The internet was a threat before COVID-19. After COVID-19, it has become an even bigger threat. It’s well-known how pandemic has disrupted our lives and how online became the new normal in the aftermath of COVID-19. The education system was hit hard by the virus among other things. Continuing academic sessions while following precautionary measures such as social distancing became unmanageable, hence education was shifted online and distance learning became the new norm. Virtual classrooms replaced the real classrooms; children started spending more than usual time on the internet, and consequently, their safety became riskier. As a matter of fact, it is one of the biggest parenting challenges that parents are facing across the globe. UNICEF reports that over 1.6 billion children and youth have been affected by COVID-19.
Researchers are working round-the-clock to provide a full-proof solution and mitigate the risks to the young lot. In fact, when scientists were working frantically towards finding a cure for COVID-19, tech experts and researchers were busy brainstorming to invent tools and methods to guard children against online threats. UNICEF has put together the five most common online threats to children and they are sexual abuse, cyberbullying, risk-taking online behavior, potentially harmful content, and risk to children’s privacy.
The online threat is a harsh reality! The need to combat the online threat was felt decades ago. The US led the way by implementing the federal law – the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Rule (COPPA) – in 1998. The strict guidelines of COPPA play an important role in protecting children under 13 years from online threats. Recently, the UK parliament approved the Age Appropriate Design Code of practice for online services to make the internet safe for children.
The pandemic has accentuated the problem and tech giants are equally concerned about the children’s safety; they are neck-deep in research too to find a technological breakthrough to provide full proof safety tools to help parents in safeguarding their children from inappropriate content, cyberbullying, and adult information.
Microsoft, Google, Facebook, and Twitter, the big technology companies, known for inventing search engines and social media tools and igniting a craze for the internet, formed Technology Coalition in 2006 to prevent child sexual exploitation and abuse (CSEA) on the web. They too have backed a five-fold plan to “eradicate” child sexual abuse on the internet.
The five key goals of the Technology Coalition are:
The members of Technology Coalition are not just determined to find a solution to the problem, they are also ready to splurge millions of dollars on research and innovation to build new technology and publish annual reports on its progress in tackling abusive content.
Why is there a worldwide concern to protect children from online abuse?
The answer lies in the UNICEF report that claims that more than a third of young people in 30 countries report being cyberbullied, with 1 in 5 skipping school because of it. Furthermore, the reports also revealed that some 80% of children in 25 countries report feeling in danger of sexual abuse or exploitation online.
Young adults and adolescents are susceptible to online threats that can have a lifelong impact on impressionable minds, especially vulnerable children. Reclusiveness, lack of social skills, and unpredictable behavior are the knock-on-effect of online threats that children can bear.
UNICEF is reaching out to various governments in the world to address the issue. The motto of UNICEF is every child must be protected from violence, exploitation, and abuse on the internet. It supports coordinated national responses to online child sexual exploitation in over 20 countries – using the WePROTECT Global Alliance, a global movement to end child sexual exploitation online, model.
Global Kids Online project, a collaborative initiative between the UNICEF Office of Research-Innocenti, the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), and the EU Kids Online network gather evidence on children’s digital rights, opportunities, and risks to better understand how the internet use contributes to their lives – and when it amplifies their risk of harm.
Notwithstanding the efforts, presently children are tasting the bitter fruits of the drastic change that has jolted their lifestyles. Parents feel helpless because they have no choice in the matter, but they have become much more vigilant to protect their children from unwarranted content and child predators.
Honestly, parents need an instant respite from this threat.
So, what can parents do to safeguard children from the online threat?
UNICEF came up with 10 tips that can help parents in overcoming the challenges. They are:
Apart from the above remedies, parents can indulge in constant vigilance and constructive conversations to tackle the issue until a permanent solution is found. They can also resort to parental control software and apps, content filters, antivirus software, safe launchers, etc. to mitigate the threat.