Natalie: Hello and welcome to Safeguarding Soundbites – this is the podcast that brings you up to speed on all the week’s online safeguarding news.
Colin: This week, we’re going to be talking about Horizon Worlds, why Twitter might be in trouble for not paying their bills again and more.
Natalie: My name’s Natalie.
Colin: And I’m Colin
Natalie: Let’s jump in with our social media news round-up. Colin?
Colin: Yes, this week Meta announced they’re adding text-based chat to their virtual reality space Horizon Worlds. Called ‘World Chat’, it adds another way for users to communicate to each other alongside the existing voice chat.
Natalie: So it’s text-based chat…that means basically like texting or messaging other users?
Colin: Yes. So at the minute, users can only talk to each other through voice messages. This will now be like messaging on any other game or platform.
And for anyone who doesn’t know, Horizon Worlds is Meta’s virtual social space. It’s part of the metaverse and users can interact with a 3D space through avatars, exploring different worlds, playing games and interacting with other users in these 3D spaces.
Natalie: Okay. And what about safety? We know Meta and Horizon Worlds have been criticised in the past for safeguarding risks, there were reports of sexual harassment, for example.
Colin: Yes, there were previous reports of users being harassed through inappropriate interactions with their avatars. Meta implemented several different features to try and combat this, including a feature that garbles voices so users wouldn’t be exposed to potential harassment via the voice chat.
Meta has promised there will be strict security controls for the new chat feature, including proactive scanning and removal of messages that violate their Code of Conduct and users will be able to control what communication methods they want to use. And it’s important to also mention Horizon Worlds has an age limit of 18+ here in the U.K., although our researchers previously found high numbers of younger users on the platform. And one report by the Institute of Engineering and Technology found users as young as six years old.
Natalie: So those security control features should, in theory, remove any inappropriate content someone is trying to send via World Chat before it’s even sent?
Colin: I think that’s the idea. But with anything like this, it’s impossible for us to say whether or not it’s effective before we see it in action, unfortunately. What I would reemphasise is that young people need to be 18 in order to be using Horizon Worlds; ; that age limit is there for a reason. So, if you think the child or young person in your care is using Horizon Worlds, this is a good time to bring it up and have a conversation about it.
Natalie: Good idea, it’s always a good opportunity when something has been in the news – it makes it easy to drop in to conversation casually: ‘oh, I was reading a story earlier about this new platform/app feature… what do you think about the metaverse’ or ‘have you or any of your friends use it? Do you think there’s any risks accessing the metaverse? etc.
Natalie: Okay, moving over to TikTok now, where a new report has shown the platform is the fastest growing social network…in news! A whopping 20% of 18–24-year-olds are using it as a news source. This is according to Reuters Institute Digital News Report’s survey, which also found younger generations have little interest in the more conventional news found on other sites like Facebook.
Colin: Although you mentioned 18-24-year-olds, could this apply to younger people, too?
Natalie: I believe this study didn’t look at online users younger than 18 but it’s very possible that the same patterns apply – young people at that stage in which they’re interested in news are likely sourcing their news information through the social media platforms they’re already using. Obviously, I can’t say for sure but personally, I’d imagine so!
Colin: It’s interesting either way. Lastly for our social media news, I want to talk about Twitter and some major safeguarding concerns that have been brought up in the news this week.
Natalie: Is this about Google Cloud?
Colin: It is! So Twitter has a contract with Google to host some of their servers on Google cloud – basically meaning that Twitter has been paying Google to host some of the services that keeps Twitter going. But Twitter wants to move their systems over to their own servers before the current contract runs out at the end of June…and it’s been reported that the social media giant, Twitter has been refusing to pay.
Natalie: Some of that was quite technical!
Colin: It was but the important part is this: it’s putting one of their really important safeguarding systems at risk. It’s called Smyte and this system helps Twitter to moderate content on the platform. It helps spot safeguarding risks like spam, and it helps combat online abuse and child sexual abuse material.
Natalie: Okay, so this is a really important tool for Twitter.
Colin: Yes, it really is.
Natalie: And it was only on last week’s Safeguarding Soundbites that we were discussing the new report from the Stanford Internet Observatory about the prevalence of child sexual abuse material being shared and traded on social media platforms. So tools like Smyte – these systems that work in the background of platforms like Twitter – even if we don’t quite understand the technical ins-and-outs of what they do, we can understand what an essential role they play.
So what is going to happen with this next…do we know?
Colin: Right now, reports are saying that Twitter is trying to move all of these systems, including Smyte, over to their own servers before the 30th of June, but they’re behind schedule. For now, this is a wait-and-see situation.
Natalie: Okay, and we’ll come back with any updates to this story in a future episode of Safeguarding Soundbites.
Colin: I just want to give a quick update on something we spoke about last week – we were talking about online or viral challenges in last week’s episode of Safeguarding Soundbites. If you’re a Safer Schools NI App user, you will be able to find some more information and advice about online challenges on the app. We’re also about to release a video guide to online challenges so keep an eye out for that. And if you’re not a Safer Schools NI App user…why not?!
Natalie: Why not indeed – especially as you can go on your phone or device’s app store and download the app for free, right now.
Colin: Exactly! Okay, that was all I wanted to say…where were we?!
Natalie: I think we were about to talk about the safeguarding success story of the week.
Colin: This week, it’s the news that Braniel Nursery and Primary School in East Belfast have not only appointed a Safer Schools NI Co-ordinator, but during their year one intake meeting, parents and carers got to hear all about how the Safer Schools NI App works, about our Safety Centre and how the app can help their entire school community work together to help make their children stay safer online.
Natalie: Oh I love that – such a good idea to have a co-ordinator, especially knowing how busy school life can get!
Colin: Yes – in a busy environment, things can easily fall off the radar. And every good ship needs a great captain.
Natalie: Aye, aye, captain! Oh, and listeners, if you are a Safer School in Northern Ireland and you’re starting any amazing new initiatives or you’re involved in any great online safeguarding projects, we would love to hear from you. Drop us a line and let us know! You can tag us on social media, send us a message or email us. You’ll find all the ways to contact us on our website saferschoolsni.co.uk and on the Safer Schools NI App.
Colin: That sounds fantastic and we’ve had other stories as well of other schools doing exactly the same as Braniel Primary, so please we’d love to hear from you, let us know your story.Well, that’s everything from us for this week – we’ll be back next week but, in the meantime, you can keep up to date by downloading our app, as I mentioned earlier!
Natalie: Sorry Colin, What’s the app called again?!
Colin: Safer Schools NI!
Natalie: And how much is it again??
Natalie: Haha, sounds like a bargain! And you can also follow us on social media…for free! Just search for Safer Schools NI. Until next time…
Both: Stay safe!
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