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Safer Internet Day- ‘Every 2 minutes, a suspected serious risk to a child online is identified’

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Data from 1.3m students highlights potential online safety risks on Safer Internet Day, with Safeguarding Lead highlighting mental health and extremism related to the situation in Gaza as the most prevalent risks 

Smoothwall, the UK’s leading digital safeguarding specialist, has shared data on the suspected risks to children online as part of its ‘Spotlight on Digital Safety’ campaign for Safer Internet Day. The data revealed that every 2 minutes, Smoothwall’s digital monitoring solution spotted a suspected child at serious risk online. 

Increasingly worrying, as stated by Sue Bailey, Strategic Safeguarding Lead at the Arthur Terry Learning Partnership, safety leads in schools are “seeing an increase in trends where children are searching the internet to try to understand the situation in Gaza and a correlated increase in searches linked to extremism and weapons”.

In addition, every 45 minutes, a suspected very serious risk to a child, including a risk to health or life, was flagged (alert level 5 on a scale of 1-5). In cases where a suspected very serious risk is identified, immediate action is taken and the school is alerted with a direct phone call from Smoothwall’s human moderation team. The potential risks include bullying, grooming, extremism, self-harm, terrorism, offensive behaviour and incidents of a concerning sexual nature. 

Smoothwall also found a suspected vulnerable child every 11 minutes, with the highest risk, including to health or life, flagged every 45 minutes. A vulnerable child is classified by Smoothwall as someone who makes credible threats of suicide or self-harm, who appears to be using or involved with illegal drugs, substances or alcohol, or someone who appears to be at risk of non-sexual abuse. A vulnerable child might also suffer from an eating disorder, domestic abuse, or show signs that they intend to take part in a dangerous online trending challenge either by their own motives or peer pressure.

Sue Bailey also stated, On the front line, whilst it’s often harrowing to see the subject matter of the alerts flagged to us, they are invaluable in allowing educators to intervene, identify the level of risk and inform all the necessary parties. We have seen children at risk of exposure to self-harm, bullying, grooming and exploitation, offensive behaviour and incidents of a concerning sexual nature. 

More recently, we have seen more and more children searching the internet in relation to the situation in Gaza, searches for ‘What is Hamas?’ and searches related to weapons are also increasing. Mental health is also a growing concern within schools and there have been instances where being alerted to these risks has allowed our team to step in and save lives.” 

As part of Safer Internet Day, Smoothwall released this data to highlight the frequency of suspected risks students face online and the importance of putting a ‘Spotlight on Digital Safety’. In line with this year’s theme of ‘inspiring change’, Smoothwall calls on the whole school community – teachers, parents, governors and students – to be educated on the potential risks students are being exposed to and ensure the right protection measures are in place when it comes to online safety.

“Never has it been more important to protect children online”, says Rob Faulkner, VP of Prevention and Enablement at Smoothwall. “Almost daily we are seeing stories in the news on the most serious of risks that children are exposed to online – and these are only the tip of the iceberg. With the huge progression in regulation via KCSIE and DfE over the last year, there is an urgent need for schools to have in place the tools to identify risks as early as possible and intervene for the child’s wellbeing. We must all do more to make the online world safer for children and inspire change”

“Whilst the internet is a vital tool for both students and teachers in education, as proven during the pandemic, it’s relied upon even more so now”, added Sue Bailey. “As these statistics prove, harnessing the power of technology for good and keeping children safe online is a huge challenge – it’s important we have the right tools in place to provide that balance as well as ensuring we continue to educate and prepare children and parents on how to stay safe online.”

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