A new report released this week announced Utah was one of the safest statesin the country for children online. But this isn’t necessarily cause for celebration; it’s a wake-up call to the reality of just how deficient the existing legal regime is in cyber-regulation both nationally and in Utah.
Important strides have been made in protecting children online in the past two years. Since 2017, Utah has passed laws protecting children from cyberbullying, online harassment and sexting. Specifically, the Legislature has made it illegal to post identifying information about a person online to "intimidate, abuse, threaten, harass, (or) frighten … another.” Violation is a criminal offense, subject to a year in jail. Additionally, the Legislature has made it a class A misdemeanor to harass a minor digitally — via a phone, computer or other electronic device. A second offense constitutes a felony.
These punitive measures are important in setting social norms and creating a chilling effect for cyberbullying in the lawless digital frontier. Still, the reality is that little regulation exists federally to govern content on social platforms, leaving the management of communities subject to the privatized whims of companies like Facebook, Twitter and Google.
As such, these laws are necessarily reactive — a game of whack-a-mole that attempts to slap the wrists of those who are caught harming minors by exploiting the internet’s alluring potential for power and anonymity. They also don’t even begin to broach the transnational safety concerns regarding the targeting of American minors by foreigners with malicious intent, including cases which have recently resulted in the suicide of victims.
This illuminates the limitations of existing laws, and the reality that without more robust federal and international regulation pressuring platform companies into creating policies which address exploitative, election-altering, and even genocidal content, increased educational investment is necessary to keep kids safe online.
SafeWise, the research company that released the report, has identified helpful tips which parents, schools and communities can use to increase cyber-literacy and enhance online safety among youths. We agree that it’s never too early to “teach kids how to navigate the internet,” including teaching safe search terms and identifying secure websites, which enables them to reach out to a safe person or guardian if they come across troubling content.Comment on this story
Helping them navigate communication, pop-ups and spam online is a basic and necessary precaution, one schools should implement state-wide. Ideally, parents will go beyond this basic digital education to work with young children to establish firewalls and content blockers which will create a more secure online environment for them.
This conversation, despite the positive “A” grade given to Utah by SafeWise, is ongoing and necessary. The bare minimum is not enough, and all members of our community must stay vigilant in adapting kids to the digital playground.