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The Internet’s “Growing Crisis”: How to Protect School Girls From Online Harms

Whilst the online world brings with it an undeniable range of benefits spanning almost every aspect of everyday life, it also poses major risks to users.

Indeed, the inventor of the world wide web has himself warned of a “growing crisis” facing women and girls in particular. Sir Tim Berners-Lee explained that an increase of online harms, such as sexual harassment, threatening messages and discrimination, is making the web an unsafe place to be for females. He even goes as far as to conclude that “the web is not working for women and girls”.

So how can we protect school children – especially girls – in our care and help to create a safe online environment for them? Smoothwall’s online safety expert, Adele Abbiss, explains why web filtering must form part of the solution when it comes to delivering effective digital safeguarding.

The Rise in Online Harms 

Smoothwall’s own research supports Berners-Lee’s concerns, with 62% of school girls reported having bad experiences online at least once a week. Worryingly, more than half admitted this occurred up to five times each week. And perhaps unsurprisingly, these experiences are having a detrimental effect on their mental health.

More than a quarter of school girls admitted to feeling upset after being online, while one-in-five reporting to feeling anxious. A further 19% were left feeling ugly, and “as if they didn’t like themselves”. Most concerningly, this led to 12% of school girls not wanting to eat and feeling as if they had had enough.

Across the board, these statistics were all higher for school girls, when compared with their male counterparts; 55% of school boys reported no impact at all on their mental health as a result of negative online experiences.

Blocking harmful content through web filtering

However, as educators across the country will know, these issues do impact boys as well as girls, and the statistics go to highlight just how essential it is for schools to implement an effective and responsive web filter.

Web filtering in schools plays a vital role in blocking dangerous material and preventing students from accessing this content. However, the challenge for any educational organisation is to protect students from harmful content while providing the freedom to learn without limits. Preventing over-blocking and unreasonable restrictions is fundamental to an effective web filter.

To strike this balance, schools should look to invest in a “content aware” web filter. These work in real time by checking web pages for suitability before it appears on a student’s screen. These type of web filters mean that appropriate content is still shown, while any content that could be seen as dangerous will be blocked.

Whereas web filters that rely on block lists can become quickly outdated and expose students to emerging risks, agile filters have no delay between new harmful content appearing on the internet, and its being blocked from students.

For further in-depth information about web filtering in education, download our free whitepaper below.


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