Dignity Defense Alert: Bark Helps Protect Kids Online

Bark: For Caregivers Committed to Child Safety

“I never thought I’d be chasing child predators.”

Two years ago, a short video went viral of a mom who digitally altered her face to look like an 11-year-old girl in order to go undercover online. The mom explains that the technology company she worked for intercepted a conversation between a young girl and a 40-year-old pedophile who was abusing her, grooming her—collecting images and videos … and no one in her life knew it was happening. 

So the team at Bark went undercover to unveil what four children face in the digital world. 

Watch the video to see what happened within minutes:

This undercover operation was the work of a team from Bark, a company that uses AI to detect grooming, sexual exploitation, and a host of other crimes and threats to children online.

And let us be clear: the threats children face are constant, relentless, and growing—a reality that no one, especially parents, can dismiss or ignore any longer. 

On the occasion of Safer Internet Day 2022, The National Center on Sexual Exploitation is thrilled to present Bark with the Dignity Defense Alert for championing child protection. Built by concerned parents, for concerned parents, Bark equips caregivers and communities with innovative tools and resources to defend kids from myriad online harms. 

[email protected] provides tools for caregivers and communities to defend kids online. #dignitydefensealert #sid2022 Click To Tweet

Why is Bark So Necessary?

This past year, the public’s understanding has increased dramatically of just how dangerous the online world is for kids. Quarantine led to more parents witnessing firsthand the content and predatory behavior their sons and daughters are exposed to on the internet. Multiple warnings from the FBI, NCMEC, and a host of other law enforcement and child protection agencies about increased threats to children online caught people’s attention and deepened concern. 

Since August 2021 alone, investigations by award-winning journalists, whistleblower revelations, Congressional hearings, law enforcement and survivor testimonies, reports by child safety organizations (NCMEC, Thorn, Internet Watch Foundation to name a few), even a rare public health advisory from the U.S. Surgeon General on a youth mental health crisis, have brought the specific harms kids are facing online to the forefront: sextortion, grooming, sex trafficking, child sex abuse material, exposure to hardcore pornography and extreme violence, racism, drug sales, suicide ideation, hate speech, bullying, glorification of eating disorders.

While sadly these threats are not unique to the digital space, and they have existed online since advent of the internet, many indicators point to alarming rates of escalation—in large part due to the increased number of children online for longer periods due to the pandemic.

Despite the mounting outrage by policymakers and the public over the indisputable evidence of harm that social media, gaming, and other online platforms pose to children, corporate tech giants continue to side-step responsibility. Even when companies do introduce new safety features (often after pressure by public campaigns, Congressional hearings, or media stories threatening PR), they continue to place the overwhelming burden of accountability on parents—and even children themselves—to monitor the inherently dangerous platforms they’ve created. 

Corporate tech giants continue to side-step responsibility. @barktechco is a powerful tool to help safeguard kids online as we work towards solutions. #dignitydefensealert #kidstoomovement Click To Tweet

We must continue to call for greater regulation of the technology industry to make products safe by design, especially for our children. As Big Tech and Congress fight to find resolutions, parents must continue to shoulder the brunt of responsibility of understanding, navigating, and proactively monitoring their children’s ever-changing online activities and apps. 

Thankfully, guardians have a powerful tool in Bark to help safeguard their kids online.

Bark Offers More Than Just Protection

Bark is currently rated the number one monitoring app for children, with over 5.9 million children covered (in partnership with parents and schools). Bark’s award-winning technology monitors content, manages screen time, and filters websites. It allows caregivers the peace of mind that they will be alerted to any dangerous commentary or content via text messaging, emails, and on over 30 popular apps and social media platforms, all without invading the privacy of the children.

Bark sends alerts on anything related to self-harm, suicidal ideation, mental health, cyberbullying, inappropriate sexual content/language, threats of violence, and interaction with predators. Bark also extends their app to over 2,900 school districts nationwide at no cost! This is vitally important as countless children are exposed to harmful content and even predators through school-issued devices and accounts. They also work closely with law enforcement when certain threats—such as potential school shootings—may be imminent.

While the creators of Bark know their product is powerful, they also make clear that it’s not enough. Parents—and in fact the entire community—need to be involved, educated, and committed to the safety and wellbeing of children.

According to Bark’s Chief Parent Officer Titania Jordan, “We are the first generation of parents having to raise children with an unprecedented amount of access to harmful content and people, and we need all the help we can get.”

So in addition to their paid monitoring service for families* and free monitoring service for schools, Bark has an extensive library of resources available to all families and concerned citizens. Bark’s website, newsletter, and social media accounts contain useful conversation guides for those who may feel stuck about how to start talking with their kids about these serious issues, safety tips and mental health advice, and updates on social media apps, online games, and tech trends (the good and the bad). And the Bark-administered Facebook group, Parenting in a Tech World, provides a space for parents to connect with each other to ask questions, give advice, share tips and tricks, issue warnings based on personal experiences, and just commiserate with each other about what a herculean task it is to manage it all. (Several NCOSE parents are members and we’ve learned so much!)

Bark doesn’t just offer parents a product, it partners with parents to protect kids.

Thank you @barktechco for partnering with parents to #protectkidsonline! #dignitydefensealert #kidstoomovement #sid2022 Click To Tweet

Using Data to Drive Change

Bark has access to billions of data points. What do they see? What have they learned? What do they want parents to know?

Bark also just released its 2021 Annual Report based on 3.4 billion analyzed messages (excluding school-based accounts). Their intent in collecting and sharing the research is to give parents, guardians, and policymakers “insight into what it’s like to grow up on the internet today, allowing them to better protect their children while they use technology.” Like everything Bark produces, the report is easy to read and understand (despite the harrowing information it contains). It highlights concerning trends, age groups that received the most alerts for a certain issue, top social media/gaming platforms flagged for certain issues (e.g. predatory behavior, severe suicidal ideation), and much more.

Some of the findings related to sexual abuse and exploitation:

  • 68.97% of tweens and 90.73% of teens encountered nudity or content of a sexual nature.
  • 9.95% of tweens and 20.54% of teens encountered predatory behaviors from someone online.

The powerful 9-minute video mentioned in the beginning of this blog (seriously, watch it now) was a clip from Childhood 2.0—perhaps the best documentary about the effects of social media on children. It features Bark along with other experts in this space—including previous Dignity Defense Alert recipient, Protect Young Eyes. NCOSE recommends it constantly (it’s similar to Social Dilemma but focused on impact on kids, featuring several interviews with teens). It’s difficult to watch, but we cannot look away from what our children are experiencing. 

Without hyperbole, our children’s lives are at stake, and The National Center on Sexual Exploitation is incredibly grateful to Bark for making it easier for parents and caregivers to protect their kids online. 

What now?

  • Learn more about Bark and try their free one-week trial to see if it’s a good fit for your family (P.S. We think it likely is)
  • Sign-up for Bark’s newsletter to receive practical resources and information (scroll down to the bottom of the page)
  • Watch Childhood 2.0 with your partner and other parents (and then you can decide if you should part or all of it with older children)
  • Read Parenting in a Tech World written by Bark team members, Titania Jordan and Matt McKee
  • Contact your Members of Congress and urge them to COSPONSOR and support the EARN IT Act to hold Big Tech responsible for child sex abuse material (click here ) and to increase online protections for kids through COPPA 2.0 and PRIVCY Act (click here)

#default2safety #kidstoomovement #SID2022

The Numbers

300+

NCOSE leads the Coalition to End Sexual Exploitation with over 300 member organizations.

100+

The National Center on Sexual Exploitation has had over 100 policy victories since 2010. Each victory promotes human dignity above exploitation.

93

NCOSE’s activism campaigns and victories have made headlines around the globe. Averaging 93 mentions per week by media outlets and shows such as Today, CNN, The New York Times, BBC News, USA Today, Fox News and more.

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