Children’s Online Safety

This article will take a look at YouTube, highlight some risk associated with other applications, and give parents an idea about what they can do to be proactive about their child’s safety online.

YouTube loves kids

In 2019 YouTube received backlash for being complicit in its platform’s use by child predators. [1] YouTube’s “suggested video” algorithm was recommending an unending supply of partially clothed prepubescent children to users who had watched similar videos in the past.[2] Perhaps, more horrifying, they promoted ads and sponsored content to monetize the unwittingly pornographic material uploaded by their young users.[3] This content acted as a conduit to facilitate discussion between child predators through time tagging (creating hyperlinks to upskirt shots of young children within the videos) and linked to external child pornography forums accessible on the dark web.[4] These videos were linked and shared on some of the darkest areas of the internet that can only be accessed by computers using Tor or I2P (browsers that disguise the IP/identity of requesting machines to allow for anonymous browsing). [5]

While YouTube refused to end its practice of including videos of young children in its algorithmic suggested video bar for fear of upsetting family vloggers, it has since disabled the comments section of videos that appear to be made by kids for kids.[6] It’s important to note that this doesn’t mean that the child predators aren’t lurking through the many pages of suggested content, only that they’re doing so covertly.

It seems every kid wants to be an Influencer these days (maybe you do too), and as parents, I’m sure you want to support their happiness and encourage their ambition. But before you turn a blind eye to the dangers of YouTube because they’ve cracked down on commenting and have made it easier to report suspicious behavior, you have to ask yourself why. 

Why does a video of my young sons wrestling together have 100,000 views?

Why do “Tickle Challenge” videos of adults tickling children have millions and millions of views?

If you’re reading along and you’re thinking those are cute family videos, not child porn! I’m glad you’ve yet to see the horrors of the subterranean internet. Those are cute family videos…. To you and your family…. However, to child predators, they are something very different.

What are kids up to these days? 

Below is a list of popular apps and what you should be mindful of.

Instagram is an image sharing platform that allows users to share 15 second videos and photos (publicly or privately). Many people opt for the public option in order to gather a “following” and garner as many ‘likes’ as possible.

Parents should know:

  • Photos are public by default.
  • Hashtags and location information can extend the reach of content posted beyond the user’s followers unless privacy settings are changed.
  • Sliding into those DMs… Anyone can send a direct message to a user regardless of privacy settings. That being said, Instagram prohibits adults from DMing minors who they are not followers of. However, adults can DM minors who they do follow AND minors lie about their age.

TikTok 

TikTok is a video sharing social network that mostly features teens dancing to popular music, singing, or engaging in viral “challenges”.

Parents should know:

  • Children and adults alike use the app. There are often creepy and sexually explicit comments about performers.
  • Swearing and sexual content is common. Challenges often feature “pranks” of a sexual nature (e.g. “me trying to kiss my best friend”; “watch me asking my friend if she ‘wanna Bang’; “gray sweatpants challenge”).
  • In 2019 the FTC imposed a record setting fine on TikTok’s then parent company over illegally collecting information from children under the age of 13.
  • Kids seek out likes and followers by opting to have public profiles and engaging in viral trends.

KiK messenger

With a goal of “connecting the world through chat”, the app allows users to send text-based messages, photos, or videos.

Parents should know: 

  • Stranger danger: adults and children use the platform.
  • Several highly publicized cases involving older men pretending to be teens to solicit the nude photographs of minors and the murder of a 13 year old girl.[7]
  • It’s full of covert marketing–“promoted chats” are conversations between brands and users.
  • If you’re curious about what your minor child is doing on KiK, ask them to show you the messages on their KiK account (note: logging into KiK on another device will delete chat history).

Snapchat 

A self-destructing text messaging and video app that allows users to set the length of time their posts are viewable.

Parents should know: 

  • “Self-destructing” does not mean the messages, pictures, or videos actually disappear. People can screen-capture content and save to their personal devices.
  • Kids are more likely to engage in risky behavior because of the illusion that a post doesn’t have any permanence.
  • Features like “Snap Map” allow users from all over the world to watch public posts based on location.

Periscope 

A live streaming platform that enables users to click on uncensored live-streaming content from around the globe.

Parents should know: 

  • Stranger danger: adults and children use the platform and users can send private messages and comment live.
  • Users stream as a way of promoting Only-Fans accounts (fee based subscription to sexual content).
  • Age verification is easily overcome.

Omegle 

A chat site that pairs strangers together in text chat or video chat. The pairing is anonymous but allows users to filter potential chat partners by shared interests.

Parents should know: 

  • STRANGER DANGER: users are paired with strangers and there is no registration required.
  • Omegle is filled with people looking for sexual chat and content. Parents should be extremely wary. 

What can parents do to keep kids safe online? 

First and foremost, parents should be mindful of the content they choose to share online. Set an example, limit access to your social media, and not post information that might compromise your child’s privacy. It’s also important to be present and cognizant of your child’s online activity. Use monitoring applications and limit accessibility. Below is an unsponsored list of monitoring tools and applications that parents may find helpful.

Qustodio 

This application limits games and time spent on apps while also blocking inappropriate content. It manages screen time, monitors activity on social media, blocks calls and can track your child’s device on a map.

Lowest annual cost: ~$60

Bark 

This application monitors texts, emails, and 30+ applications to detect and alert about questionable content that is indicative of violence, bullying, drugs and alcohol, suicide, and sex.

Lowest annual cost: ~$100 

MSpy

This application can be installed covertly. Parents should be mindful that the covert monitoring of your child’s online activity will likely cause grievances if discovered. Parents should also know that secretly installing this application on the device of someone who is not your minor child (under the age of 18) is illegal. This app can screen capture and key-log. It monitors social media and captures incoming, outgoing, and deleted SMS messages. This app also allows parents to view photos sent or stored on devices.

Lowest annual cost: ~$200

Ending note 

Many of us grew up in a time where the internet was new, uncensored, Wild West territory (anyone remember Rotten.com?). Truth be told, it’s worse now… but the tools parents can use have also improved exponentially. The most important thing you can do is to be aware—know what your kids are doing online and be mindful of your own actions on social media.

[1] Fisher, M., & Taub, A. (2019, June 3). On YouTube’s Digital Playground, an Open Gate for Pedophiles. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/06/03/world/americas/youtube-pedophiles.html.

[2] Staff, S. X. (2019, February 21). Google moves to fix YouTube glitch exploited for child porn. Phys.org. https://phys.org/news/2019-02-google-youtube-glitch-exploited-child.html.

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] View of Exploring and analyzing the dark Web: A new alchemy: First Monday. View of Exploring and analyzing the dark Web: A new alchemy | First Monday. (n.d.). https://firstmonday.org/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/9473/7794.

[6] Chappell, B. (2019, March 1). YouTube Bans Comments On Videos Deemed Vulnerable To Pedophiles Amid Ad Pullback. NPR. https://www.npr.org/2019/03/01/699282111/youtube-bans-comments-on-videos-deemed-vulnerable-to-pedophiles.

[7] Stolberg, S. G., & Pérez-peña, R. (2016, February 5). Wildly Popular App Kik Offers Teenagers, and Predators, Anonymity. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/06/us/social-media-apps-anonymous-kik-crime.html.

 

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