Identiq

Creating Safer Spaces for Meaningful Connections

In this guest blog, we invited Linsey Morrison to share the importance of risk and fraud efforts on platforms commonly used by one of the most vulnerable audiences– teens. Linsey’s 20-year career in tech across legal, policy, content moderation, fraud ops, and impact supports her current work advising startups & non-profits on successfully merging technology, social connection, and youth mental health.

Generation Z and Alpha are growing up in a world where digital videos, photos, social apps, gaming, and instant communication are all an integral part of their lives.  At the same time, the Gen X or millennial parents and mentors of these still developing and easily influenced minds watch with trepidation, certain of nothing except that navigating the world of online communication is challenging. We didn’t have social media defining our every move and mistake.  We didn’t worry that the person we were talking to face to face might actually be a predator twice our age.  At the same time, we didn’t experience any value digital life offers through new and different ways to make our worlds less lonely.  In helping our teens navigate their social world online, we are required to hold two contradictory truths at the same time:  We must recognize and embrace that the internet offers important and unique opportunities for socializing and belonging while also preparing its users for the existence of deceptive and dangerous practices.

Open and honest communication with the teens in your life is the baseline requirement for navigating a growing online journey.  On top of that, this three-pronged approach will support your own education and overall comfort-level: (1) genuinely understand the benefits of online communication from the viewpoint of your teen; (2) be able to recognize actual or potentially harmful interactions; and (3) take advantage of protective tools.  As adults, we know teens will likely run into a treacherous interaction at some point on their digital journey.  However, through constant communication with joint problem solving, and the noted 3 additional measures, we believe younger generations will navigate digital life more safely and confidently.

 

The importance of online connections

Teens today use digital tools to expand their social circles.  Similar to how adult friends might introduce mutual friends over dinner, teens expand their networks through second and third connections.  Rather than having to coordinate calendars, pick a meeting spot, and secure a ride, social media users may see that a friend is connected to a third person, and with just one click of an invite button, the “friend group” grows. 

Teens also deepen their connections around shared passions online. Two kids might learn that they both like multiplayer video games, and they connect by sharing servers.  Two others might be decorating their room, and they can share design boards.  Not only is this non-threatening, but this type of social interaction can be a lifeline for introverted or socially anxious children who struggle to connect with others when face to face. 

Online interaction can be a valuable enabler of positive connections. Talk to the teens in your life about what value they gain from their online use to learn more about their existing and developing social skills.  Try asking your teens to teach you about their daily interactions.  Demonstrate your own curiosity and vulnerability during these teachings.  This type of trusted engagement now paves the way for harder conversations and joint problem-solving later; allowing you and your teen to navigate that balance of beneficial yet non-threatening online use together.

Where online connections can go wrong

While online connections may enhance the overall social experience for younger generations (and older ones as well), the digital world is multi-dimensional.  These wonderful benefits exist alongside certain bad actors.  Peeling back from the internet’s rosy exterior reveals fraudulent intent, misrepresentation, and purposeful incitement to dangerous activity.

Far from an exhaustive list,  there are two specific areas where harmful practices surface more often within social media frequently used by teens:

  1. A malicious actor misrepresents their true identity while obtaining private information for later blackmail, extortion, or other criminal actions from afar. 
  2. Dangerous individuals or groups use influence to create a strong and convincing connection leading to real-world violence or physical harm.

Educating younger users about the possible dangers of online connections is essential to promoting a safe experience. Organizations such as Internet Matters help support these conversations.

Tools seeking to protect users from online harms

Most platforms, or even devices, deploy easy user tools to track your teen’s online use, or report and/or block engagement from unwanted individuals. Teams hired by the platform are also supporting this effort. For example, Trust and Safety, Fraud, and Risk teams at online communication platform companies are critical to maintaining a safe and positive online environment. These teams moderate, detect, and attempt to eliminate bad actors before they enter the ecosystem so that healthy online social interactions can flourish. Corporate policy teams create user policies consistent with the behavior they encourage on the platform, and operations teams pursue the users violating those policies. From socially engineered attacks, identity theft, or harassment, these teams search for and detect unwelcome and harmful activity so our teens can maintain those safe and positive experiences online.

Safety by Design

Many platforms adopt a principle known as Safety by Design. This approach advocated for strongly by the eSafety Commissioner, “puts user safety and rights at the center of the design and development of online products and services.” From implementing age restrictions and parental controls to embedding reporting capabilities and creating clear protocols in case of abuse, many platform features can increase protection for more vulnerable users.  Safety by Design often extends to privacy.  Platforms are beginning to understand that protection of user data should be prioritized at every step of development. Supporting platforms that are transparent about their trust, safety, and privacy practices enhances our ability to maximize positive online communications.

Conclusion

While online connections offer new opportunities for socializing and belonging, dangerous practices can also harm young people. Open communication with your teen about their online interactions is our most important tool in setting our kids up for online success.  We’re also thankful for the platforms that invest in trust and safety, risk, and fraud teams supporting positive online experiences by detecting harmful activities and bad actors.  Supporting platforms prioritizing Safety by Design principles encourages the development of safer online products.  It makes sense for any reasonable adult to fear the downside of an online environment.  Yet in many instances, the social connections enabled virtually, of course with knowledge and awareness, may lead to thriving and socially developed young adults. 

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About the Author Linsey Morrison

Linsey sits at the intersection of impact and policy supporting young people in fostering more meaningful connections, while also addressing youth mental health epidemics, such as social isolation and loneliness, through awareness and advocacy. In her current role as founder and managing director of Sunny Springs Advisory Group, Linsey supports corporations, non-profits, and philanthropic foundations in mental health impact and policy-related initiatives. She began this work in-house at Eventbrite developing and leading its Policy and Social Impact programs. 

‍Linsey’s impact and policy efforts are cultivated by 18+ years of in-house legal and operations leadership. As an attorney, Linsey specialized in emerging tech, strategic partnerships, privacy, and regulatory compliance. Linsey brings to her work a keen business acumen, a deep understanding of program efficiency and scalability, and overall appreciation for the art of common goals and mutual respect in professional and societal partnerships.

‍Reach out to talk about how Identiq can help keep your business safe.

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