Every day we’re inundated with news stories about how to keep kids safe, both in the real world and online. It’s overwhelming. It’s exhausting. Above all, it’s terrifying.
Are we fated to let our children wander in some lawless, retrograde technological wasteland? How do we protect them? Are there safe spaces, or is the internet — and social media in particular — the 21st-century version of the Wild West?
When I was five, I was at the park in my tiny, rural hometown where 4H was the club to join, and the local skating rink was the coolest place to hang out after school. That image in your head, of a close-knit farming community where everyone knows everyone and no one locks their doors at night? That’s my hometown.
I was playing on the slide when a man approached me with a camera and asked my name. I told him, and he asked if he could take my picture. I said yes, he took a picture of me, smiling and waving, on the slide, and he left. When I told my mother — who at the time was at the other end of the park with my younger sister and had seen none of this — she was horrified. I assured her that I only told the man my first name (apparently those kindergarten “stranger danger” warnings work!), although I didn’t think twice about him taking my picture. He asked nicely; he was an adult, and so I said yes.
Children are inherently trusting. And that’s a good thing; we want them to be open and empathetic. We don’t want them to know that the world is so often a scary, confusing place. To quote John Milton, “Innocence, once lost, can never be regained.”
It was the mid-80s, long before helicopter parents and attachment parenting, so my mother didn’t go into hysterics. She simply held my hand, and we left the park, perhaps with slightly more haste than usual.
The next day my picture was in the paper, accompanied by the caption “Five-year-old Leah, who didn’t want to give her last name, enjoys the slide on a sunny day at the park.”
There wasn’t a lot going on in my town.
My story ended well and was my first and only brush with small-town fame. I’m pretty sure my mother still has the newspaper clipping, now yellow and brittle with age, in an album somewhere. But here’s the thing: it didn’t have to end that way. There are many ways it could have ended, and not one of them is good. When children, in their innocence and good nature, give out personal information to strangers — whether in real life or online — they put themselves at risk.
At Community Sift we aren’t willing to take those risks. Whether it’s sharing a real name (especially a full name), asking for a picture, or providing links to potentially unsafe websites, we will do everything in our power — and our risk classification tool is a remarkably powerful thing — to keep them safe. We’ve spent years developing this technology because we know that it matters. We even have the name to prove it. The original iteration of Community Sift was called Potty Mouth Chat Filter. Kinda gross, but kinda perfect. It’s all about kids for us, and it has been since we formed Two Hat Security in 2012.
Safety is at the heart of what we do, and the reason we do it. We aim to remove bullying from the Internet. We aim to keep kids safe from bullies, from predators, and from anyone who would seek to do them harm.
And to that end, we are very excited and incredibly proud to announce that Community Sift is kidSAFE certified!
Check out the nifty logo and link in the lower right of the Community Sift website.
So, what exactly does that mean for us, and for you as a community manager, an app developer, a social media maker? It means that, in addition to being industry leaders in content classification and filtering technology, we are also recognized leaders in children’s online safety. We keep kids safe by protecting their personally identifiable information (called PII by those in the know) and ensuring that they aren’t exposed to bullying, profanity, and child exploitation.
Fast-forward thirty years, and in a nice piece of symmetry, I have a five-year-old niece. At four she was a seasoned YouTuber, and at five she’s newly obsessed with Pokémon Go. She knows how to get to mom’s Facebook page. She can’t read yet, but she’s a sharp kid, and she’s learning. Within the year she’ll be reading and writing, and like any parent figure, I worry. What kinds of things will she see online? What kinds of things will she write? What happens when she gets a phone, an iPad, her own computer? It’s scary, but to be honest (and I say this with sincerity), I don’t want her in a space that isn’t protected and safe — and Community Sift is the solution that I trust.