Executive Summary

In June 2008 a diverse group of representatives from technology companies, child advocacy and parents' groups, educators, health researchers and policymakers gathered in Washington, DC to begin work on a set of recommendations for best practices that participants in the Internet industry could adopt to help keep children safe and smart when online. The result of the year-long effort is the report PointSmart.ClickSafe.: Task Force Recommendations for Best Practices for Online Safety and Literacy.

During the course of its work, the task force recognized, explored and considered a number of insights relating to child online safety including: the existence of an “ecosystem” of shared responsibility for child safety; the challenges to managing online risks, and the limitations of current technology and public policy for implementing online safety features. The task force also recognized the many existing and useful best practices that are already being employed by many companies in the Internet industry, as well as the work being done by a variety of other groups seeking to provide enhancements to online safety, such as the Internet Safety Technical Task Force convened by the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University, and the extensive work that has already taken place in the United Kingdom by Dr. Tanya Byron and by the U.K. Home Office. The PointSmart.ClickSafe. Task Force worked to harmonize all these existing elements as it worked to develop its best practice recommendations.

In order to maximize harmonization, the PointSmart.ClickSafe. recommendations for best practices are designed to span all sectors of the Internet industry and are intended to be applied selectively based on a company's role and the types of services it offers that a child might use or with which he or she might come into contact. Embracing a child-centered perspective, the PointSmart.ClickSafe. best practice recommendations address three separate, but overlapping, categories of children's online experience - before they go online, during a child's online activities, and when problems arise - and recommend best practices for each of these stages. In addition, the task force recommendations recognize that a singular focus on safety is insufficient and that children need to learn digital and media literacy skills to help them think more critically about their activities and the online content they consume and, increasingly, create.

While the centerpiece of the task force's work has been to develop the recommendations for best practices that companies within the Internet industry can implement, it also recognizes that while the issue of online safety - like the Internet itself - spans many audiences, stakeholder groups, and jurisdictions, most Internet safety efforts have been both fragmented and granulized to the local level where there is often a significant lack of coordination and resources. More coordination at the national level supplemented with adequate resource development is needed. To this end, the task force recommends that policymakers consider the following steps:

  • Expanding online safety efforts to emphasize online smarts, through digital media literacy and education programs that empower parents and teachers to prepare kids to navigate the world of online and digital media.
  • Designation by the President or Congress of a lead federal agency that would work collaboratively and comprehensively with all major stakeholders in marshaling resources for the improvement of online safety and Internet literacy and coordinate the activities under diverse federal programs.
  • Consideration by education policymakers to adopt a set of national goals for online safety, including if possible minimum standards for a curriculum on digital literacy, to better educate the nation’s diverse children and families about how to manage media.
  • Ensure that all digital literacy and online safety programs are funded through competitive grants open to qualified applicants, with periodic review and assessment built into the grant process, so that the results from the best programs can be replicated in other communities.
  • Support digital literacy and online safety efforts by providing funding for: Research on the learning potential of digital media; New modes of assessment and evidentiary standards; Professional development for teachers; Curriculum development and implementation for students; Public awareness campaigns for parents and families; and Research designed to identify, highlight, and promote best practices and further solutions to improve digital literacy and fortify online safety.

Finally, recognizing the pivotal role of industry in ensuring steady improvement in this field, the task force suggests that voluntary activity strongly supported by industry is likely to be significantly more effective than legislated or mandated solutions; and that “light touch” regulation in this area is the superior approach for encouraging resource-rich companies to design progressive and innovative solutions, both now and in the future.