Fixing Neverland

Report authors: Joe Caluori, Head of Research and Policy | Dr. Oli Hutt, Head of Analytics | Patrick Olajide, Analyst | Ellen Kirk, Analyst


Wednesday 19 October 2022


FINAL REPORT: FIXING NEVERLAND (PDF)
DRILL LONG READ: Drill down: Drill music, social media and serious youth violence
END TO END ENCRYPTION LONG READ: Getting the message? What adults think about the use by children of end-to-end encryption
WATCH: BBC PANAORAMA INTERVIEW (YouTube)
 

In our latest report, we call for a new safety rating system and compulsory age verification to break the link between social media platforms and serious violence involving young people.


The report, about the connections between social media and serious violence, says an official ‘five-star’ online rating system should be introduced so that parents and carers would be able to make informed decisions about whether to allow their children access to sites.


Funded by the Dawes Trust, the report proposes standardised age verification controls to make it much harder for children to view harmful material and an ‘alerts’ mechanism to warn people about threats on social media from systemic failures or individual security breaches.


It says the technology sector and government organisations have a “collective blindspot” about the relationship between social media and serious youth violence with legal and regulatory measures that are not “fit for purpose”.


As part of the study, the Crest team worked closely with Thames Valley Police’s violence reduction unit and the parents of 13-year-old Olly Stephens from Reading, who was stabbed to death by three teenagers in January 2021. The fatal attack was sparked by a social media post and organised and planned on various social media platforms.


Olly’s mother, Amanda, says: "Our children live in an online world that means danger is close, it's under your roof, it can attack them 24 hours a day, there is no respite from its harm.


"The Government should listen to the findings from this report when they bring back the Online Safety Bill. Social media companies must be held accountable for the safety of children using their apps.”


The report, titled ‘Fixing Neverland’, is the final study in a project that began in 2019 to examine the underlying causes and drivers of serious violence.


It found that young people are routinely exposed to videos of violent acts and adverts for weapons which they would not be legally able to buy, and that social media can “amplify” conflict and “accelerate” its route towards violence.


Researchers discovered that children with known vulnerabilities are more susceptible to accepting arguments for violence, yet their social media lives attract little scrutiny.


The report also criticises the patchwork of measures around online safeguarding with responsibility for regulating social media spaces distributed across a number of different agencies.


Key recommendations

 
  • Digital safer schools teams led by police officers to deter children from harmful uses of social media.

  • A public information campaign offering advice on healthy and unhealthy patterns of social media use and helping to establish new social norms.

  • Online conflict resolution training for people who work with children, co-ordinated by local safeguarding children partnerships.

  • Social media ‘bystander’ training for children, delivered in schools from the age of seven, to give guidance on how to raise the alert if something isn’t right

  • A ‘five star’ rating scale for social media platforms to indicate how safe they are for children, compiled by the communications watchdog, OFCOM.

  • An ‘OFCOM alerts’ mechanism so parents, carers and practitioners can be warned about threats on social media platforms

  • Compulsory age verification for social media companies through a standardised national system

Joe Caluori, Crest Advisory Head of Research and Policy, says:


“Children and young people spend increasing amounts of time in unregulated, unsupervised online spaces which are accessible to them at ever younger ages. Many of the dangers and risks children face have migrated into these online spaces, hidden from the eyes of parents and carers, teachers, police or social workers.

“Our research shows that parents of primary school aged children are unprepared for the risks their children face online, including petty spats which are allowed to escalate quickly, resulting in serious violence, causing life changing injuries and even death, as in the tragic case of Olly Stephens.


“If the Government and law enforcement agencies are serious about taking a public health approach to violence reduction then the online safety bill must directly address social media as a source of infection, laying down clear rules for tech companies and equipping the police, schools and children’s services with the resources and knowledge necessary to protect children from harm online”


Stan Gilmour, Director of the Thames Valley Violence Reduction Unit, supplied a foreword to the report:


“I am grateful that Crest Advisory has conducted this review. We now know more about the mediating effects of social media consumption and violence, and have at hand a robust set of recommendations to take forward to build individual agency and collaborate to keep our young people safe whilst they enjoy the benefits of safer and more inclusive technologies.”


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