With over half of US children own smartphones by age 11, more under-age internet users are accessing social media, particularly platforms that offer the instant popularity of live video streaming via cellphone, called livestreaming, in an attempt to connect with others in-real-time and make new internet friends.
But the allure of free cellphone livestreaming also comes with a high price – a rapidly growing number of child privacy violations and child abuse situations. These violations fall into a wide range of illegal activities, from Tech companies selling or using children’s personal information for financial gain or marketing purposes, to “groomers” delivering live-sex real-time streaming videos to cybersex customers, to pedophiles befriending then preying on children with inappropriate dares or requests “in person” via livestreaming.
Organizations Working to Prevent Child Violations Online
Although the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Rule (COPPA) prevents platforms from collecting data from children under 13 without parental consent. Most social media platforms place age limits on who can sign up in the first place, but naturally no checks are put in place. Last year (2019), Google and YouTube paid $170 million to settle allegations brought by the Federal Trade Commission for violating COPPA.
“Tech firms have consistently failed to design their sites with child safety in mind”, says Martha Kirby, the child safety online policy manager at the UK’s National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC), adding that Covid-19-related lockdowns have exacerbated the risk of online sexual abuse “like never before.”
“Poor design choices on livestreaming sites can be exploited by groomers to abuse children using real time video steaming,” she says. “Tech firms have consistently failed to design their sites with child safety in mind, allowing offenders to easily watch livestreams of children and message them directly.”
A WIRED Magazine investigation turned up dozens of Twitch accounts apparently operated by children under the 13 minimum age, including girls who admitted to being much younger.
In their videos, which pop up every few minutes under Twitch’s Just Chatting section, children livestream themselves from their cellphones, talking while playing games like Fortnite, performing dances popular on TikTok, or just sitting at home in their bedrooms communicating with viewers of their livestream. WIRED reported viewed several messages from viewers to these live-streamers containing inappropriate comments, questions, or demands, and identified some accounts that follow multiple (apparent) children.
WIRED also discovered on Twitch sometimes contain harrowing conversations between apparent children and strangers and in some instances, the strangers “dare” young streamers to meet their entertainment requests.
What Savvy Cyber Kids Want Parents and Educators to Know
With statistics like these (below), reported on Savvy Cyber Kids, parents need to become more aware of the need for online safety for our kids:
- 92%of two-year-olds in the U.S. have an online record
- 80% of kids cannot tell if they are talking to a child or an adult posing as a child
- 54% of college-age students reported sexting as minors
- 92% of teens are online daily—including 24% who are ‘almost constantly’ online
Savvy Cyber Kids is here to help. This online platform has been helping parents and teachers educate children in cyber safety, cyber ethics and other aspects of their daily tech lives. Savvy Cyber Kids offers a platform of FREE educational resources for preschool through high school students in two tracks: one for families, and one for educators.
From their website, you have access to the Technology Pledge and the Digital Bill of Rights—which will teach your child how to stay safe online and how to tell others how to treat them online. They also offer a list parental control Tools to help you control of your child’s screen-time.
Being Informed Ourselves Helps Us Protect our Kids from Online Child Predators
Issues with online child predation and exploitation online extend well beyond livestreaming – The New York Times reported earlier this year that instances of media related to online child sexual abuse increased 50 percent in 2019, including 60 million photos and videos flagged by Facebook.
According to analytics firm Arsenal, hours watched of Twitch’s Just Chatting section increased from 86 million in January to 167 million in June 2020, during the Covid stay-at-home mandate.
Twitch’s less popular competitors with child predators, YouTube Gaming and Facebook Gaming, appear to have more controls on their livestreaming. For example, Twitch only offers livestreaming via cellphone or mobile device to those with 15 or more followers, which makes it appealing to young kids with only a handful of friends to have anonymous strangers following them online because it ups their numbers in order to qualify for livestreaming. By contrast, to stream on YouTube a user must have more than 1,000 followers.
Bottomline is … social platforms, parents, childcare workers etc. need to rethink their responsibility in educating children in safer internet user skills, to protect them from the danger of connecting with new “friends” on live streaming, by something as simple and innocent as writing, “I’m bored”, “home alone”, “be my friend”, “want to play?” and in the process inadvertently becoming the prey of child predators trolling for keywords that indicate easy opportunities.