Safeguarding charities have welcomed government proposals for tougher regulation of technology firms to protect children and vulnerable adults.
The government’s online harms white paper is calling for the setting up of an independent watchdog of technology firms, which will draft a code of practice for them to adhere to.
This regulator will have the power to fine companies that break the roles and can force internet service providers to block harmful sites.
These proposals are among key lobbying demands made by child protection charities including Barnardos and the NSPCC, as well as online specialist safeguarding charities such as the Internet Watch Foundation.
Among lobbying by the NSPCC over the last year is its Wild West Web campaign, which staged an online petition that gathered 42,000 signatures from people calling for better protection of children online.
The charity is urging people to continue signing the petition to ensure the proposals outlined in the white paper become law.
"This is a hugely significant commitment by the government that once enacted, can make the UK a world pioneer in protecting children online,” said Peter Wanless, NSPCC chief executive.
"For too long social networks have failed to prioritise children’s safety and left them exposed to grooming, abuse, and harmful content. So it’s high time they were forced to act through this legally binding duty to protect children, backed up with hefty punishments if they fail to do so.
"We are pleased that the government has listened to the NSPCC's detailed proposals and we are grateful to all those who supported our campaign."
Barnardos campaigning has focused on the growing risks to children online, including cyber bullying, gaming addiction and sexual grooming.
The charity’s chief executive Javed Khan said the charity has “long called for new laws to protecdt children online”.
He added: “The government’s announcement today is an important step in the right direction. We particularly welcome proposals for a new independent regulator, which should ensure internet bosses make the UK one of the safest places in the world for children to be online.
“It’s only right that tech companies are penalised if they fail to keep children safe and protect them from harmful and illegal content that leads to sexual abuse and child criminal exploitation.”
The government has launched a consultation around its online harms white paper proposals, which closes on 1 July.
Susie Hargreaves, chief executive of the Internet Watch Foundation, which is part of online safety group the UK Safer Internet Centre, said: “We welcome the opportunity this consultation period affords, and we are looking forward to helping shape the future regulatory framework in the UK.
“It is of the utmost importance that the right thing is done for victims of child sexual abuse who deserve every opportunity to live in a world free from the circulation and reminder of the crimes committed against them.”