By Jacqueline Beauchere, Chief Online Safety Officer, Microsoft Corp
10 March 2015 – Youth across the globe are taking and sharing nude photos and videos of themselves, and the behavior is being exhibited by ever younger age groups, results of a new Microsoft-sponsored study show.
Data released today by the UK-based Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) show 17.5 percent of the 3,803 sexually explicit images analyzed by IWF were produced by young people believed to be under the age of 15, and 7.5 percent were assessed as featuring children 10 and younger.
Even more startling is the severity of the content. The majority (72.4 percent) of the images depicting individuals believed to be 16-20 years old was classified as Category C, with 27.6 percent deemed Category B or A. In sharp contrast, 46.9 percent of the images analysed as featuring children 15 and under constituted Category A and B.
“The findings tell a distinctively different story from the research conducted in 2012,” said IWF Chief Executive Officer Susie Hargreaves. “However, our message around the ease at which content can be ‘lost’ online remains the same. Ninety percent of the imagery had been taken from its original upload location and copied to somewhere else. “Whilst the 2012 study provided valuable insight into the increasing accessibility of sexual content depicting young people, this research reveals younger children and in some cases more explicit sexual behavior than we previously saw.”
Indeed, 85.9 percent of the images depicting youth under 15 were taken via webcam captures from a personal computer or laptop, while 8.5 percent were taken with a mobile phone. This challenges the notion that the majority of “sexting” is done via mobile phone.
I first learned of IWF’s work analysing “indecent self-generated imagery among youth” in 2013 when Microsoft was refreshing its child online protection strategy. As noted, IWF had conducted a similar study in 2012. Of the 12,000+ nude images taken and shared by youth, 88.15 percent had migrated to so-called “parasite websites” where strangers downloaded the images, sometimes for a fee, and in all instances probably unbeknownst to the original selfie-taker. IWF stresses there was “not a single instance” in 2012 when a child was assessed as 13 or younger.
We approached IWF to see if the research was set to be re-run. An opportunity for collaboration emerged and the current data were analyzed from September to November 2014. We asked IWF to examine the commercial aspects of the data given the 2012 results. A piece of “good news” is that only 1.7 percent of the current data-set was assessed as being “commercially available.”
Parents who may be aware of this pattern of youth behavior are often confused by it. Others are hard-pressed to believe their kids would take part. To get some perspective, we’ve produced a new factsheet and offer some general guidance:
- Talk to kids. Ask what they do online—favorite sites, games, activities. Be inquisitive, not judgmental. Let what you learn serve as a basis for “house rules” on Internet use.
- Get help from technology. Family safety settings can help block harmful content, limit information-sharing and manage website access. Tell your children if you use these features and explain they’re intended to help keep them safe.
- Discuss sexting—even if it’s uncomfortable. Start conversations early, and talk about peer pressure to sext. Listen for signs of coercion. Discuss risks and keep perspective.
To launch the research, Microsoft and IWF are co-hosting an event. “Youth selfies: The real picture – New insights and a way forward,” is bringing together parents, educators, policymakers and others to hear the data, and discuss tools and resources. In Part 2 of this blog, I’ll recap today’s event. Meantime, to learn more about online safety generally, visit this website.