Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Safer Internet Day : advice on ‘Connecting generations’ from Club Penguin's Lucy Woodward


Today is Safer Internet Day, which aims to educate people about the safer use of online technology, especially amongst children and young people across the world, and this year's theme is ‘Connecting generations’. Lucy Woodward, who as well as heading up Disney’s Club Penguin in the UK and Europe is a mum to young children, has come up with some top tips for protecting your children when they sign up for a virtual community, such as Club Penguin. The Club Penguin online network, which is the world’s largest virtual world for children with over 150 million members worldwide is now in its 7th year and they are proud to declare that they are yet to have a single issue regarding safety on the site. Read on for Lucy's advice.

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Club Penguin was founded by three dads who wanted a safe, ad free, online environment for their kids to play so safety was built into the design of the virtual world from the very beginning.  When Club Penguin was conceived they shared the same concerns as most parents do today as their children start taking their first steps online.  So here’s some tips for parents whose kids want to join an online community:


1. Create your own account – What better way to get to know a game than to create your own account.  For safety reasons, most kids virtual worlds require you to create an ‘avatar’, a character through which you explore and interact with the virtual world and those within it.  This means players stay anonymous and there is no sharing of pictures and profiles, like you might see on an adult social networking site like Facebook.  This is a good moment to test a site's technical filters and moderation – if you can get away with giving your avatar a rude name you can make a decision as to whether or not you’d want your child making friends with a character like that.

2. Strike up a conversation – Kids, in character, can ‘chat’ with others in virtual worlds in a number of different ways.  Some have pinboards where you can leave messages, others have live chat but both should be moderated.  At Club Penguin we use technical filters, so only words that we’ve typed into our ‘white list’ of approved words will get through the filters.  Words not on the white list don’t get through and only our moderators and the child typing the word will be able to see the phrase.  This was designed to encourage good behaviour as kids who might try to be naughty soon get bored as they think they are being ignored.  So go on give it a go, test the moderation by trying to leave a rude message on your own pinboard (please not anyone else’s and delete quickly after!) or if you’re on Club Penguin see if anyone reacts. 

3. Stay anonymous - There is one really easy and simple rule which we encourage all our players to follow so that they keep themselves safe, wherever they are online: don’t share any personal information.  Whether you’re seven or 70 sharing personal information can get you  into trouble so it’s good to instil this in your kids from a young age.  Teach your children to never give away details about where they go to school or live or their email address and telephone number.  We don’t have school names, addresses, email or numbers on our white list so these words won’t get through our filter.  If you see this kind of information it’s important to report it to the site’s moderation team.

4. In Moderation – Some sites will have some kind of filtering technology working alongside human moderators.  We believe human moderation is an essential safety net, as well as keeping an eye on in-world happenings our moderators also keep our white list up to date, as the English language changes so much.  It’s worth trying to find out if the virtual world your child is playing in has a dedicated moderation team and how large it is or if the company outsources the work.  We have over 250 full time moderators on our staff world wide to make sure our players have the best possible experience. 

5. Know what buttons to push – It’s important that kids are able to take control of their online experience.  On Club Penguin, if kids want to block another user they can so they’ll never see each other in the game again.  Or they can report a player to a moderator by clicking ‘M’ in the top right of the screen to report a player.  When you are exploring a new virtual world with your child, it’s worth being familiar with which buttons to push

6. Customer support – If you have questions or want to know more get in touch with the customer support team, they’re there to help you.  We like to hear from kids and parents and are happy to answer questions from any parents who want to know more about Club Penguin.   Our team can be reached at support@clubpenguin.com

If anyone reading this would like to attend the Club Penguin open house in Brighton on the 14th of Feb at 1100 GMT with your children please leave a comment here and we’ll get in touch.  There will be a tour of Club Penguin’s European HQ, you’ll get to meet the moderators, take a look behind the scenes as well as take part in some fun games to learn more about online safety.

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