Javed Khan: The internet is for everyone - it needs to be safe for everyone too

Technology has evolved at an unprecedented rate in the past 30 years; charities have a responsibility to help keep it safe for the future

Javed Khan
Javed Khan

Since the launch of the World Wide Web, technology and the way we use it has changed beyond recognition. I’m sure the Barnardo’s fundraising team in 1989 would never have dreamed that, by 2019, 63 per cent of our fundraised income would come from electronic payments. But here we are.

It's undeniable that the internet has transformed the way we live, work and communicate, mostly for the better, but we must also recognise that a rapidly evolving digital landscape also presents risks.

As chief executive of the UK’s leading children’s charity, my main concern is the impact of technology, the internet and social media on vulnerable children and young people. But it’s not just children who are vulnerable, and as a sector we need to think about how to make the online world safe for everyone. Given the rapid advancement of technology – with some reports suggesting we will communicate by hologram and technological implants within 30 years – the potential for harm is only going to grow if we don’t take action now.

So how can charities keep up, and keep the people we support safe?

For starters, we can’t do it alone. We have to work together with the government and colleagues across the charity sector to address wide-ranging technological challenges and create solutions, including robust regulation of the internet.

We also need to work closely with the technology industry. Barnardo’s partners with the UK’s largest tech companies, including organisations such as Internet Matters, to provide resources for parents and carers so they can navigate pressing issues such as cyberbullying, screen time and digital wellbeing.

We have helped Facebook's Trust & Transparency Control Labs run workshops on design standards for children, and when guidance and tools aren’t safe and suitable for children we have called for change. For example, we successfully campaigned for Facebook to remove Messenger for Kids from the UK market.

But online safety is just part of the story. Thinkpieces on the advantages of charities becoming digitally literate are widespread. At Barnardo’s, we embrace digital technology to help our own staff and volunteers work more effectively and efficiently, like using cloud-based storage solutions so that staff can work remotely, and having an internal social media network so that we can connect with our colleagues across the UK quickly and easily.

We live in the digital age, and for us to benefit fully from the advantages of new technology we need to get to grips with how to keep everyone safe online and improve our understanding of its overall impact, both positive and negative. And we need to do this fast because, if we’re struggling with smartphones and tablets, how will we ever cope with holograms and body implants?

Javed Khan is chief executive of Barnardo’s

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