Lawmakers won’t protect our kids online, so maybe it’s up to you

The recent circus which saw tech bosses grilled by US lawmakers - this time on child online safety - is just the latest in a string of similar performances. Yet none has led to any meaningful change. Channel Factory’s Australian managing director James Rose argues it’s time for advertisers to take responsibility for online child safety.

Mark Zuckerberg’s latest mea culpa to Congress has made one thing clearer than ever: waiting for policymakers to successfully navigate the digital quagmire and safeguard our kids online is like waiting for my team the St Kilda Football Club to win a flag – it might happen, but it’s not likely in the near term.

The tragic stories and number of studies showing how exposure to harmful online content is impacting our kids is stacking up; and let’s be clear, one young life ruined by this is one too many. It all adds up and underscores the urgent need for action.

This shouldn’t just be a Silicon Valley problem; major platforms could be doing more, but the issue doesn’t start and end with them. The annual pilgrimage these billionaires make to get hauled over the coals by lawmakers (whilst entertaining viewing and ironically great social media content) shows we can’t wait for change to come from these circuses, largely because legislators will always be playing catch up

Advertisers – you’re sitting on a trove of power and influence that could help turn the tide on online safety for kids. It’s high time we channel this influence into meaningful action. Advertising dollars are the lifeblood for content creators across the web. By being discerning about where our ads land, we can starve harmful content of its oxygen – money – and instead fuel creators who are making the internet a safer, more inclusive space for everyone.

How do we do this? First, by adopting and promoting rigorous content alignment tools that are designed to help media buyers make the right decisions. Tools that not only block ads from appearing alongside harmful content but also actively seek out and support creators who are contributing positively to the online ecosystem.

Next, let’s redefine what success looks like in our industry. Beyond the metrics of reach, clicks and conversions, let’s look at who and where these ads are landing and who is actually seeing them. After all, excluding Cocomelon from your automotive brands’ advertising might increase the CPM required to meet your reach goals but is the child watching on their parents account going to book a test drive?

It shouldn’t go unnoticed that the most heavily policed and demonised industries – alcohol, wagering and pharma – are the ones already making the most of these tools to avoid big fines but are also working to make their media more effective by targeting only relevant and interested audiences.

Furthermore, we must leverage our unique position in the global market. As smaller markets, Australia and New Zealand often adopt tech and media solutions designed with larger audiences in mind. However, this gives us the agility to pilot innovative approaches to online safety that could serve as models for the rest of the world. We can be the pioneers for global standards which we can then drive through businesses across the globe.

By fostering partnerships between advertisers, tech companies, and local industry bodies, we can create a robust framework for child safety that respects our cultural context while setting a global standard.

In essence, the call to action is more pressing than ever. The digital realm knows no borders, and the risks our children face online today are unprecedented in scale and impact. Burying your head in the sand and deciding to wait for someone to tell you that you have to do this isn’t a smart course of action. It’s irresponsible on so many levels.

Just because you don’t have to do something, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be proactive in getting ahead of it.

Instead, let’s lead with bold, innovative solutions that safeguard our children’s online experiences. Together, we can create a legacy of digital safety that reflects the values and priorities of our communities.


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