Original publication: February 2018
Author: Dublin Institute of Technology: Brian O’Neill
Short link to this post: http://bit.ly/2nOHKeN
Children’s unprecedented access to and use of the Internet brings numerous benefits as well as risks, presenting a range of legal, regulatory and safeguarding challenges. Child online safety refers to the process of implementing policies and initiatives that seek to protect children when they access and use the Internet and is an important priority for governments everywhere. An important issue for policy makers is the need to strike the right balance between protecting children from harm while promoting their rights to participate fully in the Information Society. In European policy making, the shift in focus from a safer to a better Internet reflects a move from a protectionist stance towards a more participatory, rights-based approach.
Children engage in diverse online activities that may, depending on the circumstances, involve ‘risky opportunities’. In this context, it is vital to remember that risks and opportunities go hand in hand and that risks do not inevitably lead to harm. The classification of online content, contact and conduct risks provides a useful framework to assess the available evidence and implications for online governance policy and child online safety. Given the rapid evolution in digital technologies, a robust Europe-wide evidence base is crucial for effective policy making. However, with the exception of EU Kids Online and Net Children Go Mobile, the availability of comparative European studies is limited with insufficient research on younger age groups, uses of diverse technologies and youth perspectives on online risks and benefits.
The growing evidence base shows that children encounter a range of risks in the course of their Internet use. Content risks for children are particularly pervasive. According to EU Kids Online, over half of 9-16 year-olds reported there were things online that made them ‘uncomfortable, upset or feel they shouldn’t have seen it’. Exposure to sexual images online is relatively common. However, not all who had seen sexual content were adversely affected by it. Contact risks including sexual harassment and the problematic sending and receiving of sexual messages have given rise to much public concern though the evidence for its incidence and impact is uneven. Cyberbullying is the contact risk that most adversely affects children and among the most common reasons for children contacting Insafe Helplines. Increased levels of online hate, abuse and extremist content online have also been reported. Risks arising from commercial communication by contrast are perceived to a lesser extent by parents and caregivers despite their frequent occurrence.
At the extreme end of the spectrum of risks that may impact children are forms of cybercrime targeting children. Online crimes affecting children incorporate a range of contact and conduct abuses that are both harmful and illegal and may include persistent harassment or stalking; grooming and sexual exploitation; radicalisation and extremist ideologies; as well as commercial exploitation or misuse/theft of personal data. Cybercrime targeting children as well as the majority of online sexual abuse of children is non-commercial in nature and in many instances of extortion or abuse, the perpetrators are known to victims. Europol, however, reports increased evidence of extortion activity being carried out by organised crime groups.
With ever increasing innovation in the technology sphere, children as experimental, early adopters frequently highlight emerging risks as well as unintended consequences of digital technologies and services. As children go online and use digital devices at ever-younger ages, new emerging challenges for their safety and for digital parenting emerge. The Internet of Things, for example, poses challenges and risks for children both in terms of privacy and security of devices in the home whilst creating new issues arising from the incremental effects of data collection over extended periods of time.
Link to the full study: http://bit.ly/602-016
Please give us your feedback on this publication