Child Safety Online: 5 Ways Companies Can Make a Difference

May 23, 2024

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More than ever the kids are logging on.

Today, children use touchscreens before they can even read what’s on them. During the height of the pandemic, overall screen use among kids increased by 17 percent from 2019 to 2021, with children aged eight to 12 spending five and a half hours screen scrolling, and teenagers reporting eight and a half hours.

More and more kids between eight and 11 years old even own their own smartphone

With the increasing use of the internet by children, it is essential for companies to take responsibility and play an active role in protecting them. Many social forums, mobile apps, online multiplayer video games, and other online environments present various risks to children. Bullying, harassment, exposure to harmful content, grooming, and promotion of self-harm are just a few of the risks children can potentially encounter.

To help platforms protect children and improve child safety online, we’ve outlined five ways companies can take to keep their platforms safe. 

1. Implement a Safety-by-Design Philosophy

To prioritize child safety, companies should incorporate a safety-by-design approach into their product development process. This involves considering children, their capabilities, and maturity levels with each design decision. By implementing the following measures, companies can significantly enhance child safety online:

Age Verification
Age verification tools and procedures help prevent underage access to age-restricted platforms or content. Gateways that require proof-of-age ensure that children are not exposed to inappropriate material that is not suitable for their age group.

Reporting Features
Reporting features that let kids (and all users!) flag harmful users or content can help foster a safer online environment. Giving users the power to actively contribute to the safety of the online community not only gives them a feeling of empowerment, it also builds community, user retention, and bolsters your reputation.

Proactive Detection
Contextual AI can help detect and prevent dangers. A simple “how are you” may look innocent, but when AI combines that with the user’s previous violations, then a different picture may be painted. AI and machine learning models also analyze text, images, and logos, allowing them to flag CSAM, harassment, and hate at a high level of precision. Taking proactive measures like this ensures that children are supported when navigating online spaces.

2. Build Clear and Comprehensive Policies

Companies should develop policies that deter not only harmful content but also other violative activities. Policies should be built specifically with children in mind, including rules on who can and cannot communicate with children, what content these children may have access to, and what information they can and cannot provide. 

Privacy Policies
Provide clear privacy policies that explain how personal information is handled and protected. This transparency builds trust and reassures users, including children and their parents, about the safety of their data.

Content Policies
Develop comprehensive policies that specifically address harmful content and activities concerning children. Don’t allow sexual content or nudity, highly violent or otherwise gory and disturbing content, and animal cruelty. Update these policies regularly, taking into account changes in the online threat environment and new trends in violative activities. 

Privacy Settings and Data Protection
Offer robust privacy settings that allow users, including kids, to control the information they share and protect their online identities. Implement encryption, secure storage practices, and regularly audit and update data protection measures to safeguard children’s personal information and online activities. Not only will this protect the safety and security of children, it will safeguard your company from financial, legal, and reputational blowback related to data breaches. 

3. Understand the Threats 

To effectively protect children online, companies must develop a deep understanding of the potential harms that can occur on their platforms. By identifying platform-specific dangers, organizations can shape their actions, preventative measures, and policies accordingly. Here are some common threats to consider:

Spread of CSAM and Child Exploitation
Companies must actively combat the spread of child sexual abuse material (CSAM) and child exploitation. Live-streaming and chat platforms, in particular, face threats from child predators who may engage in grooming and sextortion activities, coercing kids into performing inappropriate acts or sharing sensitive information. To create a safe experience for children, install policies, preventive measures, and actions that will help detect and ban predators.

Self-Harm and Eating Disorders
Take steps to protect children from exposure to self-harm and eating disorder content, and provide resources and support for those in need. By addressing these sensitive topics, companies can mitigate the spread of dangerous viral challenges and the encouragement of eating disorders.

Online Bullying and Harassment
Companies should have measures in place to prevent and address online bullying and harassment. Give users the tools to flag disruptive behavior. Ban users who routinely violate the rules. And encourage users who display positive attributes like teamwork. By cultivating a culture of respect and empathy, companies can reduce the impact of online bullying and better protect children from potential psychological harm.

4. Leverage Off-Platform Intelligence

While monitoring and moderating on-platform activity is a given, companies should also investigate off-platform to combat threats. Predators, harassers, trolls, and other bad actors are increasingly organizing in private messaging groups or forums on both the open and dark web. To address these threats, companies should:

Use Advanced Monitoring Tools
Monitor and address off-platform activity to identify threats, harmful users, and nefarious activity. Employ advanced monitoring tools and technologies like AI to track and analyze off-platform activities. These tools can help identify potential threats and harmful users engaging in activities that may pose risks to children.

Gather from Multiple Sources
Tapping into the expertise of subject matter experts, researchers, and policy analysts can help companies stay updated on new threats, harmful users, and emerging tactics. Establish information-sharing networks with other industry stakeholders, professionals, and relevant organizations to exchange intelligence and insights occurring off-platform. That way, everyone stays one step ahead.

Regular Training and Awareness Programs
Conduct regular training programs for team members involved in monitoring off-platform activities. This ensures that the monitoring team is equipped with the necessary skills and knowledge to effectively spot and act upon potential threats.

5. Educate Users & Encourage Feedback

Ensuring child safety online is a collective effort, too. By promoting responsible online behavior, actively participating in industry-wide discussions, and incorporating children’s feedback, companies can make a significant impact in creating safer online spaces for children.

Empower Parents and Kids
Companies have various tools at their disposal to empower children to engage safely with digital products and services. Providing guidance and online resources to children and their parents are effective ways to ensure a secure digital experience. For example, publishing an online guide or video (or both!) for parents that covers key topics related to digital citizenship and online child safety can offer valuable insights for families navigating tumultuous digital waters.

Incorporate Children’s Feedback
Online surveys, face-to-face interviews, and participatory exercises can lend companies more understanding of childrens’ perspectives and needs. This feedback can inform the development of safer online platforms that cater to the specific requirements of kids.

Comply with Industry Regulations
Of course, companies must comply with all relevant privacy regulations, such as GDPR and COPPA, and adhere to ethical principles when it comes to research involving children. This helps protect children’s privacy and safety—it also helps protect companies from taking financial and reputational hits. 

The Kids are Online, Let’s Get Used to It 

Protecting children online is a responsibility that demands proactive efforts. 

By implementing the above ways to improve child safety online, companies can make a positive impact by cultivating a secure and positive online environment, ensuring that children can explore and engage online with confidence and safety. Hopefully, companies prioritize child safety in their online platforms, emphasizing the significance of taking proactive measures to protect the well-being of young users.

Ultimately, the collective commitment to child safety will pave the way for a brighter and more secure digital future for the next generation that logs on.

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