Setting fire to nail polish remover on the skin, climbing onto moving trains, creating a short circuit at a power socket: children and young people are increasingly being encouraged to take part in highly dangerous dares on the Internet. Many of the contests are considered hip and entertaining, but can cause serious damage to health. This is the conclusion of the annual report by jugendschutz.net, the joint competence center of the federal and state governments for the protection of children and young people on the Internet. In its research, jugendschutz.net also found that popular social media services take too few precautions to optimally protect children and young people from dangers.
Federal Youth Minister Dr. Franziska Giffey explains: "Self-harm contests, bullying or sexual come-ons are no fun. We must not accept that children are increasingly confronted with content on the net that frightens or disturbs them. They have the right to grow up well and move around without fear - offline and online. To achieve this, we need to focus more on the protection and personal rights of children and young people online and oblige providers to protect them better. The necessary technology is there, but our youth protection is not yet ready. It needs an update for the 21st century. That's exactly what I want to deliver with this draft law for modern youth media protection. With it, we are obliging providers to offer age-appropriate content, effective protection concepts, effective reporting and complaint procedures, and age labels that provide parents and professionals with more guidance." The law is expected to be passed by the cabinet in the fall following the EU Commission's notification process.
Stefan Glaser, head of jugendschutz.net, notes, "Dangerous online challenges spread rapidly on social media and quickly find imitators due to the pressure to participate. We are observing that people are taking ever greater risks in these tests of courage. Fun can then very quickly turn into a life-threatening situation." The indirect consequences of participating in risky challenges should not be underestimated either, he said. "It turns out that videos of failed attempts get particularly many clicks and are gloatingly commented on. Users are subjected to ridicule and gloating, and it is then only a few steps to cyberbullying," Glaser continued.
"Parents must be able to rely unreservedly on the ratings in the app stores when selecting offers for their children," demands Anne Spiegel, Minister for Youth in Rhineland-Palatinate. She said it should not be the case that apps aimed at the youngest children harbor dangers such as harassment, bullying and self-harm content. "To be able to adequately protect children and young people, all risks must be taken into account. The legal regulations in the protection of minors fall short here," Spiegel continued.
"Many service providers fall short of what would be necessary and possible. Yet tests by jugendschutz.net prove that modern techniques exist that could quickly identify dangerous content in social media and protect children from confrontation," explains Dr. Marc Jan Eumann, chairman of the Commission for the Protection of Minors in the Media (KJM). "To ensure the safety of children in social media and reduce risks for young people, precautions must already be taken into consideration when developing new services and devices. The KJM is therefore in intensive exchange with associations, self-regulatory bodies and politicians to work toward increased efforts in the area of technical youth media protection."
In 2019, jugendschutz.net registered a total of 6,950 infringement cases (2018: 6,575). 4,164 relate to popular and highly frequented social media services, of which 20% relate to Instagram, 19% to YouTube, 18% to Facebook and 13% to Twitter. Two services have gained considerable relevance: On the image network Pinterest, nine times as many violations were registered as in the previous year (increase from 46 to 413), and on the video service TikTok, five times as many (increase from 38 to 192).
The largest increase in cases compared to the previous year was recorded by jugendschutz.net in the area of self-harm (up 77%, from 478 to 846 cases) and in the area of depictions of violence (up 72%, from 364 to 627 cases). Depictions of sexualized violence again took the largest share of violation cases in 2019, accounting for 37% (2,553 cases). Just under a quarter (1,606 cases) related to political extremism.
- The current annual report of jugendschutz.net is available for download at: jugendschutz.net/pdf/report2019.pdf.
- jugendschutz.net: Press release and video statements
- jugendschutz.net: "Fire-Challenge" - Test of courage with considerable risk of burns
- klicksafe article: Dangerous trend - challenges on the net