CALEDONIA, Mich. (WOOD) — A nationwide coalition of digital safety advocates is pushing for the creation of an independent board to review and rate social media apps, much like movies and video games.
“Apps used by millions and millions of teens have no independent rating agency associated with them,” said Chris McKenna, founder of the West Michigan-based nonprofit Protect Young Eyes.
“We think it’s time some accountability gets built into that because so many young people are being impacted by these apps.”
McKenna is partnering with agencies and advocates across the country for the #fixappratings campaign, including the National Center on Sexual Exploitation.
“Parents are empowered with rating information to keep kids out of R-rated films, but when it comes to apps, parents are left in the dark about the kind of content their children are accessing,” said Dawn Hawkins, executive director of NCOSE.
NCOSE describes itself as “the leading national organization exposing the links between all forms of sexual exploitation such as child sexual abuse, prostitution, sex trafficking and the public health crisis of pornography.”
Specifically, the coalition is calling for the creation of an independent app ratings board with powers similar to those of the Entertainment Software Ratings Board for video games and MPAA for movies.
In addition, the campaign advocates for the “release of intuitive parental controls on iOS, Android, and Chrome operations systems.”
“The controls should at minimum include default settings based on a child’s age, easy set-up, and one-touch screen time controls,” reads the news release sent to media nationwide Thursday morning.
Digital safety advocates are concerned about explicit content, but they’re also alarmed by the increasing number of sex traffickers trolling for victims on some of the most popular teen apps.
“They look for vulnerable kids,” explained Alisha Meneely, a member of the Kent County Human Trafficking Task Force.
“These predators now, social media’s so easy now for them to find their victims…. They talk to these kids for months and months and months and build them up and get their trust and them they ask for a meetup.”
24 Hour News 8 reached out to the major tech companies for comment, but did not immediately hear back from them.
Currently, Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook are all rated in the iPhone app store as age 12+, which is described as including “infrequent/mild sexual content and nudity, infrequent/mild profanity or crude humor, infrequent/mild mature/suggestive themes and infrequent/mild alcohol, tobacco or drug use references.”
Leading app developers have said in the past that they have zero tolerance for pornography and work hard to identify and remove it while providing parental controls to combat it.
But McKenna said the controls are overly complicated and the ratings descriptions lack clarity and transparency.
“Parents often depend on parental controls provided by Apple or Google that prevent downloading apps with certain mature ratings,” said McKenna. “But when apps are rated inaccurately and app descriptions aren’t fully transparent, parents are deceived into thinking they’re preventing sexually explicit and dangerous content when in fact, they aren’t. “