Children’s online safety is paramount and requires strong collaboration from individuals, families, educators, communities, and technology companies. This shared responsibility obliges creating a secure and user-friendly virtual environment that caters to the needs of kids and teenagers across different age groups, cultures, and locations, on various platforms and devices they use daily. Given kids’ high activity in the digital space and vulnerability to potential risks, such as cyberbullying, inappropriate content, online predators, and privacy breaches, it is crucial to promote best practices, implement Trust & Safety measures, and foster digital literacy. These efforts will empower children to navigate the virtual world safely and responsibly, protecting them from severe consequences and mental distress.
According to the Pew Research Center study, nearly half of teenagers aged 13-17 in the United States are present online “almost constantly,” using computers, gaming consoles or smartphones. This statistic provides exciting insights into the digital habits of young generations while also being a wake-up call, shedding light on the widespread children’s digital presence and highlighting the potential risks they may face in virtual space. Here are some selected data unveiled by different notable organisations, illustrating the scale of the threats that children are exposed to online:
The United States has a cyberbullying victimisation rate of 35.5% among middle & high-school students.
Over 50% of responding kids ages 10 to 12 have been exposed to inappropriate online content.
60% of children aged 8-12, surveyed across several dozen countries, are exposed to one or more forms of cyber risk.
(Source: DQ Institute)
Why are children particularly vulnerable to virtual threats?
While the youngest are more sensitive, inexperienced, and unaware of the consequences of their actions, they are also more susceptible to cybercrimes and harassment than adults. The same applies to teenagers who, in addition to their lack of complete maturity and experience-based critical thinking, tend to underestimate risky situations and disregard threats. These all make them perfect candidates for online exploitation and manipulation. And what is worse, children are in a critical phase of cognitive and emotional growth. Their exposure to harmful or inappropriate content can have long-lasting negative consequences, extending beyond the online realm and impacting their well-being in the physical world, potentially leading to severe problems or traumatic situations. It is partially reflected by one of UNICEF’s statistics showing that “one in three young people in 30 countries said they have been a victim of online bullying, with one in five reporting having skipped school due to cyberbullying and violence”. Another example is Brosix’s study revealing that “68% of children that have gone through online harassment have experienced mental health issues”.
The following conclusions then arise. While it is common and widely practised to prioritise kids’ protection in the real world, from their earliest days and throughout their lives, ensuring the safety of their digital well-being is equally vital. This involves closely monitoring and supporting their emotions, mental health, opportunities, and overall development within the online environment.
Working together for a safer digital future for kids
Ensuring children’s online safety has become a pressing issue in the digital era, and various interested parties have already worked together to minimise risks. They have substantially impacted creating a safer and more inclusive digital world for the youngest through complying with law regulation, collaboration, inspiration, taking relevant actions and promoting shared values and best practices.
On the one hand, businesses play a crucial role here while serving as a direct cause of the threats through delivering solutions, platforms, devices, and online entertainment. Thus, many companies try to protect their users by following legislative measures, exercising responsibility, considering cultural sensitivities, and implementing robust precautions and emerging technologies, all included in the Trust & Safety (T&S) strategy, which enables access control, content management, data privacy protection, cybersecurity and many more.
Good real-life examples of companies with high-quality T&S initiatives are Epic Games and Microsoft, which take proactive measures to ensure a safer online environment for younger users.
Furthermore, many non-business stakeholders worldwide actively engage in the broader mission of ensuring children’s online safety. They proactively promote education on secure internet usage, foster knowledge, and advocate for specific regulations. These stakeholders serve as valuable sources of best practices, which encompass various approaches, such as encouraging open communication, establishing clear rules, leveraging parental controls and filtering software, teaching safe browsing habits, safeguarding personal information, raising awareness about cyberbullying, supervising online activities, promoting digital literacy, embodying positive role models, and staying informed. Through their efforts, they empower parents and guardians to create a safer digital environment, enabling children to navigate the online world responsibly.
Here are examples of key contributors to the cause of children’s online safety:
- Industry associations: Video Games Europe is an organisation promoting responsible video game ecosystems and leading in harmonised self-regulation and responsible gameplay.
- Public authorities: Entities like the U.S. Department of Justice uphold and enforce laws and regulations about online safety.
- Non-profit organisations: The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Economic Forum (WEF) are dedicated to safeguarding children’s rights and well-being, actively working towards ensuring their safety in the virtual world.
- Transcending-borders initiatives: The Global Kid Project Online brings together organisations and experts from multiple countries to address children’s online safety risks and promote best practices to mitigate them.
- Concerned individuals: Notable examples include Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge, who advocates for a safe digital environment for children through the Royal Foundations.
Effective legal Trust & Safety strategies
Practical legal activities and Trust & Safety strategies are crucial to fully safeguard the security and well-being of all children in the digital realm. This requires acting within the framework of the law by establishing and enforcing policies, implementing preventive measures, and fostering a culture of responsible online behaviour and digital citizenship.
Building appropriate strategies can unite the shared responsibility imposed on businesses, individuals, and other entities to comply with regulations and ensure the safety of children in their online interactions.
Legal Obligations and compliance
The legal obligations related to children online are present in most jurisdictions, meaning many countries have regulations to address this issue. They, however, vary in their specific requirements and approaches. For instance, the European Union has implemented the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which encompasses different conditions, provisions, and guidelines helping to protect children’s data and promote their safety when surfing online. These include acquiring parental consent for data processing, implementing adequate security measures, and fostering age-appropriate content and services. Another example is the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) established in the United States, consisting of many obligations for online service providers targeting children under 13.
Trust & Safety: going beyond mandatory regulations
Trust & Safety initiative involves implementing relevant policies, measures, procedures, and technologies, including robust content moderation practices. By actively monitoring and regulating digital content, a T&S strategy enables organisations and communities to efficiently protect individuals from online harm while fostering a safe and inclusive virtual environment for everyone. This is particularly important to apply in the context of children’s online safety.
What makes T&S so unique is going beyond the minimum legal obligations. While embracing voluntary standards prioritising kids’ security, businesses can demonstrate their commitment to creating a safe online environment for the youngest, efficiently balancing legal and voluntary duties. It helps make something good, enhance their brand reputation, and cultivate positive brand awareness.
The recommended approach for a Trust & Safety strategy for children’s online protections should encompass several key elements, including:
- Implementing age verification mechanisms to prevent access to inappropriate content, features, and interactions unsuitable for children’s intended age group.
- Providing robust parental control solutions that allow parents to set limits on usage or gameplay time, restrict access to certain features or content, and monitor their child’s online activities.
- Establishing clear and enforced community guidelines and terms of service that outline good behaviour based on specific age groups while continuously monitoring and refining these guidelines to comply with legal requirements, social norms, and policies.
- Enabling multi-dimensional content moderation, involving monitoring, screening, and removing inappropriate user-generated content. This can be accomplished through human agents and technology, including automated filters and AI-driven tools, to promptly and proactively identify and address inappropriate content. Additionally, it is vital to provide child-friendly reporting tools that make it easy for users to report concerning behaviour or information.
By harnessing the power of AI-powered systems, large amounts of data can be analysed effectively, identifying potential violations and enabling real-time responses through user-friendly reporting features that flag potentially harmful content. After this initial step, moderation agents are crucial in reviewing the flagged content and making informed decisions. This becomes particularly important when addressing complex issues necessitating contextual understanding, empathy, and decision-making skills, which AI is still developing.
- Implementing robust privacy policies and practices to safeguard children’s personal information. This includes obtaining appropriate parental consent for data collection, securely handling all collected information and complying with relevant regulations. It also involves avoiding manipulative or invasive data-driven profiling, unauthorised data sharing with third parties, and excessive data collection beyond what is necessary.
- Implementing critical cybersecurity measures, such as encryption and secure data transmission, regular security audits, frequent updates and patches, and multi-factor authentication tools. These aim to safeguard users’ sensitive information, prevent cyber-attacks, and swiftly resolve security issues.
- Ensuring the protection of virtual assets by taking measures against unauthorised transactions, regularly reviewing user activity for suspicious behaviour, and securing the storage and transfer of these assets.
- Constantly educating children and parents by providing insightful resources and materials on online safety, responsible gaming, and digital citizenship. This promotes awareness about potential risks and empowers children to protect themselves while encouraging them to report concerns.
These Trust & Safety recommendations extend beyond business, applying to diverse entities such as educational institutions, social media platforms, online communities, non-profit organisations, and government agencies. Their implementation aims to ensure online safety, protect privacy, moderate content, and promote responsible web etiquette through preventive measures, relevant responses, education, increased awareness, and more.
Trust & Safety Outsourcing: When and Why?
Trust & Safety outsourcing services are necessary when a child-focused organisation has insufficient knowledge and resources to make relevant efforts to protect the youngest in the digital space.
Partnering with a BPO vendor helps address resource limitations, scalability, cost-effectiveness, and expertise challenges, enabling businesses to maintain cybersecurity, handle increasing inquiry demands, reduce costs, and focus on core operations. Key reasons for such an initiative include:
Lack of in-house expertise, technology infrastructure, and content handling capabilities.
Outsourcing allows organisations to effectively mitigate potential threats and ensure cybersecurity at all levels while eliminating the need to make substantial investments in building and maintaining in-house resources, skills, and knowledge for Trust & Safety.
Increasing volume of user inquiries and moderation tasks.
Outsourcing enables businesses to efficiently and promptly handle many user inquiries in multiple languages, localisations and jurisdictions.
Strategic cost reduction while ensuring secure and safe user experiences
By leveraging the expertise and infrastructure of outsourcing partners, companies can achieve cost savings without compromising on safety.
A robust approach to de-risk Trust & Safety services
By entrusting T&S to a trusted outsourcing partner, companies can reduce the risks of managing these services internally, ensuring a secure and safe user experience while focusing on their core business operations.
A deep understanding of children’s online threats is essential to take relevant preventive measures while adopting best practices and applying the right Trust & Safety strategies. As inexperienced and fragile kids need special care, attention, and security, we must work together, including businesses, non-profit organisations, educational institutions, government bodies, and parents, to safeguard children’s online experiences and ensure their well-being in the digital world, making them grow safely and thrive in a nurturing online space.
What is worth remembering
Children’s online safety is paramount due to their heightened vulnerability in the digital realm.
Various stakeholders must work efficiently together to increase safety and minimise the risks appearing online.
These include individuals, families, educators, communities, non-profit organisations, governments and companies.
Effective legal and Trust & Safety strategies are crucial to fully achieve the objectives.
It encompasses law regulations, relevant policies, measures, procedures, and technologies.
Outsourcing is a solution to address the lack of in-house resources and knowledge to ensure children’s digital safety.