Child Safety for the Virtual Era
Because of the response to COVID, a variety of local and state governments have required many of the nation’s children to attend class online. To try to maintain some sort of social contact many of those same kids are increasingly using electronic devices of various sorts. At the same time parents are being required to work from home or otherwise be distracted from providing needed supervision while their children are online. The need to make sure minors are safer in these virtual environments is perhaps more important now than ever. And, there is something you can do to help.
The desire to keep children safe online is not new and fortunately much great work has been done to provide options for today. In 2006, MySpace was the largest social networking site in the world, easily besting competitors as it continued to grow. That year, then Connecticut Attorney General (now Senator) Richard Blumenthal launched an investigation of the site because of accusations that sexual predators were using it to connect with children. Additionally, the site struggled to build effective filters for eliminating spam, especially pornography, which added to the media frenzy decrying it.
By 2008, MySpace reached an agreement with attorneys general from 49 states and the District of Columbia under which it would adopt new measures to protect children online. MySpace released an announcement that read in part, “MySpace currently provides users an easy process for reporting abusive conduct by offering a ‘report abuse’ link at the bottom of every profile on MySpace, and we will explore additional models and proposals to determine how to best to empower and protect our members online.”
To explore what more could be done, the company and the AGs organized the Internet Safety Technical Task Force, which included representatives from other social networking sites besides MySpace, security vendors and online safety advocacy groups. I was honored to serve on this Task Force to give voice to a rational, balanced, market-based approach for effective online safety solutions.
We were tasked with evaluating and discussing a variety of online safety tools, processes and approaches. The practical goal was to consider technologies that all stakeholders, industry, end-users and parents, could use to help in keeping minors safer online. Our determinations and guidance were provided via a report to the attorneys general. The need for attention to safety online was effectively highlighted then and continues to this day.
Following the same sorts of suggestions made by the Task Force, with government in the role as a leader rather than rule maker, two weeks ago the White House asked law enforcement across the country to join the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s (NCMEC) Safety Pledge. The campaign’s goal is to “provide free resources from the NCMEC to help parents, educators and other caregivers learn more about the risks that children face online and empower the children in their lives to respond to those risks safely.”
Please take a moment to check out the pledge, consider how you can spread the word in your communities and via social media using the hashtag #SafetyPledge. This sort of leadership does not require legislative action but simply the willingness to help educate parents, schools and government about how to best make our kids safer online. You can make a difference.