Protecting Innocence in a Digital World

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On Tuesday, July 9, 2019, Concerned Women for America Legislative Action Committee (CWALAC) monitored a hearing titled “Protecting Innocence in a Digital World.” The Senate Judiciary Committee, led by Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina), heard from Mr. Duffie Stone (Solicitor Of the Fourteenth Judicial District, South Carolina), Professor Angela J. Campbell (Professor of Law), Mr. Christopher McKenna (Founder and CEO of Protect Young Eyes), Mr. John F. Clark (President and Chief Executive Officer of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children), and Mr. Stephen Balkam (Founder and CEO of the Family Online Safety Institute). They shared their views on the problem of protecting children in a digital age, along with suggestions for a solution. They focused primarily on the targeting and grooming for sex trafficking and pornographic images through the use of social media for children along with the sensitive content that is exposed on media due to the lack of accountability in self-rated applications.

The first witness, Mr. Stone, explained how everyone equips their home and teaches their children safety precautions from outside dangers, and yet, through smartphone use, these dangers from predators we have so diligently taught our children to stay away from are infiltrating our children’s minds. Stone shared a study from the Pew Institute in 2018 stating that “95% of teens report having a smartphone that gives them access to the internet.” However hard we try, innocent children will be exposed to sensitive content. This is why parents must have the opportunity to protect their children, and the app stores must have the accountability to accurately rate their apps that contain a filtering system to minimize sensitive content from being leaked. Mr. Balkam stated it best saying that in this digital world, we must move our society from, “protection to empowerment, from blocking to monitoring and from restrictions to responsibility.” We will never have the ability to shut down social media or permanently protect children from being exposed to mature content; however, as Mr. Balkam shared, we do have the power to create a culture of responsibility. It is our responsibility to protect our children and ensure accountability from the media providers.

During the hearing, the witnesses shared multiple approaches for a solution yet came to the unanimous agreement on one common ground, unity. We must work together to expose sexual exploitation on the internet and together urge the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to “undertake more enforcement actions.”

Mr. McKenna, founder and CEO of Protect Young Eyes spoke about another important issue that must be addressed. The current app ratings system by which social media companies like Google accept and promote content for minors is virtually open to exploitation. Mr. McKenna stated that the current “app ratings process is broken, and that parental controls are overly complex.. Although Google has released a new app approval process, “kids will continue to be exploited in apps rated 12+,” he said.  Despite Google’s new requirements, we will still face “dishonest app ratings, over-generic app descriptions, and the lack of parental control on smart devices.”

CWALAC has been engaged in the battle to reform the app ratings system alongside other organizations like Protect Young Eyes. As part of the Fix App Ratings movement, we suggest an “independent, third party organization that establishes a unified app ratings framework along with the idea to enact better defaults based on the age provided during device and app setup.”  Through these solutions we can move towards accountability in the digital world and help protect our children better.

CWALAC would like to thank Sen. Graham for his leadership on this issue and for calling this hearing to contribute to the fight against child exploitation in order to protect the innocence of children. As this concern continues, we invite you to stay engaged with CWALAC for the latest updates on this issue and to make your voice heard to your elected representatives on the problems and challenges you face in your efforts to protect your children.