What’s not to like? Child safety and social media

The impact of social media on child safety is a growing concern that not even social media companies themselves can ignore. Most recently, Instagram has rolled out a trial in Australia to remove the number of likes being publicised on posts. This comes after a recent survey of 14-24 year olds found that Instagram was the worst app in terms of contributing to anxiety, depression, loneliness, bullying and body image. Instagram is not alone in its efforts to address the negative impacts of social media, with Facebook and Twitter also recently revamping its policies – but when it comes to child safety, is it enough?

What apps are in?

The most popular apps amongst children are constantly changing – currently Instagram, Snapchat and YouTube are the key apps used. However, we have also seen new apps emerge rapidly.

Some of these are:

  • Yolo – released in May this year, the app was downloaded over 5 million times in its first month of release and remains on the most downloaded app list, particularly amongst young people. The App works with Snapchat and allows people to ask their followers questions that can be responded to anonymously. Like other anonymous apps such as Sarahah, there are concerns of the app being used for bullying. Extensive bullying occurring on Sarahah led to it being banned from Apple and Google’s app stores.
  • FaceApp – now the top ranked app in 121 countries, FaceApp allows people to people to change their facial expressions, looks and age themselves. However, the terms and conditions grant FaceApp a licence to user’s photos, name and likeness for any purpose. It can also access a user’s camera in the background and all photos taken.
  • The Game by Hot or Not – one of the original dating apps has been relaunched and aims to be more than just an app for ‘dating’ but also just for fun. The app allows individuals to upload a picture of themselves and users around them swipe ‘hot’ or ‘not’ and the user gets a rating. Similar to the app Yubo which is described as ‘Tinder for Teens’, the app raises concerns as there is no identity verification process and includes locational data.

Social media sites take action

It is becoming increasingly difficult for social media sites to ignore the negative aspects of their product. Instagram’s removal of the number of likes is being rolled out internationally as a way to remove the pressure associated with the app and posting online. Instagram has also added a new feature to tackle bullying by providing users with a pop up notice when negative language is detected in their post or comments. This is similar to a feature on Facebook which pops up with notices asking users if they are sure they want to post images that Facebook detects to contain inappropriate content.

Instagram will also be adding a new feature called “Restrict” which allows users to filer abusive comments without blocking an individual. This was due to feedback that young people are reluctant to block or unfollow people because they are afraid that it will escalate the bullying.

With the eSafety Commissioner having the power to fine corporates up to $525,000 for failing to remove an intimate age that is posted without consent, social media sites are taking more responsibility. However, there are still concerns that some social media apps such as SnapChat and anonymous apps such as Omegle and Whisper continue to protect the identity of its users, even when they are engaging in damaging behaviour.  

Impact on organisations

All organisations that work with children need to be aware of the impact that social media might have on their duty of care to keep children safe. Even conduct that occurs outside of the ‘hours’ that the children are in your care could lead to a duty of care issue for your organisation.

For example, the youngest person to be charged in Australia for bullying was a 13 year old girl in Cairns who used Snapchat to bully and threaten another girl in her after school sporting team. In another instance, a video of a child being physically beaten by other children was streamed live on TikTok,

Child safety concerns on social media are not limited to negative interactions between children. A swimming coach in Victoria was recently criticised for setting up an Instagram page for the swimming club and posting images of young children in their bathers without the parents’ knowledge or permission. These images could then be used by third parties as the Instagram page was public.

What should you do?

There is a lot of fear about social media, often which often results in organisations putting it in the ‘too hard’ basket. There are certainly challenges in managing the child safety risks associated with social media but in a post Royal Commission setting, organisations cannot fail to act.

As a starting point, we recommend that organisations that work with children take the following steps to mitigate the risks associated with social media use:

  1. Check your policies and procedures – organisations should ensure that their Child Safety Policy, Child Safety Code of Conduct and Digital Safety Policy are up to date and adequately deal with social media risks. Often, organisation’s policies and procedures are not adapted to address digital aspects of child safety, which can lead to problems when the organisation is required to take action. For example, do your policies allow you to confiscate children’s phones if they engage in problematic behaviour?
  2. Train your staff – when we speak with organisations, their staff are often lacking in their knowledge of children’s use of social media, and the extent to which they are permitted to contact them online. In a recent training session, a staff member discussed a child safety incident that occurred involving Yubo and admitted that she had heard children talking about it but did not know what the app was, otherwise she would have acted sooner. It is important that your staff know what the latest trends are so they know what to look for.
  3. Discuss the issue with children – it is important to keep an open conversation and dialogue about social media and digital citizenship with children. This will allow you to learn the sites and apps the children in your care are using and increase the changes that reports will be made to you by children who notice inappropriate behaviour.

How we can help

For more information regarding child safety and social media, please do not hesitate to contact us.