Digital Responsibility

The fallout from online abuse can be devastating, leading even to suicide. Cyberbullying is a recent phenomenon, related mostly to the use and misuse of social media.

This graph shows the range of impacts cyberbullying has on young people from age 12:


Ofcom [1] says that 93% of children have a smartphone by the time they are 15. They are “Generation App”. The NHS says there is a link between cyber-bullying and mental health and also that over 70% of young people with a mental health disorder (MHD) find professional support services to be helpful [2].

The “Generation App”

We are all familiar with the success of smartphones. This product category propelled Apple to become the first company valued at a staggering $1Tn in the 11 years since they launched the iconic iPhone.

Ofcom tells us that a fifth of children aged 4 have ready access to tablets and by the time they are 15, 93% of children will own a smartphone, with easy 24/7 access to the internet:


The concomitant development of social media apps has moved at an even faster rate, where now 74% of children in the UK have a Facebook account, 58% a Snapchat account and 57% are on Instagram:

In all of this heady excitement and dash for growth, little or no thought was given to the health, safety and wellbeing of the most precious and vulnerable members of society: our children.

The Damaging Effects of Cyberbullying graph illustrates some of the problems that we are only now beginning to see, understand and take remedial action against. Smartphones and being online are vital for today’s young, we cannot disconnect them, and in any case the risks they are exposed to are not their fault.

It’s time to take responsibility for their digital world.

Digital Responsibility

The SafeToNet Foundation takes its Digital Responsibility very seriously – it’s our raison d’être

We exist to:

  • Advance the protection of the public, particularly children and young people, from harm arising from contact with unsuitable material on the Internet or similar media
  • Promote the welfare of those affected by it
  • Promote education and awareness of e-safety and online social issues and
  • Carry out or fund research by ourselves or third parties into such issues, the useful results of which will be disseminated for the public benefit.


This is why we are so pleased to see the Digital Responsibility Framework from the Internet Commission, especially as it links to the UN’s Agenda for Sustainable Development. This framework provides a context, a reference point, a strategic direction for ways to help make the Internet a safe place for the vulnerable to be.

We think the SafeToNet Foundation crosses many aspects of the Digital Responsibility framework and is particularly strong in the areas highlighted in the diagram below:

A framework provides shape or form for something that’s otherwise intangible and once it’s been given a shape or form, them it can be measured. How migt you measure Digital Responsibility? First of all, here’s some background behind each of the three main areas of the Internet Commission’s framework:

People: Respect, Truth, Accessibility, Inclusion 

  • Commitment to promoting well-being, dignity and environmental sustainability 
  • Ensuring that online content reflects the diversity of its creators and the wider public 
  • Establishing and consistently enforcing community standards; reporting on exceptions 
  • Not funding hate speech or deliberately misleading ‘fake news’ 
  • Making the Internet affordable, accessible and inclusive so that all can help shape it and no one is left behind

Prosperity: Wellbeing, Employment, Data Ethics 

  • Developing technologies that support the best of humanity and challenge the worst 
  • Justice: promoting prosperity and preserving solidarity 
  • Responsibility and commitment to social development 
  • Respecting people’s privacy and personal data, putting them in control of their lives online 
  • Designing online experiences such that meaningful choices about how to engage are possible 

Peace: Value Exchange, Safety and Security, Honesty 

  • Clarity about how services are funded
  • Enabling autonomy: the power for citizens to decide
  • Corporate consideration of the best interests and well-being of users and society when setting strategy
  • Safety by design for new products and forms of marketing
  • Eradication of ad fraud 

Armed with this background and understanding of the Internet Commission’s Digital Responsibility framework, you can rank how you think your organisation performs against each metric. The result might look something like this:


Bearing in mind it’s unlikely any organisation would be able to score 10/10 for each metric, so it would be up to you to consider what the highest possible realistic score would be, then to asses how close you are to it. Then you can take suitable actions to improve on that Digital Responsibility score.

It’s early days for this kind of thinking about the internet and social media in particular, and this is a useful framework around which to base debates and discussion.

Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.



Footnotes & references

1 Ofcom’s Parents and Children’s Attitudes survey 2017

2 Mental Health of Children and Young People NHS 2017

3 Ditch the Label Annual Bullying Survey 2018




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