Last Updated on 8th September 2023

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Hannah: Hello and welcome to another edition of Safeguarding Soundbites. This is the go-to podcast for getting up-to-date news and alerts about all things safeguarding.

Colin: It is indeed. And I’d like to take a moment to welcome you to the podcast, Hannah!

Hannah: Thanks, Colin – happy to be here. I’ve got the latest in social media news all ready to go. Shall I kick us off?

Colin: Absolutely! We’ll also be talking about…But let’s dive in to social media. Hannah?

Hannah: Okay, first up, the Technology Secretary Michelle Donelan has said she’ll be taking a zero-tolerance stance when it comes to social media firms enabling under 13-year-olds to use their platform. Platforms like Instagram, TikTok, and Snapchat are all supposed to be for users 13 and older but, under the upcoming Online Safety Bill, if users younger than this are found on the platform the companies could face fines and criminal liability.

Colin: Did she say anything about how much the fines might be?

Hannah: Yes, the fines would be 10% of the company’s annual turnover.

Colin: So not insignificant.

Hannah: No. It’s also going to carry an up-to-two-year prison sentence.

Colin: Which shows how seriously this is being taken.

Hannah: Exactly. As the Secretary rightly pointed out, for children under 13, there can be a mental health toll and further ramifications to them accessing social media sites.

Colin: That age restriction is there for a reason. There can be content on there that would be harmful for a child to see.

Hannah: Yes, and I know that some of these social media platforms have introduced or are going to introduce age verification methods, like video age verification. It’s just about making that process as effective and reliable as possible, and hopefully these new possible consequences will inspire social media platforms to tighten up their age verification measures.

Colin: Long overdue, really.

Hannah: One example of how social media companies might be taking further steps in response to this can actually be seen with Snapchat’s announcement of new ‘safety enhancements for young users’.

Colin: Ah yes, I saw this! Some of these enhancements are things like warning labels on accounts seeking to connect with teenaged users they do not know, a new ‘strike system’ for accounts that promote inappropriate content, and some new ‘Snapchat Safeguards’ content that will help parents, carers, and young people to understand the risks of online connection.

Hannah: That sounds like quite a lot of good steps in the right direction!

Colin: It does. Our researchers are looking into these proposed features as we speak, so we’ll be able to give you more information soon!

Hannah: We also have a bit of an alert for our listeners today. There’s been reports of a new TikTok trend that involves participants challenging each other to inhale toxic fumes.

Colin: Oh, that’s so dangerous.

Hannah: It is. We’re talking about inhaling deodorants and other aerosol cans. Of course, a lot of young people might not understand the risks of doing this, but there can be serious medical side effects, such as seizures and even heart attacks.

Colin: Young people might just see it as fun. They see other people doing it on TikTok and they’ve been fine, so how dangerous could it be?

Hannah: Which is really a good summary of how all of these types of social media challenges work. We know that young people can also feel pressured by their friends to take part, or they see other people getting lots of engagement and popularity by uploading this type of content.

Colin: All really standard thought processes and reactions for young people – you want to fit in, you want people to like you, so you can be susceptible to peer pressure.

Hannah: This is why it’s really important that parents, carers, teachers, and anyone who plays a trusted role in a young person’s life takes the time to understand what these challenges are, why a young person might participate, and what they can do to mitigate the risks. For example, have a conversation with that child about their online habits. You don’t need to bring up specific challenges or challenges at all.

Colin: You don’t want to risk drawing their attention to it if they weren’t aware in the first place!

Hannah: Exactly – just talk about what they do online, what apps do they use, what type of content do they like to watch. If they approach you about online challenges, then you can talk about that. Ask what they know about them – do they think they can be dangerous? Have they ever felt pressured to take part or seen someone being pressured to take part?

Colin: Really great conversational points. We also have our guide to responding to online challenges and hoaxes, which contains lots more information and advice.

Hannah: That can be found on our website saferschoolsni.co.uk. And on our free Safer Schools NI App. Just search for ‘responding to online challenges’.

Colin: Okay, thank you Hannah for our social media news and that really important alert. Moving on now to another warning of sorts! The National Cyber Security Centre has warned schools to be wary of cyberattack threats as the new school year begins. Now they have said there is no indication of a specific incoming attack, but that this time of year can create vulnerabilities due to things like accounts being created on devices for new staff and pupils. Also I imagine just the general chaos, I suppose, of giving out new devices and everyone learning how everything works.

Hannah: You could see how all the cyber security measures get overlooked or forgotten.

Colin: And cyber criminals are probably very aware of that, which is why it’s so important to that schools are extra careful now – and even parents and carers if pupils, are bringing those devices home.

Hannah: Could you give us a really quick rundown of some the things we should be doing, Colin?

Colin: Quick? Is this boring to you, Hannah?

Hannah: No, I’m all about the cyber security. I just don’t want to overwhelm our listeners.

Colin: Overwhelm them with excitement?

Hannah: I wouldn’t go that far! But go on, you could have been done by now…

Colin: I don’t think we’ll have you back on the podcast, you’re rushing me! But that actually is a good first point – there’s no short cut to being cyber secure!

Hannah: See, I’m helpful!

Colin: Okay, you can come back. But yes, people sometimes think that doing things like ensuring your firewall and anti-virus software is on and working, choosing a strong password, and taking cyber security training is, well, boring. But it can be a lot more boring, and frustrating, if you’re trying to fix the fallout of a cyber security attack! So do those things and get into good cyber security habits from the start of the new school year.

Hannah: You can also find loads of cyber security tips and information on our website and the Safer Schools NI App.

Colin: You can! [pause] Now for some local news. The Department of Education has released new statutory guidance that means schools will be legally required to tell parents if their child has been restrained or put in isolation. Schools must keep a detailed record of any such incident and inform parents and carers. This includes putting a child or young person in any environment in which they’ve alone and not allowed to leave. Notably, the guidance also states that seclusion like this should never be used unless it is a crisis situation.

Hannah: Such as the risk of serious physical harm?

Colin: Yes, exactly. The guidance has been released and is now out for consultation until the 3rd of November.

Colin: Okay, let’s finish today’s podcast with some positivity.

Hannah: Is it time for our safeguarding success story of the week?

Colin: It is!

Hannah: Fab.

Colin: So this is news that actually came out over the summer while we were on a break, but it’s a goodie.

Hannah: An oldie but a goodie?

Colin: An oldie but a goodie! And don’t you say, ‘like me’!

Hannah: I wasn’t going to! You’re telling on yourself there, Colin.

Colin: Well the story definitely isn’t as old as me anyway! But guidelines have been proposed for restricting the use of loot boxes in gaming in the UK. They’ve been put forward to help protect children and young people, but I think they will also have a wider, positive effect on gaming

Hannah: Loot boxes are the treasure-chest like items players can buy in games. Essentially, you don’t know what’s going to be in it until after you buy it.

Colin: Yes, and it could be something worth a lot within that game or it could be something mundane.

Hannah: Hmm, I see where the concern is there.

Colin: It’s gambling-like.

Hannah: Gambling adjacent?

Colin: Some might just say gambling! These new guidelines would mean if loot boxes are available in a game, there must be clear information given about probabilities. The process of loot boxes must also be easily understandable, and all players should be given protections and lenient refund policies.

Hannah: And is this something that’s actually going to happen?

Colin: This has been agreed upon across the games industry in the UK, through working groups and in conjunction with the government too. So, yes!

Hannah: Great, great news.

Colin: Well, all that is left is to say thank you to our listeners, and to let you know that you can download the Safer Schools NI App for free right now on whichever app store your phone or device uses.

Hannah: You can also follow us on social media by searching for Safer Schools NI. Thanks for tuning in!

Colin: And as always…

Both: Stay safe!

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