The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted education in many ways. One trend Gaggle has observed is a 76% increase in incidents related to nudity and sexual content on school-issued online collaboration platforms during the first full year of the pandemic (March 13, 2020 to March 12, 2021). In this category, 52% of incidents occurred after hours, compared to only 37% occurring after hours across all other content categories combined. This trend is likely due to more students using their devices alone at night during a time of increased remote learning.
Even more alarming is the breakdown of the increase in nudity and sexual content across grade levels during the pandemic. Gaggle observed a 281% increase in these types of incidents among elementary schools, followed by 96% at the middle school level and 36% among high school students.
Not Just a COVID-19 Trend
According to Matthew Joy, the director of the Wisconsin Human Trafficking Bureau and commander of the Wisconsin Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force, this isn’t just a trend brought on by the pandemic or the increase in remote learning. “Many schools are back in person, and our numbers are increasing exponentially,” said Joy. “This is a trending issue—trending topic—and we can’t blame COVID. We can’t blame access to technology. This is a real problem, and we need to be aware of that.”
Joy indicated that the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) provided 1,100 cybertips—instances of child exploitation that electronic service providers are required to report—to the Wisconsin Department of Justice in Q1 2021 alone. NCMEC had provided approximately 3,500 such instances to the department throughout the entirety of 2020—up from about 2,700 for the full year in 2019.
Dr. Lisa Strohman, a psychologist and the founder of Digital Citizen Academy, believes that selfies, which often serve as a student’s first step into other explicit danger online, can become an addiction, hurt relationships and job prospects, and create an impression of narcissism. “As a clinician, what I see is obviously depressed mood. I see anxiety. The more time that they're actually putting themselves out there, the mood that they have in return basically starts to fail,” said Dr. Strohman. “Their body image starts to decompensate because of course they’re comparing themselves to these highly filtered and retouched peers that are on there.”
How Educators Can Help
Joy encourages educators to reach out to their state ICAC contacts to learn about the resources and people they can partner with to address situations before they arise. “Do as much as you can to educate not only yourself, your colleagues, but also parents, students, law enforcement. Build those relationships—have the conversation so that you can be best prepared to understand what the response will be like.”
As part of our Student Wellness Series, Gaggle recently hosted a Selfies and Explicit Content webinar to help educators understand and support their students regarding the dangers, ramifications, and issues related to both the sharing and the receiving of explicit materials. You can learn more about these trends and how to address them by viewing our webinar, now available on demand. Additionally, to dive further into this topic, read about The Dangers of Selfies from Dr. Strohman.