Children's online safety and the significance of positive online content

ew technologies are digitalizing all components of life, not just for adults but dependency on digital devices and the internet is ever increasing for children and young people alike.

As such, recognizing and admitting the digital world as an indispensable part of our children's lives and new research on their online activity has a more balanced concentration on the significance of positive online content and activity as opposed to solely focusing on the risks that the online world poses.

The protection of children is not only achieved by safeguarding them from negative content, but it is also crucial for them to be exposed to positive content and alternative options.

Having said this, although digital devices and the internet offer a range of benefits for children and young people, and there is increased focus on positive content, it continues to present a number of risks varying from harmful content to newly emerging concerns around "sharenting" in the context of children's right to privacy.

Unfortunately, safeguarding bodies and states are struggling to develop up-to-date mechanisms to address the very fast developing, evolving and complex nature of online risks due to heavy, longwinded procedures needed to pass new laws as well as the range of difficulties encountered when tackling inappropriate/harmful content due to the absolutely vast and globalized nature of online content and activity.

All these make internet governance a significant area of debate and conflict especially when considered in light of discourses around "net neutrality," "right to connectivity" and so on.

Due to the large scale of this issue, the United Nations launched the Internet Governance Forum in 2006 as a medium to bring various stakeholders together to discuss a range of policy issues related to the internet.

This December, the forum will hold its 12th session; however, there is yet to be a consensus in relation to how internet governance should look.

There are discussions and research into various regulation options, i.e. self-regulation, regulation by the industry, state regulation, multi-state regulation and hybrid regulation. Although each of these options has their individual benefits, they also have individual shortcomings.

Finding the ideal regulation or set of regulations that will maximize online opportunities for children, while minimizing the risks, is extremely hard especially in light of the number of discourses around internet governance and censorship.

Of course, while all of these are going on, harmful online content or online crimes against children continue to be one of the significant areas of concern. For example, according to statistics released by Turkey's Telecommunications Directorate, child abuse constituted 16.83 percent of all administrative decisions taken to block access to content deemed as child sexual abuse in 2013 in Turkey.

The directorate's 2014 statistics further reveal that child sexual abuse content appear to be the second most blocked content, while 2017 statistics reveals this as 2.46 percent, a significant drop compared to previous years.

This significant drop is slightly intriguing as it is unknown whether the percentage of online child abuse material hosted in Turkey is lessening due to activities of the Internet Hotline launched by the Turkish Information and Communication Technologies Authority in 2007 and deterrents introduced by the Law on Regulation of Broadcasts via Internet and Prevention of Crimes Committed through Such Broadcasts.

Online harmful content is not a risk that only Turkey faces, but all countries in the world. For example, the situation is similar in the United Kingdom.

According to information revealed in the Child Exploitation & Online Protection Center's (CEOP) 2013 Threat Assessment of Child Sexual Exploitation and Abuse, CEOP receives reports from around 1,000 children per year regarding online victimization by adults in the U.K.

Again, the same report highlights another significant key threat: The proliferation of indecent images of children (IIOC). According to CEOP estimates there were around 50,000 individuals in the U.K. involved in downloading and sharing IIOC during 2012. Furthermore, according to the same report, the CEOP received a total of 1,145 of Online Child Sexual Exploitation (OCSE) behavior from members of the public.

Although there is no up-to-date data as to how many children are affected via online abuse, according to information from the U.K.'s Internet Watch Foundation, which was established in 1996 to tackle child sexual abuse content, 57,000 URLs were in identified in 2016 that contained child sexual abuse images.

According to information available on the organization's website, the percentage of the world's known online child sexual abuse material hosted in the U.K. was 18 percent in 1996, but is only 0.2 percent currently. Although this is a huge drop, the foundation reports that more than 1,000 webpages are assessed and removed by their analysts weekly, which is still a huge number.

There are critics that organizations like Turkey's Internet Hotline and the U.K.'s Internet Watch Foundation are over-blocking content that is impacting children's right to connectivity and information that may be of benefit to them. In line with this worry, the U.K. Council for Child Internet Safety constructed a whitelist of websites together with other stakeholders to avoid the blocking of education websites.

Such moves towards preserving positive/educational content are significant, and there is a strong need for countries to do more nationally and for the global community to work in partnership to minimize online risks while enriching positive content that is appealing to children of various ages to maximize their online constructive activity.

In particular, it is important to stress efforts to promote positive content at the national level by individual countries is of extra significance to ensure that children of various cultures are exposed to content and activities that are culturally appropriate.

Mike PalmerComment