Members of an internet safety task force on July 8 suggested several ways to improve cyber safety for children, focusing on three key areas in particular: education before a child gets on the internet, control while the child is online, and having set procedures if problems arise.
The task force, which included representatives from Verizon, Comcast, Cox, Google, Yahoo!, AOL, Symantec, Common Sense Media, the Internet Keep Safe Coalition (iKeepSafe), the National Parent-Teacher Association, Family Online Safety Institute, and the Children’s Partnership, met for more than a year to develop its report and recommendations.
The coalition not only identified best practices in the report, titled "PointSmart.ClickSafe: Task Force Recommendations for Best Practices for Online Safety and Literacy," but also outlined areas where government can help to increase cyber security and safety.
The report states that policy makers should consider expanding online safety efforts to emphasize digital media literacy and education programs for parents and teachers, designating a lead federal agency to work with stakeholders to marshal recourses for cyber safety, adopting a set of national goals, ensuring that the programs are funded through competitive grants, and providing funding for research, assessment, professional and curriculum development, and public awareness campaigns.
"The goal was to discuss prevention up front, but have a plan if bad things happen," said Tara Lemmey, who was the task force facilitator. "And many of the task force members have agreed to continue working on the issue."
Some policy makers already are looking to adopt some of the policies outlined in the report. U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., said she is preparing to introduce the Aware Act, a bill that would set aside $175 million in competitive grants for nonprofits working to improve cyber security.
"As one of few [members of Congress] with small children, I have no higher priority than keeping our children safe from harm–and that includes online," she said. Schultz has twin 10-year-old children and a five-year-old. "Internet safety is something that parents need to have the tools to discuss with their children. … We need to teach our kids that what they put online stays online, and they can never ever get it back."
Before children go online, the task force recommends they learn about media literacy and digital citizenship and are taught to think critically about the content consumed and created on the internet.
"Children need to learn how to use technology efficiently, effectively, and ethically so that they can participate fully in social, economic, and civil life in the digital age," the report states.
"If you don’t have education and don’t have knowledge of how to interact in that space, you’re illiterate," said Pablo Chavez, managing public policy counsel to Google.
Web sites should provide a clear explanation of how information collected at registration and setup will be used, make safety information available during the registration process, provide information in the terms and conditions that defines acceptable behavior, and provide notice that violating terms will result in specific consequences, the report states.
In addition, the IT industry should continue to explore age-verification and identity-authentication technologies and should work to develop better safety and security solutions, the report recommends.
While a child is online, the task force concluded, parents and educators should use content-screening technologies, and vendors should include specific information about how to conduct a safe search, how to set filtering options, and an explanation of privacy settings.
When problems arise, web sites should have a procedure in place to handle complaints and provide a reporting mechanism for users to use.
Companies need to "make it easier to report abuse. If they are getting [cyber] bullied and are feeling alone, kids need to recognize that they can report that abuse," said Marsali Hancock, president of iKeepSafe.
But educating parents, teachers, and students about cyber safety and security is the first priority.
"Cyber security is about parental empowerment. … But it’s a dynamic environment. Twitter was not even a verb 18 months ago," she said. "There’s a need for more discussion."