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Monday, Apr 15, 2024

Technical Steps to Ensure Child Safety Online

Security Settings that Must Be Checked.
Social media companies often face intense criticism for children's safety issues, prompting them to frequently respond by implementing one or two new safety measures.

Child online safety advocates criticize these features, comparing them to using bandages to treat more significant problems. Data shared by Instagram revealed that only about 10 percent of teens have activated parental controls on their accounts since 2022, and less than 10 percent of their parents have actually adjusted the settings.

Online Safety for Children

Experts believe that the absence of regulations that force social media companies to design their applications to protect children’s safety places the full responsibility of protection on parents. Although safety settings available within apps will not solve systemic issues like cyberstalking or algorithms that promote harmful content, these safety measures are still worth checking.

For instance, Tatum Hunter from Washington says that a single switch on TikTok can prevent strangers from exploiting your children's videos often exposing them to unintended audiences. On Instagram, teens can block all tags, mentions, and direct messages from people they don’t follow.

These settings do not impact the type of data that apps collect about your children, but they do affect how visible their online activities are to strangers and who can reach out to them.

Of course, waiting until they reach their teenage years before allowing them to create accounts is one of the best ways to shield them from harmful dynamics on social media.

When reviewing application settings, make sure the conversation is a two-way street. Ask your kids about what they enjoy on certain apps and what they encounter online; allow them to tell you everything without fear of punishment. The most effective social media interventions occur when teenagers are permitted to participate; in short, aim to be a coach, not a referee.

Safe Settings

Here are some settings you should review today:

Switch the account to private mode. When your teens share photos, videos, and texts from a public account, everyone can see them including college admissions boards, grandparents, and AI companies scanning the internet for training data.

On the other hand, private accounts show content only to those your children have approved as friends or followers, giving them more control over who can see their content and reducing the pressure they feel when posting.

Discuss with your teens the "digital footprint" left by their posts. How can they assess what they share to minimize the chances of feeling embarrassed about it later? If they receive a friend request from someone they haven’t met face-to-face, how can they determine if sharing posts with this person is safe? Private accounts help block some unwanted viewing, but remember that screenshots of posts still exist.

In most cases, privacy settings and other account controls are activated by default if your children declare their real age upon signup. However, don't take this for granted, as many young users lie about their age to bypass app-imposed controls. Hence, you should spend a few minutes verifying your children's birth dates in their accounts.

Adjust communications with strangers. Most social media apps, such as TikTok, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitch, and Discord, have controls dictating who can send direct messages; limiting direct messages to "friends only" can protect teens from harassment, stalkers, and bullies.

Talk to your teens about the messages they receive. Start by asking them about the direct messages their peers get and review together the bad things that could happen if strangers breach their inbox. A 2021 study by University College London found that 75 percent of teenage girls received indecent images via direct messages.

Most social media apps refer to these notices as "messages," while on Twitch, clicking "Block Whispers from Strangers" is required. On Discord, you can turn on the "Safe Direct Messaging" feature, scanning incoming DMs for inappropriate images.

Blended False Videos

Disable video misappropriation. On short-video platforms such as TikTok, Instagram, and YouTube, the "Remix" feature allows users to use clips from other people's videos in their content. For example, a content creator could feature a few seconds of a popular TikTok clip and add it to their video.

The remix depends on the video's public discussion – for better or worse; simply put, it can mean that a TikTok video posted by your teens will be seen by a few dozen friends or a few million unfriendly app users.

Ask your teens to show you a few examples of remix videos and assess together how often the remix is positive, negative, or neutral. Then, decide whether they want to expose themselves to this kind of exposure.

To change this setting on TikTok, go to "Settings and Privacy," then "Privacy," and then "Remix." On Instagram, go to "Sharing and Remixing" to adjust the spread of your children's content. On YouTube, the platform does not allow short video creators to disable all types of remixing unless they have access to the "YouTube Studio Content Manager" feature. However, your children can prevent remixes on their personal short videos during upload.
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