On Friday 19 May I joined year nine students at Brockhill Park Academy School who had taken part in the Be Internet Citizens programme that day. This programme has been designed by the family safety experts at Parent Zone and YouTube and is suitable for all young people aged thirteen and above. It aims to make people aware of and bolster their resilience to a range of online harms including hate speech and disinformation, while empowering them to become well-informed and engaged citizens in the digital era. Many of these important issues are also being addressed through the government’s Online Safety Bill. The Bill, when it is enacted later this summer, will create responsibilities for social media companies, like YouTube, Instagram, Facebook and TikTok to set and enforce clear user safety policies, but also be make sure they are acting to remove illegal content. This means that the companies will be required to proactively monitor, identify, remove and exclude from recommendations, content that for example, would meet the legal standard for offences like harassment and inciting racial hatred. The Ministry for Justice last week also confirmed that it will be creating a new offence for encouraging self-harm and suicide on social media. However, there will also be words and images which are harmful and misleading, but which falls below this standard, and where we need to empower users to identify, report and try to avoid such content. I was interested to answer questions from the Brockhill students who took part in this programme and to hear about their experiences. One of the topics we discussed was online echo chambers, where you can see more of the types of content that you have previously engaged with. This can be helpful, but can also sometimes reinforce harmful behaviours if not checked.
On Monday 22 May I was delighted to be able to welcome students from the Folkestone School for Girls to parliament for a tour of the chambers of the House of Commons and House of Lords. I am always happy to help arrange visits to parliament which can be organised through my office team or the House of Commons Education Service. Later that day I hosted a launch event for the News Media Association, for their new Public Notices Portal. This free to use online tool has been developed with support from the local news publishing industry and Google, and allows people to map, track and access public notices relevant to the area where they live. This could include notices about planning applications, road improvements or changes to local licenses. You can find out more by visiting the portal at publicnoticeportal.uk
I was also pleased to receive confirmation from the Department for Education that three local primary schools have been successful in their applications for the allocations from this year’s Condition Improvement Fund. Congratulations to Mundella and Christ Church schools in Folkestone, and to Lydd primary. In addition to these the Marsh Academy and New Romney Sports club have also been successful in their applications for funding to the government’s Multi-Sport Grassroots Facilities Programme.