Child safety online

Updates

22 May 2017

Facebook's 'internal rulebook' has been revealed in a Guardian investigation, which contains insights into Facebook's guidelines related to the moderation of issues including violence, hate speech, terrorism, pornography, racism, and self-harm. These Facebook Files demonstrate the complexities of assessing harmful content. One of the major findings of the files is Facebook's moderation of revenge pornography, which amounts to nearly 54,000 cases a month, and 'sextortion', for which 14,130 accounts have been disabled. This is reportedly the area 'where moderators make most mistakes'. 

18 May 2017

Theresa May's Conservatives hope to introduce a new tax on social media platforms, should the British Prime Minister get re-elected, a plan that has been included in their manifesto. The law would allow the government to impose a tax on social media companies and Internet service providers to generate funding for measures that make the Internet safer for young people. 

12 May 2017

In response to the distribution of online child sexual abuse material (CSAM), the Indian government has announced that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) must 'implement mechanisms to block and remove such content regularly'. This requires ISPs to adopt Internet Watch Foundation resources, which maintains a dynamic global list of websites and URLs containing CSAM, by 31 July 2017. 

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Children’s use of the Internet and mobile technology is increasing, and for many children worldwide there is no clear distinction between the online and offline world. Access to the Internet presents many opportunities for their education, personal development, self-expression, and interaction with others. Yet, the increasingly complex online environment also presents risks for child safety online. Children are especially vulnerable to risks, which include inappropriate content, harmful interactions, commercial issues, and overuse.

When it comes to promoting the benefits of technology for children while at the same time fostering a safe and secure online environment, stakeholders need to strike a careful balance between the need to safeguard children, and the need to respect children’s digital rights. The sections below tackle the security aspect of children’s use of the Internet. Children’s digital rights are tackled from a human rights perspective.

 

Understanding how children use technology and the Internet is crucial for informing policy and initiatives related to children’s online safety. The environment evolves quickly, and is constantly producing new technology that has a significant impact on the lives of children and their safety. Although there is no single blueprint that can universally apply to protecting children online, their attitudes and use of technology and the Internet informs the policy–making processes and mobilises stakeholders to act.

Child safety online: Risks for children and young people

Despite the many benefits of the Internet, children and young people face certain online risks when using the Internet and technology. While users of any age can face risks, children are particularly vulnerable, as they are still in the process of development.

Various classifications of risks have been put forward in studies. They can be synthesised as:

  • inappropriate content, including age-inappropriate content (such as language, violence, sexual content, dating sites, and pro-anorexia sites), and illegal content;
  • inappropriate contact, including being bullied, being a bully, grooming, and harassment;
  • reputational damage and digital footprint: sexting, sharing/sending inappropriate pictures and comments;
  • commercial issues, including spam, hidden costs (such as in-app purchases) and inappropriate advertising (see Figure 4 for examples of commercial practices embedded in apps);
  • overuse, which can interfere with study and sleep.

Online child sexual abuse and exploitation

While the issue of child sexual abuse is not new, the Internet has exacerbated the problem. One of the main reasons is that it provides an easy means of accessing and consuming child sexual abuse content, and of making contact with vulnerable young people.

Some of the sources of online risks for children may result in sexual violence of one kind or another. Children may receive illegal content, such as child sexual abuse images. They can be exposed to predators, leading to grooming and online and/or offline abuse or exploitation. Children can also become perpetrators of illegal activity with a sexually violent component, such as being persuaded to create and share sexual images of themselves, which may then be used to harass or threaten the victim. When content depicting a child being sexually abused is discovered online, there are two clear priorities: to remove the content from public view, and to find the victim of abuse. The victim can then be removed from harm and offered the appropriate support.

Addressing the challenges of child safety online

There is no single solution to mitigate the risks children face using the Internet. Rather, a combination approach can be used to tackle the risks in a broad way. Such an approach combines policy – including legislation, self- and co-regulation – and other measures aimed at creating an appropriate digital environment. It includes also the use of technical tools; and education and awareness. The issues need to be tackled at both national and global level.

The combination approach requires the involvement of all stakeholders. Parents and educators have a responsibility to guide and support children, especially younger children, to use services that promote positive behaviours. They play an important role in education and awareness, which is considered an important first line of defence in mitigating the risks.

Governments and the industry have the responsibility to ensure that the online environment is safe and secure. Service providers can play a key role in creating such an environment, and many tools can be used to this effect. Such tools include filters and reporting mechanisms. The industry favours self- and co-regulation, which has been found to be an effective approach. In addition, it is increasingly recognised that the industry can promote digital citizenship among children and develop products and platforms to help children benefit from ICTs.

Combatting online child sexual abuse and exploitation also requires a concerted effort. This includes appropriate legislation, the work of law enforcement agencies equipped to deal with investigations, technical measures, and education.

These measures on their own are only part of a solution, and must be provided in combination with other measures to achieve the aim of safeguarding children online. Thus, all stakeholders have a responsibility for child safety online, and to protect and fulfil children’s rights.

Events

Instruments

Conventions

Directive 2011/92/EU on combating the sexual abuse and sexual exploitation of children and child pornography (2011)
Convention on Cybercrime (Budapest Convention) (2001)
Link to: Convention on Cybercrime (Budapest Convention) | Article 9 – Offences related to child pornography (2001)

Resolutions & Declarations

Recommendations

Terminology Guidelines for the protection of children from sexual exploitation and sexual abuse (2016)

Other Instruments

Resources

Articles

The Impact of Internet Content Regulation (2002)

Multimedia

Child Safety: A User-Centred Approach to Internet Governance (2nd edition) (2010)

Publications

Internet Governance Acronym Glossary (2015)
An Introduction to Internet Governance (2014)

Reports

Freedom on the Net 2015 (2015)
A Survey on the Transposition of Directive 2011/93/EU on Combating Sexual Abuse and Sexual Exploitation of Child and Child Pornography (2015)
Best Practice Forum on Online Child Protection (2014)
INHOPE Annual Report 2013-2014 (2014)
Confronting New Challenges in the Fight Against Child Pornography (2013)

Conference proceedings

High-Level Round-Table Meeting: Implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals relating to Ending Violence against Children in South Asia (2016)

Other resources

The Twitter Rules (2016)

Processes

WSIS Forum 2016 Report

The protection of children online was discussed in a couple of sessions. Panellists in Child Online Protection: The Road Ahead (session 144) admitted that constant innovations are hard to keep up with. As with other areas, emer- gent patterns of crime - such as cyberbullying, risky self-generated material, and cyber blackmail (also discussed in Student Self-Immune Awareness Program & Addressing the Rising Trend of Cyber Black-mail - session 185) - present a challenge to law enforcement and to industry. Online child sexual exploitation material remains a problem. Interpol’s network rescues more than six children every day, with many of the victims of sexual abuse being pre-pubescent and pre-speech children. 

IGF Report 2015

Child online safety was discussed in a number of sessions, where several key themes emerged. In the workshop on Child Online Protection through Multistakeholder Engagement (WS 6), panellists emphasised the role of stakeholders in combating the threats. Best practices discussed during the workshop showed that in Indonesia, this is being tackled through legal frameworks, cultural and educational initiatives, and technical approaches including parental guidance apps and software. In the UK, an equally alarming number of people have been involved in offences related to child sexual abuse material; this growing phenomenon requires a multistakeholder approach to deal with such cases.When it comes to online child sexual abuse, the Internet has amplified this growing phenomenon, as perpetrators hide behind a veil of anonymity and false identities to evade law enforcement. It is here that issues related to online child sexual abuse intersect with other issues related to security, encryption, and anonymity.

One of the issues related to child sexual abuse material (CSAM) – that of grey area content which sits on the verge between legal and illegal – was discussed in No Grey Area – Against Sexual Exploitation of Children (WS 49). Such images may not be illegal in every country but are harmful both to children posing – such as in highly sexualised images – and to children who are shown these images as part of a perpetrator’s grooming process.

Developments in technology used to identify CSAM are being made. For example, speakers described programmes which are being used to identify CSAM through key terms used by perpetrators to search for content.

The Dynamic Coalition on Child Online Safety also described the use of hash technology (digital fingerprints of photos) and databases to identify CSAM. Many of the images are copies of originals, and in some cases, thousands of copies of the same image exist. Hash lists could identify duplicates with the aim of stopping the revictimisation of children every time the images are seen, and find new images with the aim of identifying and rescuing the victims, and identifying and prosecuting the perpetrators.

From the discussions at IGF 2015, it is clear that significant developments are expected in the technology used to identify new CSAM. More advanced technology – and cooperation among stakeholders – will enable authorities, especially law enforcement, to better combat CSAM.

 

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