Two-year-olds barely exposed to ‘disturbing’ online content, report says

Dr. Faith Gordon: “There has to be a clear duty of care. Photo: Tracey Nearmy, ANU

CHILDREN as young as two are exposed to explicit and disturbing content online, according to a new report from the ANU.

Experts call for a clear duty of care after research of some of society’s most vulnerable children and young people found that more than 70% had seen content online they found worrying, including violent and explicit content.

“Adults and the law are always 10 steps behind. Kids tell us they’re not doing well online, but businesses lack transparency and accountability, ”said Dr Faith Gordon, ANU College of Law researcher and author of the report.

“Alarmingly, we have found that children as young as two or three have been exposed to truly violent and sexually explicit material.

“Children also spoke of unwanted contact, often from adults posing as children or being bombarded with scams.

“Often, young people have to navigate through heavy content that is painful. “

The report found that only 40% of children who experienced harm online reported it to the platforms they were using. Young people who complain generally report feeling “re-victimized” due to the lack of response or automated responses and the inaction of online platforms.

“Young people wondered why companies don’t seem to be held to account. They want tech companies and government to urgently address these issues and they want their voices and suggestions to be heard, ”said Dr. Gordon.

“There has to be a clear duty of care and companies have to be much more transparent. This must be combined with a legislative framework, which defends and promotes the rights of children. “

Qualitative research, conducted in the UK during COVID-19 lockdowns, calls for the voices of children and young people to be at the center of discussions on all policy reforms in this area.

Dr Gordon said there has never been a more crucial time to regulate our online spaces and educate society at large about acceptable online use, as the pandemic has forced children to be on the internet.

“Kids have told us they want to be safe online and that it is up to governments, policy makers and tech companies to truly listen and address their concerns in partnership with them,” she said. declared.

“Children’s rights need to be factored into reforms and this is what is lacking in the frameworks that currently exist in Australia.

“Countries, such as Australia and the United Kingdom, which signed the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1990 are required to ensure that it is incorporated into all frameworks at the to come up. The latest United Nations General Comment on the Rights of the Child in the Digital Environment must be implemented on the ground.

Dr Gordon said that while parts of the Australian electronic security model are leading the way internationally, there are ‘gray areas’ around legal but harmful content online and how security-based approaches exist. rights work in practice.

“In Australia, the spotlight is now on new privacy legislation. The proposals will require social media companies, by law, to act in the best interests of children when accessing their data, ”said Dr. Gordon.

“It’s a positive move, but as the study shows, we also need to hold other agencies to account, including the education technology sector and gaming platforms.

“We know from this report that children and youth can bypass verification processes. There must be a more rigorous process for their age group, as well as for adults who should also verify their age. “

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