Politicians are ready to introduce league tables naming and shaming the speed with which internet service providers take down offensive material.
The culture minister, Barbara Follett, and her Tory shadow, Ed Vaizey, have backed the idea that web providers must be embarrassed into dealing with violent, sexually explicit web content.
Follett said she wants to see the pre-screening of material on sites such as YouTube, as occurs at present on MySpace. She admitted there was growing chaos out there on the internet, and order needed to be brought.
She has also admitted barriers aimed at preventing children from accessing over-age material on the internet are not just porous but leak like a sieve. ‘People can get straight through it, or straight by it.’
Follett warned: ‘We must teach children of the dangers of the internet. It is sad to make children more scared than interested, but fortunately the internet is so interesting that children tend to overcome their fear.’
Discussing the internet and video games at a Westminster debate and facing suggestions that the industry is lax about controlling content, Follett said: ‘We agree information about take-down times and levels of search need to be much clearer.’ Asked if she supported league tables of take-down times by internet service providers, she said ‘name and shame can sometimes can work very well indeed.’
Follett said: ‘Many people have said that the internet is like the wild west in the gold rush and that sooner or later it will be regulated. What we need is for it to be regulated sooner rather than later.
‘We need the service providers to come forward and show that they are the sort of responsible organisations whose services we can trust to our children.’
She added: ‘We must ensure that search engines have a clear link to child safety information and safe search settings on the front page of their website.’
She also said she saw ‘some value in some form of age identity card for the internet. It is useful when it comes to alcohol and cigarettes and it is certainly useful when it comes to buying video games and other material on the internet.’
She added parents needed ‘control software to communicate automatically with websites’ age verification systems to prevent children from signing up to sites with false dates of birth.’
In theory social networking sites are not supposed to be accessed by anyone under 13, but this guideline is totally ignored. She said she was interested in some form of ‘age identification card’, or requiring banks to specify on credit card statements that the card had been used to access internet sites or games, so parents could be warned of their child’s activities.
She also said she backed pre-screening of user-generated internet content saying she was glad this was being carried out by MySpace. ‘It is that kind of responsible action that we are looking for, as it means people can trust a company.’ Ministers and politicians have been locked in battle with Google, the owners of YouTube, who claim that there is too much material going onto its site for it to be pre-screened.
The proposal for a ‘take-down’ league table is backed by Vaizey. He said: ‘The government is in a position to put out the information, and it is up to the internet service providers to react to it. If they are happy to be 55th in a league table of take-down times so be it.’
Overall, Follett’s remarks suggest she will be more interventionist than some other ministers, although she has stressed she favours the internet and largely thinks self-regulation is best option.
She also insisted there was not yet compellingly persuasive evidence of a link between watching violent video games and subsequent acts of violence.
Ministers have just set up a new child internet safety council following the review conducted for the Department of Children, Schools and Families by Dr Tanya Byron, the psychologist.