Concordia hosted-event opens discussion for children’s online safety

 In the wake of World’s Children Day, one Concordia public scholar hosts events on child safety in the digital age.

On Nov. 20, 4th Space Concordia, the university’s event-hosting public space, opened its doors for a week-long event educating attendees on children’s safety when consuming content online.

Headed by Azfar Adib, a PhD candidate in electrical engineering and computer science at Concordia, the events centered around the legislative, technological and social aspects of children’s online safety in Canada.

The first event consisted of multiple panelists including experts in technology and legislature, as well as members of advocacy groups. Panelists answered questions pertaining to the subject matter from both moderator and audience. 

“I think as technology changes, I probably will know less as it goes on. And so there might be a gap between me and my child,” said Brogan Stewart, PhD candidate in environmental science at Concordia University. “I didn’t realize, like, the extent of it really until I came here.”

Stewart, who is currently expecting a child, said her curiosity surrounding methods used to prevent children from accessing mature content motivated her attendance. She believed it may become a problem she’ll have to deal with later on.

Stewart, who witnessed the rise of the internet growing up, expressed her fears of no longer being able to prevent her children from stumbling upon content unsuited for kids, especially pornography.

“It’s not just a different format, you know. The content, the abuse, the dehumanization, the objectification—it’s really difficult to keep [porn] away from kids,” said Penny Rankin, Vice President of the National Council of Women of Canada (NCWC) and one of the panelists. “And the trouble is, we have a demand for it […]—it’s addictive.”

The NCWC advocates on behalf of women and children. In recent years, Rankin has been involved in the ongoing situation of trafficking of women and children in the adult entertainment industry. In late 2019, popular pornography website PornHub and its parent company MindGeek (now Aylo) were accused of sex-trafficking and hosting non-consensual intercourse.

Rankin was among the many who protested at the company’s Montreal offices, along with the aforementioned event host, Adib, and independent senator Julie Miville-Dechêne. 

Millville-Dechêne previously introduced two Senate public bills, namely Bill S-210, “which would require the implementation of age verification methods online to protect minors from exposure to online pornography.”

Rankin believed the consumption of pornography at a young age is detrimental to a minor’s development, further desensitizing them to unrealistic expectations or violent acts during intercourse. She’s been calling on the government of Canada to adopt laws to prevent further exposure, such as implementing bill S-210’s harsh age verification laws.

“It’s a first step. This is not going to solve the problem, but it is going to at least finally– shine not just a light on an issue– it’s going to hopefully be a first step from a legislative point of view,” Rankin said.

Since 2019, host and moderator Adib has been working alongside people like Millville-Dechêne and Rankin on implementing non-invasive technology to verify age and prevent children from accessing pornographic content. His research at Concordia has led him to develop verification via electrical signals of the human body, specifically from the human heart.

Adib’s device is attached at the wrist and uses artificial intelligence to identify the individual’s age through their heart rate.

Adib has previously spoken at the Senate in 2021 alongside Millville-Dechêne for the implementation of his technology. As his developments gained more followers and funding, he said he believed it to be a realistic alternative to providing personal information, like information on I.D.’s. However, he believed its application won’t be fool-proof.

Adib said the child online safety events were spurred on due to PornHub’s parent company recently undergoing an administrative overhaul, which he believed aimed to distance themselves from controversy.

Bill S-210 was recently debated in the House of Commons on Nov. 23, its second hearing after passing in the Senate.


Sorry, I can’t come to class today; I don’t feel safe

TW: Sexual Assault

One student’s experience with the lack of trigger warnings provided in class

A good learning environment should equal a safe space. As someone who has experienced trauma, you go through life avoiding triggers, as if running through a field of landmines. You spend hours, days, weeks, learning to strengthen your armor rather than focus on successfully avoiding things that will pry open that wound, because today’s society is littered with triggers. It is easier to develop thicker skin, than to ask people to respect you.

I have spent the last three years of my English literature degree wondering why it isn’t officially required for professors to include content/trigger warnings in their syllabi, as well as at the start of every class where the discussion will contain triggering content.

There are so many issues with academia, and power dynamics within professor-student relationships is one of the biggest ones. A student in a classroom becomes dependent on the professor in order to learn and expand their knowledge. It should be normal for professors to acknowledge these power dynamics. It should be normal for professors to cultivate a safe learning environment for their students by providing content warnings. It’s a question of respect; a question of simple accessibility.

The thing is, I should not have to out myself as a survivor to a professor, in order to ask them to provide a safe and inclusive classroom setting. It should be non-negotiable. It should be an expectation. I was told by someone at the Sexual Assault Resource Center at Concordia, when I approached them for help regarding this exact matter, that I lose nothing by sending an email to a professor about personal issues regarding lack of trigger warnings––that if a professor responded negatively, then it was a whole other issue of respect. But still, do I need to out myself?

Teachers must acknowledge power dynamics, use their power to better these situations, and not ignore them. By not acknowledging this issue, especially considering the current socio-political climate, they are in the wrong. They cannot stand by and claim to not be involved. They cannot not be involved. By not acting, they are perpetuating the stigma and shame associated with triggers. Calling people out, providing trigger warnings, establishing a safe learning environment––it’s the least they can do.

I should not have to be vulnerable and afraid to go to class. I have had to step forward and out myself as a survivor to so many of my professors in order for them to acknowledge this issue. That should not be required of me. People who don’t think trigger warnings are necessary can argue that I had a choice to stay silent, but by saying something, I was not only protecting myself, but also other survivors who did not wish to speak up.

It’s typical for professors in the English department to acknowledge the presence of violent, triggering content in texts studied, but rather than use that to warn their students, we’re told that literature studies is full of triggering content, and that’s what makes it fascinating. We’re told that we can’t have literature without the difficult content that comes with it, so we should get over it. Why is this normalized? I am not arguing against the presence of these texts in our classrooms, but rather arguing for a better way of handling them; a better, more respectful and inclusive way of studying them. This piece is not meant to attack anyone. I am simply trying to raise people’s awareness on this subject. I want to make people understand that these things exist, and they affect a lot of us.

If you are not someone who has experienced trauma, you lose nothing by respecting those who have. You lose nothing by providing safe, inclusive environments. Why wouldn’t you want to? Why is there even an argument against providing safe spaces?

Graphic by Ana Bilokin



We need to have a conversation about content

YouTuber Logan Paul’s controversial video sparks discussion about boundaries, consumer habits

If you’ve been anywhere with Internet since the beginning of 2018, you probably heard about the backlash against YouTuber Logan Paul for his video posted on Dec. 31, 2017. The video explicitly showed the hanging corpse of a suicide victim in the Aokigahara forest, infamously known as “the suicide forest,” which Paul filmed during his recent trip to Japan.

The criticism has been focused on Paul’s questionable decision to film, edit and post a video of a corpse, especially since his audience is largely under 12 years old, according to the American video game website Polygon. Many people have been condemning Paul for the video, from big-name YouTubers like Philip DeFranco, PewDiePie, Jenna Marbles and H3H3, to celebrities like Sophie Turner, Whoopi Goldberg and even Dr. Phil.

According to Variety, Paul himself was the one to take down the video on Jan. 2, and it took another 11 days for YouTube to formally respond to the controversy and cut ties with him. The website decided to remove him from their top ad platform service and ended production on all his YouTube Red series. This has been an appropriate but unacceptably slow response.

In my opinion, this slow reaction hints at YouTube’s willingness to turn a blind eye to Paul’s behaviour. After all, when Paul initially posted the video, it was reviewed and deemed acceptable by YouTube several times, not to mention hand-picked to be on the website’s trending page, according to Buzzfeed News.

This stings even more given that other creators on the platform are resorting to companies like Patreon and Twitch to get funding due to YouTube’s guideless algorithm. The algorithm—which didn’t stop Paul’s video from being accessible—has previously banned and de-monetized videos for mentioning things like the LGBTQ community, according to The Guardian.

As for Paul, his apology for the incident left a lot to be desired for those hoping for deeper self-reflection from the YouTuber. He has since been filmed by TMZ at an airport saying he is ready to continue producing content, and that he has learned a lot of lessons since the controversy. Unfortunately, I don’t believe Paul has had to worry about his financial situation, despite YouTube cancelling his Red series.

He’s right to not be concerned. Despite the loss of subscribers due to the scandal and outrage from the parents of many of his viewers, Paul’s channel is doing great. Whatever statement YouTube was trying to make with Paul’s punishment is falling flat, in my opinion. Subscriber increase has put him in the green since his controversy, according to Social Blade, a statistics website, and he is still promoting his ‘Maverick’ merchandise. Despite the incident, many of Paul’s fans have remained incredibly loyal and aggressively protective of him, calling his critics ‘haters.’

In November, YouTube had to crackdown on inappropriately violent content aimed towards young children, according to media network The Verge. It seems parents just aren’t looking at what their kids are doing online. The extremely graphic video created by Paul has been a long time coming. In his apology, Paul admitted he has made vlogs everyday for 465 days, and he constantly feels the need to push the envelope for his impressionable young audience.

As much as the blame should be put on Paul and YouTube for letting this disgusting content be published and trending, a larger issue hasn’t been highlighted. More open discussions need to happen between children and their parents about video content. I believe unchecked behaviour on the part of the viewer and the content producer is what allowed this video to be created. As much as Paul claims to have learned his lesson, we need to ask ourselves as consumers if we have to learn one too.

Graphic by Alexa Hawksworth 

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