How to ensure children are safe when using online video conferencing platforms

The current COVID-19 crisis has seen a rise in video conferencing platforms. Sites like Zoom are now common place for children to stay in touch with friends as well as to help continue their education remotely. This means that the importance of online safety has never been as prevalent.

However, whilst video conferencing is proving a positive way to remain connected, there are safeguarding considerations that must be set in place.

To provide guidance, Adele Abbiss, online safety expert at Smoothwall, digital safeguarding technology provider, explains the measures that teachers and parents can take to protect their Zoom space.

The danger of Zoombombing

Children are increasingly at risk of being exposed to harmful online content. One of the biggest security issues facing Zoom until very recently was the surge of ‘Zoombombing’ – when uninvited attendees join your conference call. 

As such it is the responsibility of schools and parents to ensure those using conferencing platforms such as Zoom, are implementing the appropriate guidance to ensure harmful online behaviour is removed.

How to use Zoom safely

Zoom has now forced its users to password protect meeting rooms. This is an important first step, however there are other actions that can be taken to protect your Zoom space. These include:

  • A new meeting room should be used each time they create a call on Zoom. This means that you should not use a personal meeting ID
  • Ensure that students do not join the call before the host if being used for remote learning
  • All attendees should be muted when joining the call
  • Screen sharing should be turned off throughout the duration of the call
  • Set up a ‘waiting room’ for student members to join
  • Lock your meeting room after you have started the conference so that people cannot join uninvited
  • Don’t publicise your meeting link on social media or any other public domain, such as your website
  • Don’t share a screenshot of the Zoom call publicly – especially when it shows the meeting ID or images of children
  • For each call, identify an adult that can ‘manage the room’ and ensure that they have cross-checked the above steps
  • Notify attendees of a Plan B should a call have to be aborted at short notice

In addition, it is important to remind children to avoid sharing any personal information on Zoom calls, and that video and microphone functions are turned off unless required.

Keeping children safe online

During this period, children and young people are more at risk of online dangers than ever. With schools closed and many parents working from home, we’re witnessing a significant rise in the number of children not only using the internet but doing so unfiltered and without supervision. And it’s a situation that’s not gone unnoticed by cybercriminals.

The NSPCC has explained that abusers are exploiting the current shortage of moderators as children spend more time online. In fact, Andy Burrows, the NSPCC’s head of child safety online policy, has described it as the “perfect storm for offenders to abuse children”.

There are a number of measures to help keep children safe when using online devices and apps. Those with children in their care should ensure they:

  • Have open and honest conversations around online safety
  • Regularly check who children are communicating with online and that requests from strangers are always declined
  • Warn children of online dangers, and to be cautious about trusting online users, even if they think that they are talking to somebody they know in the real world
  • Ensure children are using ‘lock’ features and relevant privacy settings on devices and applications
  • Parents should speak to their children about what constitutes ‘personal information’ to ensure they do not disclose anything to anyone during a live stream
  • Be present – if a child is going to conduct a live stream, parents should ask them if they could be present for it, to help them understand how their child is using the app

To access resources on how to support parents in protecting young people from online dangers when at home, visit Smoothwall’s Here for You webpage, where teachers can download a free digital safety pack.