Christopher McKenna, founder and CEO of Protect Young Eyes, a nonprofit dedicated to helping parents and kids use technology responsibly, decided to test how safe Instagram is for young people. He and his team started an Instagram account with two photos of a young girl and tried to mimic the behavior of an average teen.
“Within a week we had dozens of men sending us pictures of their genitals … and sending us hardcore pornography through direct messages,” said McKenna. “Even after we told all of them that we were only 12. They were relentless.”
This is alarming enough. But when Mr. McKenna was asked by members of the Senate Judiciary Committee what happened to those perpetrators who sent hardcore pornography to a supposed minor, he detailed the process of tracking them down. First he has to file a complaint with Instagram. They review it and remove the account. There’s no way to track who it belongs to. Instagram shuts it down but the perpetrator simply opens another account.
The mainstream Internet is more dangerous for children than the Dark Web.
As testimonies continued, Senators and activists agreed that the mainstream Internet has become a risky place for children; especially the apps: Instagram, YouTube, and Snapchat. None of these apps have the ability to shut down pedophiles or stalkers unless they are reported. And even then, the very anonymity of users and their ability to create new accounts makes it tough to prosecute them. And that’s after much damage has already been done.
It would be easy to tell parents to remove the most risky apps. But kids are still going to share screens with their friends, or find workarounds and side load the apps anyway. Having honest discussions with our kids about responsible technology use is imperative, but consider the example above: a 12-year-old opens an Instagram account to chat with her friends, and is bombarded by pervert friend requests. Privacy settings help. Parental controls help. Legislation helps.
The real answer is to make tech companies more responsible.
You can’t sell beer or cigarettes to minors. So how is it that minors have access to pornography? In many states, you can’t sell porn near a school, yet the hallways of middle schools are full of electronic porn.
To protect our children from a substance that is every bit as harmful as alcohol and tobacco, we have to attack it from all angles: Legislate stiffer penalties and make ways to more easily identify perpetrators. Teach kids to be responsible users of technology. And for sure require tech companies to police themselves. They certainly have the brainpower to create technical solutions that prevent the dissemination of porn, and the exploitation of children. A simple solution would be to require a real identity in order to open an account.
It also makes sense for technology companies to come up with products that provide real solutions: blockers, filters, and settings kids can’t work around, that parents can control, and that pedophiles and other lurkers can’t get past. ClearUnited is one company working on solutions. ClearUnited has a mission to create products that protect families, speed up your devices, and provide the best Internet experience possible based on your preferences.
It’s time for us to keep an eye on those who are trying to watch our kids.
Sponsored by ClearUnited.