Twenty years plus of the internet has changed how we go about our daily lives: shopping, dating, ordering dinner, communicating with our friends and family. Everything has changed. Today’s generation is being raised by virtual ‘babysitters’ such as their table, mobile phone or streaming set top box. When a child in 2017 screams, the solution more times than less is to put a mobile device in front of the child, or put the child in front of the television. Social media has become a fiery passion for adults, and kids want to emulate their parents and older siblings and become social online as well. The problem is squarely safety when it comes to this issue, and there are little-to-none acceptable solutions from protecting our children online short of keeping them 100% off the grid or in a bubble.
Facebook has privacy and safety solutions in place, but they do not recommend their app for children. Not so shockingly, children are all over Facebook. A child from a split home, which unfortunately makes up the vast majority of homes in the US, may want to chat with his parent or sibling that isn’t living with them, so Facebook is a solution. However, parents have very little control over what their children see and who they talk to on Facebook. The machine learning ‘bots’ of Facebook do a mediocre at best job of weeding out cat fishing profiles, and our children are at risk.
Twitter, on the other hand, is squarely designed for adults, and has very little policing of nudity or inappropriate tweets in any form. If someone reports a post, Twitter will take it down and repeated offenses will land the user in suspension or deletion. However, most offenders will then use a different email address and open a new account, and immediately go back to harassing or cat fishing the same people they were before their suspension or deletion.
Many parents now let their children have a Snapchat account, but again, as with most apps, parental controls with all of these apps hammers down to more or less of an ‘on/off’ mechanism, and no true policing. Snapchat is today’s go to “sexting” app, and while Snapchat doesn’t allow for nudity on their main story feature, it definitely happens more than not on their private chat. Snapchat has no mechanism for a parent to limit what content their child is seeing short of nudity on the main story. Drinking, violence, drugs? Yep. The only way you have to control your child from seeing this now is to turn the app off or delete it altogether.
Safety for our children is something that shouldn’t be taken lightly. Even kids-based apps, such as the now-defunct Club Penguin, had a social feature that allowed the users to chat with each other. Many adults, posing as children, made this an unsafe environment for our kids. Newer apps such as music.ly, which is a social network allowing kids to upload their own music videos, is directly marketed to children. Unfortunately, like Club Penguin, there is no true way for either app to be sure the person chatting with a child is another child. Reading through the comments on music.ly clearly shows comments from adults, and that’s an uncomfortable proposition.
Parental controls in iOS or Android try their hardest to make kids safer online, but crafty kids have ways around this, and most of the switches in both operating systems are on/off switches for features such as messaging, video chatting, and multiplayer gaming. There needs to be a better solution, as the days of on/off switches and services such as NetNanny are now easily outwitted. With a million plus developers out there, the time has come for this problem to be solved once and for all. Maybe we cannot stop all of child safety issues online, but we can certainly stop the vast majority. Children are the future, so let’s make their safety concerns a thing of the past.