One of the highlights of 2008 was working with Sejal Hathi, the founder of Girls Helping Girls. At the tender age of 16, she founded an international nonprofit organization to empower girls to transform their world though cultural exchange, global education, and leadership training. When she approached us to develop a social networking site for her organization at Sisters4Peace.net, we jumped at the opportunity.
LevelTen has experience developing social networking sites for breast cancer survivors and music fans, but the target audience demographic for Sisters4Peace (teenage girls) presented a new challenge for us. A social networking site directly supported the mission of the organization by providing positive opportunities for communicating, interacting, and sharing content with girls around the world. At the same time, this audience was particularly vulnerable to inappropriate or harmful contact through these very services.
While we definitely saw the value in social networking for this particular group, protection of the users and their identities was paramount. Preparation for the project included hours of research on how best to serve this audience. What follows is our collection of best practice recommendations for designers and developers of social networking and interactive sites to enhance the safety of young people who use their websites:
- Make safety information for users and their caregivers prominent, clear, and easily accessible during the registration processes.
- Provide clear information about how information collected from user will be used, including what information will be public, what will be private, and what will appear on their profile.
- Default all profiles to ‘private’ and give users control to hide or limit all personal information.
- Include tools to maintain their privacy and prevent unwanted contact or communication, such as:
- ‘Ignore’ or ‘block’ functions;
- removing comments or people from their ‘friends’ list;
- ‘flag’ or report inappropriate comments or users.
- Limit data fields such as last name, email address, or location to discourage users from disclosing excessive personal information.
- Limit communication tools such as private email, chat and instant messaging so that connections take place in visible, public blogs, comments, or forums.
- Clearly communicate what they are publishing for other users to view and how they can protect their privacy and personal data.
- Give clear and prominent messages to users about the importance of behaving responsibly online, their role in contributing to a positive and respectful community, and the right of service providers to remove inappropriate content.
- Have in place clear and straightforward reporting mechanism for users to report suspected abuse.
- Capture an IP address with a date and time stamp to improve the traceability of both registered and unregistered users .