12 May 2022

In summary

As children go online, strategies must be developed to make sure that their online interactions are safeguarded. Research, led by Professor Davidson, addresses major social issues and has driven, influenced and improved national and international policy, industry, and practice. This research has led to several impacts including: influencing online harm policies, internet service regulation and the development of the UK Safety Tech Sector; and development of a child online protection policy and five-year implementation plan in Rwanda.

The key beneficiaries are young people, vulnerable children and agencies working to protect them from online harm, UK and international policy makers in the area of online harms.


    What did we explore and how?

    While the safe and creative use of digital technologies offers children previously unimaginable opportunities, there is a growing understanding of the risks and harms to children associated with its use.  Davidson's research has focused on child and adult online harms exploring offending behaviour including online grooming; child and adult online behaviour and safety; legislation and policy at national and international level; policing and industry practice in the prevention of online harms.  

    A Child Online Protection (COP) policy and five-year plan was implemented in Rwanda following extensive research and analysis in collaboration with Baroness Beeban Kidron (5Rights Foundation), supported by an understanding of child and adult online harms there. Professor Davidson helped deliver training following implementation of the plan.

    Professor Davidson is the Chair of the UK Council for Internet Safety (UKCIS) Evidence Group.  She is also Chair of the Independent Inquiry into Institutional Child Sexual Abuse Research Ethics Committee and a Member of the Europol Cybercrime Centre Expert Academic Advisory Group. Professor Davidson has undertaken two reviews that have informed recent government policy in this area. The first review undertaken in 2017 informed the Government Green paper on Internet Safety and the most recent review is the first of its kind and contributed to the Govt Online Harms White paper.

    Findings from recent research on adult harms suggest that: 

    1. The majority of adults experience some form of online hate and many experience online harassment. Online harassment encompasses a broad spectrum of abusive behaviours enabled by technology platforms and used to target a specific user or users 
    2. Online harassment can have a lasting impact on those who are victimised, ranging from mental or emotional stress to financial loss and in some cases difficulty in securing employment and housing  

    What is the impact of this research?

    The child online protection policy and plan were adopted in 2019 by the Rwandan Government across key areas including: health; criminal justice; education; industry; civil society and in the community. A national awareness raising campaign was designed to be rolled out through community networks and schools in 2019.

    The work is being continued in a newly formed Youth Safeguarding Network in Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Zambia and South Africa funded through the Global Challenges Research Fund.

    The project also included the design of a COP educational module, that was incorporated into the University of Rwanda (UoR) undergraduate community programme from 2020, ensuring that all UG students trained at the University will have awareness of COP issues.

    Professor Davidson has been key in delivering the ICC’s research for the UK Government’s new Online Safety bill which is in the final stages of hearings; and was read in the Queen’s Speech on Tuesday 10 May. She is one of the first academics to evaluate the UKs new online safety technology or "SafetyTech" sector.

    This research has been developed further in a study, funded by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, exploring the role and significance of the UK Safety Technology sector. Professor Davidson contributed to this study which highlights significant growth within the sector, with the number of dedicated online safety firms doubling in the last five years and investment increasing more than eight-fold in 2019. Findings indicate that UK safety tech providers currently hold an estimated 25 per cent of the global market share and the number of dedicated safety tech firms has doubled in the last five years. In 2019, the sector generated £226 million in annual revenues, and has grown rapidly.

    In response to the report’s recommendations, and to capitalise on the sector’s success the government announced the following initiatives:  

    1. A Safety Tech Innovation Network launched in 2020. The world’s first forum for safety tech providers 
    2. A virtual safety tech expo to showcase safety tech to the world
    3. A safety tech export pilot, run by the Department for International Trade, to include a directory of UK safety tech organisations and exploratory international missions - which can be virtual if necessary

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