Saturday, February 24, 2024

Protecting Minors Online

It is inevitable. Generation Z has entered the era where it is not possible to stay without internet. Every source of information and service is available online. While the generations before could argue against internet and social media and stay off of it. The same can not be done by Gen Z. These people were born at a time in the world where nearly every form of communication, business services and applications had shifted online. Then they had to face the fateful global pandemic which forced everyone to stay at their homes and do all activities through the screen of their mobile phones.

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It is unrealistic to presume these services will ever go obsolete. In fact, they are likely to spread far and wide. Internet provides us information and social media has become an integral part of our day to day communication. Whether this communication be formal or informal, it is essential these days for everyone to have a messenger, a WhatsApp and an Instagram. In such a case, we can hardly expect inquisitive minors to stay off the grid. They are interested in all that we do and imitate our behaviors. If they see their parents on calls ever so often, they would imitate that behaviour as they grow old.

The dilemma is that often children can learn more than even their parents when it comes to technology. They are quick to adapt to the changing trends of technology and pick up new terms and learn techniques easily. That means that parents need to be more vigilant than they are when it comes to their understanding of technology and which websites and apps their children frequent. The responsibility lies on the parents and not the children that are unaware what the online community could do their minds and their lives.

Online Predators:

The concept of online predators is fairly new to many. We have a harder time recognizing that online predators are as dangerous if not more to the safety of our children. There are thousands of horror stories that we hear each day of grown individuals preying on, grooming and coercing children online to send explicit imagery or engage in sexualized conversations. People that are unaccustomed to social media can hardly understand how any of these situations might pan out but the truth remains that there is a community of grown adults online that use those platforms solely for the intention of exploiting minors online.

A professor at UCLA did a thorough examination of online communities and how they interact with minors. She found that there were explicit sexual exchanges occurring in these communities. Children in their early teen years are groomed online that is, they are taught by adults online to provide sexual favours while these children themselves are not old enough to know better. There is a power imbalance dynamic in such interactions where the minor is influenced by someone older than him. Such children grow old to regret their past child self and it is too late for them to compensate losing innocent days being exploited by someone.

Policies by Big Tech Companies:

These incidents have not gone unnoticed by the owners of such social media apps. Many incidents of online sexual predation caused protests by the users and in effect, they had to change their policies. One example is of YouTube. YouTube used to provide largely unmonitored content. Be it comedy sketches, vlogs or any other entertainment videos. People of any age could access it. These videos were made by independent creators that were also often too young to know better. One particular incident of a popular youtuber, Logan Paul, filming a dead body in a forest sparked such an outrage that YouTube had to bring about a permanent change in their settings. This caused YouTube to do heavy monitoring on videos targeted to children and flagging videos as inappropriate for the demographic of young children.

YouTube also started sending strikes to channels that were showing immoral or inappropriate content. One strike served as first warning, and a total of three channel strikes would take down a channel permanently from the platform of YouTube. From then on, a version specified for kids has also been introduced. YouTube Kids provides parents the control over what their kid watches by restricted mode. The restricted mode takes out any videos flagged as inappropriate and hence creates a safer environment for children watching videos online.

Instagram has often been termed as the most toxic platform for people’s body image as well as understanding of visual reality. It is filled with young girls that call themselves “influencers” and base their entire career over looking good and achieving a certain level of perfection. For this reason, Instagram is specifically bad for children. That is not all however. The pages and accounts that Instagram promotes are based on an algorithmic approach. What ever is garnering most attention is pushed to the top.

There are thousands of accounts dedicated to nudity and sexual imagery alone that are available for everyone to view. Not only that, due to their abundant likes, clicks and views such accounts are pushed upwards and end up being visible to anyone who might be viewing the Instagram explore page. This is highly damaging for the children in their early teens that have just hit puberty and need much more monitoring and regulating than an average child.

As Instagram is largely a platform for viewing images and videos, it makes minors specifically vulnerable. Not only that, anyone can dm anyone on Instagram and there have been several incidents of adults coercing minors online through Instagram.

Taking note of this safety concern, Instagram has introduced a new feature in 2021. By virtue of this security feature adults would have a harder time messaging or finding accounts of minors that they do not know. While messaging an adult the minor does know, they would be given specific pop-up advices to help them rethink sending any sexual imagery or initiating any such conversation.

The responsibility and role of parents in making sure their children are safe online is as crucial as ensuring their physical safety. Regardless of whether or not any such features exist or not, if parents would be negligent of their child’s internet activities, it is likely to have dire consequences on the child once they become adults.

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Category: Education

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