thresholds before they are triggered. He believes the definition from the Crimes Amendment (Bullying) Act 2011 applied in Victoria, Australia would be a useful reference in the UK: “A [young] person would be charged if found acting in any other way that could reasonably be expected to cause physical or mental harm to the second person, including self-harm; or to arouse apprehension or fear in the second person for his or her own safety or that of any other person.”

Watch ‘Headline London’ at 12.30pm on Monday 10 August on London Live for a discussion of the issue

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Gadgets & Tech

    Guru Careers: Financial Controller

    £45 - £55k DOE: Guru Careers: A Financial Controller is required to join a suc...

    Recruitment Genius: IT Sales / Business Development Manager / Account Manager

    £30000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you motivated to hit and ex...

    Recruitment Genius: IT Account Manager / IT Sales - OTE £60,000

    £25000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to continued growth an exce...

    Recruitment Genius: SharePoint Consultant

    £50000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A technical SharePoint Consulta...

    Day In a Page

    Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... for the fourth time

    Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... again

    I was once told that intelligence services declare their enemies dead to provoke them into popping up their heads and revealing their location, says Robert Fisk
    Margaret Attwood on climate change: 'Time is running out for our fragile, Goldilocks planet'

    Margaret Attwood on climate change

    The author looks back on what she wrote about oil in 2009, and reflects on how the conversation has changed in a mere six years
    New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered: What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week

    New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered

    What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week
    Oculus Rift and the lonely cartoon hedgehog who could become the first ever virtual reality movie star

    The cartoon hedgehog leading the way into a whole new reality

    Virtual reality is the 'next chapter' of entertainment. Tim Walker gives it a try
    Ants have unique ability to switch between individual and collective action, says study

    Secrets of ants' teamwork revealed

    The insects have an almost unique ability to switch between individual and collective action
    Donovan interview: The singer is releasing a greatest hits album to mark his 50th year in folk

    Donovan marks his 50th year in folk

    The singer tells Nick Duerden about receiving death threats, why the world is 'mentally ill', and how he can write a song about anything, from ecology to crumpets
    Let's Race simulator: Ultra-realistic technology recreates thrill of the Formula One circuit

    Simulator recreates thrill of F1 circuit

    Rory Buckeridge gets behind the wheel and explains how it works
    Twitter accused of 'Facebookisation' over plans to overhaul reverse-chronological timeline

    Twitter accused of 'Facebookisation'

    Facebook exasperates its users by deciding which posts they can and can’t see. So why has Twitter announced plans to do the same?
    Jane Birkin asks Hermès to rename bag - but what else could the fashion house call it?

    Jane Birkin asks Hermès to rename bag

    The star was shocked by a Peta investigation into the exotic skins trade
    10 best waterproof mascaras

    Whatever the weather: 10 best waterproof mascaras

    We found lash-enhancing beauties that won’t budge no matter what you throw at them
    Diego Costa biography: Chelsea striker's route to the top - from those who shared his journey

    Diego Costa: I go to war. You come with me...

    Chelsea's rampaging striker had to fight his way from a poor city in Brazil to life at the top of the Premier League. A new book speaks to those who shared his journey
    Ashes 2015: England show the mettle to strike back hard in third Test

    England show the mettle to strike back hard in third Test

    The biggest problem facing them in Birmingham was the recovery of the zeitgeist that drained so quickly under the weight of Australian runs at Lord's, says Kevin Garside
    Women's Open 2015: Charley Hull - 'I know I'm a good golfer but I'm also just a person'

    Charley Hull: 'I know I'm a good golfer but I'm also just a person'

    British teen keeps her feet on ground ahead of Women's Open
    Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

    Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

    Turkish President Erdogan could benefit politically from the targeting of the PKK, says Patrick Cockburn
    Yvette Cooper: Our choice is years of Tory rule under Jeremy Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

    Our choice is years of Tory rule under Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

    Yvette Cooper urged Labour members to 'get serious' about the next general election rather than become 'a protest movement'