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Online Safety Narratives: Are We Doing Enough To Protect Young People

Keeping children safe online is the order of the day for social media companies around the world, and with the incoming Online Safety Bill, it’s never been higher on the news agenda in the UK.

While many social media companies were built with collaboration or innovation in mind, they weren’t necessarily built with protecting young people as priority number one. Regulation has been discussed for many years now, but many online platforms have struggled to bring in effective safety measures - either in fear of disrupting the user experience, or simply because they weren’t mandated to do so.

Perhaps there was nervousness about partnering with nascent tech companies; and disrupting user flow was certainly a big concern. We’ve all been in the middle of signing up to a new service - an online bank, a car rental company, or a betting site - and been frustrated by the need to use physical documents to prove our age. 

But today, with the practical solutions now existing that can drive positive change without disrupting UX, expectations are high for platforms to protect young users. They're expected to build or buy the best technologies out there, and to reassure communities that they’re taking their responsibilities to protect young people seriously. 

Here, I look at the innovations that are protecting young people online and how platforms can effectively communicate the value of the solutions they’re using while being positive, transparent, and direct about their limitations. 

Putting the cart before the horse 

In years gone by, regulation has been through various stages of iteration and implementation - from the birth of the Digital Economy Act, the ICO’s Age Appropriate Design Code, and what we see today as the Online Safety Bill. 

Till Sommer, Clarity VP and Head of Policy explains: “We are entering an era of regulated tech and legislation is starting to rapidly catch-up with society's expectation of how online platforms should behave. 

“In my opinion, the Online Safety Bill is a sign of frustration with a lack of progress made by tech companies. But despite its many failures and complexities, it sets out the minimum expectations for how responsible online businesses should behave.”

With technology now firmly in the spotlight, platforms are faced with a choice. They can continue to do nothing and wait until they are forced to act by regulation, or get ahead of the curve. The government has estimated the Online Safety Bill will apply to more than 25,000 services, so there are few areas of the online world that aren’t affected. 

Communicating online safety

Clarity client Yubo is one example of those platforms getting well ahead of regulation, being the first major social platform to age verify 100% of users, and one of the first to implement audio moderation to its 60 million global users. 

These innovations are made possible thanks to technologies now available such as Yoti, an age verification provider which enables all Yubo users to be age verified with AI. You can read more about that partnership in the Daily Telegraph here.

Yubo’s Amy Williams, told us that the key to communicating online safety practices to parents, children, and other stakeholders is about empathizing with audiences and using simple, clear but detailed messaging. 

Amy said: “When it comes to engaging with media, particularly in the UK, it’s important to engage in the debates that are high on the news agenda such as the Online Safety Bill. But in order to do that effectively, it’s not enough to just give an opinion. It’s essential that platforms show how they’re walking the walk, outlining the tools and techniques that are protecting young users and the investments they’re making in this strategy. Those tangible actions are essential in building trust.”

The future is bright for these social media platforms, and indeed the tech companies that are building the technology that underpins online safety today - including ID provider Jumio, image moderation provider Web Purify, and content moderation software Hive.

Act now, build trust later

No doubt the Online Safety Bill is spawning innovation and spurring many companies to act - or at the very least, to listen. The Online Safety Bill has received both criticism and support from Silicon Valley giants, news publishers and insurers, as well as brands like the LEGO Group and Bumble. The Bill's complexity will no doubt be seen as a headache for everybody that needs to comply, but it will also spawn innovation in how platforms keep their users safe.

With a communications hat on, it’s clear that businesses affected need to be communicating with users in a transparent and consistent way about the measures they’re putting in place to keep people safe online.

But what goes beyond communication is action. Ultimately, those platforms that invest in the right technologies and systems to protect young users will be those worth their salt - and the ones I’ll be using in future.

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