“You don’t want people to be terrified of being online. That would be counterproductive. On the other hand, you’d be nervous taking your kid to a swimming pool if you knew that there would potentially be paedophiles watching. You have to think about it like that. Ask yourself why you need to post pics of your kids on public forums? People know they’ll get more shares and likes. But there are so many safer ways to share images of children privately.”
It’s a point that comes up again and again. Do we simply cease posting images of kids on public forums? And how does that apply to mummy bloggers like Maxine, where content creation is dependent on showing images of children?
There’s also the issue of consent where parents are laying a digital footprint for their children without fully understanding the implications of what that will mean for them in the future. There have even been instances where older children have taken legal action against their parents for over-sharing their lives and breaching their privacy.
One of the first steps is understanding the risks so that parents and children can more confidently navigate the difficult corners of these spaces.
“Many mums don’t understand the risks of the darker side of the net as they haven’t been exposed to them,” says Sharon Pursey, co-founder of Safe To Net, a cyber safety company that uses artificial intelligence and other technology to help protect children from things like cyberbullying and abuse. “I would say you should never post images of your children in bathing suits even if you have a private account with 100 followers. Do you really know every single one of those followers and what is going on in their heads?”
While parents have a duty to educate themselves and ensure they’re keeping their children safe online, responsibility also lies with legislators, educators and tech companies.
It’s clear that Instagram is aware of the scale of the problem.
In the first quarter of this year Instagram removed one million pieces of child nudity and exploitation content from the platform, 94% of which Instagram found themselves using their technology, before anyone reported it to them. The platform employs 15,000 people dedicated to reviewing content in over 50 languages on their safety and security team (a sizable team of 35,000 people). And the company has worked with safety experts to devise detailed policies against child nudity and sexual exploitation of children (this applies to both Facebook and Instagram). Instagram is currently working to strengthen its approach in how it finds and removes content that sexualises children or puts young people at risk.
But is it going far enough? For a platform that was launched in October 2010 and has hundreds of millions of monthly active users, almost a decade had passed before a child specific reporting option was made available. In April 2020, Instagram released a new reporting option in the ‘nudity or sexual activity’ category so that users could flag content because it ‘involves a child’. It’s a welcome development but Maxine feels children deserve a wider range of protections which she’s asking for in her petition.
“This is not just a parent responsibility. We need to move on from the parent-child dynamic being the main focus. Tech companies need to do more to keep children safe,” says Abhilash Nair, a Senior Lecturer in Internet Law at Ashton University and author of the book Regulation of Internet Pornography. “While I wouldn’t recommend posting anything overt that could whet the appetite of someone with a devious interest in children, there’s only so much parents can do given the spectrum of digital technology,” explains Nair. “You don’t even need a nude or semi nude image to be at risk of pseudo photography. The tech these days makes it easy to distort reality. From a simple photoshop job where the face of a child is taken and blended on to a different body, to more complex deep-fake imagery.”
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