Congratulations to STIR Lab Ph.D. student Xavier Caddle on getting his first dissertation paper “Duty to Respond: The Challenges Social Service Providers Face When Charged With Keeping Youth Safe Online” accepted at GROUP 2023. In this work, Caddle collaborated with Nurun Naher, Zachary P. Miller, Karla Badillo-Urquiola, and Pamela J. Wisniewski.
Duty to Respond: The Challenges Social Service Providers Face When Charged With Keeping Youth Safe Online
Abstract: Social service providers play a vital role in the developmental outcomes of underprivileged youth as they transition into adulthood. Educators, mental health professionals, juvenile justice officers, and child welfare caseworkers often have first-hand knowledge of the trials uniquely faced by these vulnerable youth and are charged with mitigating harmful risks, such as mental health challenges, child abuse, drug use, and sex trafficking. Yet, less is known about whether or how social service providers assess and mitigate the online risk experiences of youth under their care. Therefore, as part of the National Science Foundation (NSF) I-Corps program, we conducted interviews with 37 social service providers (SSPs) who work with underprivileged youth to determine what (if any) online risks are most concerning to them given their role in youth protection, how they assess or become aware of these online risk experiences, and whether they see value in the possibility of using artificial intelligence (AI) as a potential solution for online risk detection. Overall, online sexual risks (e.g., sexual grooming and abuse) and cyberbullying were the most salient concern across all social service domains, especially when these experiences crossed the boundary between the digital and the physical worlds. Yet, SSPs had to rely heavily on youth self-reports to know whether and when online risks occurred, which required building a trusting relationship with youth; otherwise, SSPs became aware only after a formal investigation had been launched. Therefore, most SSPs found value in the potential for using AI as an early detection system and to monitor youth, but they were concerned that such a solution would not be feasible due to a lack of resources to adequately respond to online incidences, access to the necessary digital trace data (e.g., social media), context, and concerns about violating the trust relationships they built with youth. Thus, such automated risk detection systems should be designed and deployed with caution, as their implementation could cause youth to mistrust adults, thereby limiting the receipt of necessary guidance and support. We add to the bodies of research on adolescent online safety and the benefits and challenges of leveraging algorithmic systems in the public sector.