|Prostasia Foundation has been invited by Microsoft, the WePROTECT Global Alliance, and the UK’s Home Office, to participate in an event titled Preventing Child Online Grooming: Working Together for Maximum Impact, which is to be held in Redmond, Washington this November. As we pointed out in our last newsletter, the UK government has been insistent upon taking an approach that places primary responsibility on Internet companies for protecting children from sexual abuse and other sexual harms.
Short-sightedly, this has also been pushed by the UK's largest and richest child protection charity, the NSPCC. Although the NSPCC does a lot of excellent work, it is not an independent nonprofit. It was chartered by the government, exclusively exercises certain legislative powers, and takes significant government funding. Due to this and its lack of representation from affected stakeholder communities, it tends to take a conservative approach that either follows or foreshadows the government's official line.
For example the NSPCC's Wild West Web campaign promotes new laws to force Internet platforms to censor more aggressively, heedless of the human rights concerns that other reputable UK charities have expressed about such moves. And the government is singing from the same song book as the NSPCC when laying down its own demands to Internet platforms, even down to using the same "wild west" metaphor.
This isn't to say that there aren't steps that Internet companies can usefully take to better protect children; there are, and many platforms have taken such steps already. We will be writing about some of these in our next upcoming blog post, which will be about children and online privacy. Examples of such steps are introducing simple mechanisms to report minors who are discovered in adult online spaces (adult social network FetLife introduced this in August), and making it easier to report adults who interact inappropriately with children online.
But there are limitations to these purely technical approaches for blocking or reporting of online advances between adults and children. In particular, it doesn't address the fact that for some young adolescent minors, grooming is not the cause of their early sexual behavior online, but rather a combination of hormones, typical adolescent insecurity, and youthful lack of good judgment. This is also the age group that is at the greatest risk of sexual abuse, while also being at risk of prosecution under overbroad child pornography laws.
There is little that Internet platforms can do to eliminate sexual interaction between adults and minors of adolescent age groups, without also infringing upon the privacy and freedom of expression of Internet users of all ages. But there are two groups that are better equipped to do so. The first are parents, teachers, and other caregivers. They can take responsibility for educating minors about safe sex, consent, age of consent laws, and other factual knowledge to arm them against abusive advances.
No matter how a child ends up in a sexual situation with an adult online, it is never the child's fault. And that's why the second group that can prevent sexual abuse of children from occuring online is you. Since we never know which adults are going to end up committing sexual abuse (often in the wrongful belief that a child can consent to it), your help is needed to spread the primary prevention message, which is too often drowned out by conspiracy theories and moral panic.
You can help us by sponsoring out travel expenses for the Preventing Child Online Grooming event next month. If everyone who receives this message donated just $10 to our fundraising campaign, we could completely cover these expenses and possibly have a pivotal impact in shaping the narrative put forward at this important event. Will we allow the UK government to bully Internet platforms into censorship? Or will we encourage them to invest in a more effective, primary prevention approach that upholds the human rights of all? It's up to you.