Inappropriate content online: What it is, how to spot it and how to block it

Tips and advice on making sure your children can browse the internet without worry.

The internet is a fantastic resource for children of all ages, letting them learn, play and connect with youngsters all over the world. But it also has its dangers.

Every time your child logs on, they’re at risk of being exposed to inappropriate content, be it from a chatroom, social networking app or even while gaming online. Thankfully there are some steps you can take to minimise the risk, and – if it comes to it – to block said content so they won’t see it again.

[Read more: Advice for your children and grandchildren on starting the school year safely]

Here we’ll run through what exactly is inappropriate content, how to spot it and how to block it. For more information we recommend visitng Internet Matters, a website packed with information for parents to help keep children safe online.

What is inappropriate content?

Inappropriate content is anything deemed unsuitable for your child’s age or stage of development. Your view of what is inappropriate will probably differ to the views of your child and other parents. It includes information and images which may upset your child, which is aimed specifically at adults or which is misleading and/or inaccurate and could lead to your child committing unlawful or dangerous behaviour.

Inappropriate content includes but isn’t limited to pornography, anything encouraging swearing, vandalism, racism, bullying, terrorism or suicide, violent content, animal cruelty and sites encouraging gambling.

How do I know if my child is being exposed to inappropriate content?

You can’t monitor a all of a child's online activity, especially if they have a smartphone or use a computer in their bedroom, athough you can check their browsing history to see which sites they have been visiting.

It’s best to start a dialogue about what inappropriate content is, and encourage them to tell you if they see anything unsuitable or which makes them feel uncomfortable. Look out for changes in their behaviour that suggest something is wrong – they may become more withdrawn or be evasive when you ask about their online activity. Get advice on talking to your children about inappropriate content.

How can I stop my child being exposed to inappropriate content?

There’s no surefire way from preventing it, bar stopping them accessing the internet at all, but this this would deprive them of all of the benefits the internet has to offer, instead you’re better off using parental controls, which what kind of content your child is exposed to. 

Internet service providers also have parental controls to stop your child accessing inappropriate content from any device on the home wi-fi network, effectively tackling the problem at its source. BT's free Parental Controls let you choose between three filter levels which blocks content.

To see how to use parental controls for all the major smartphone operating systems, entertainment services, search engines, mobile networks and social media services, head to Internet Matters’ dedicated parental controls page.

You can also block content on individual services so that your child doesn’t see it again. 

How to block inappropriate content on YouTube

YouTube has a dedicated kids’ app (called YouTube Kids) that only features child-friendly content. But you can still block videos and channels within it so your child won’t see them. However, specific videos might still be available even when blocked if they’ve been uploaded by another channel.

To do so, sign into the app, then on the Home screen tap the More icon (three horizontal dots) next to the video you want to block. Tap Block this video or Block this channel. Then you just enter the numbers written on the screen, or enter your custom passcode.

You can also block from the Watch page using the same method.

You can unblock content at any time from the settings menu. You can also report inappropriate videos, if you’re concerned about other kids seeing them. On the Watch page of the relevant video, tap More - Report, then select the reason for reporting it from the list given. If you’re signed in when you report an inappropriate video, it will be automatically blocked as well.

How to block inappropriate content on Facebook

Block content on Facebook

It’s possible to hide posts on Facebook. To do so, click the three horizontal dots that appear in the top right of the post and click Hide post.

If it violates Facebook’s community standards (i.e. involves bullying or harassment) or you think it should be taken off the site completely, you can report it to Facebook. Again, click the three dots next to the post and click Give feedback on this post. Now you can select how it violates Facebook’s community standards, choosing from nudity, violence, harassment, suicide or self-injury, false news, spam, unauthorised sales or hate speech. 

Report content on Facebook

Facebook also offers a child-friendly version of its Messenger messaging service, called Messenger Kids. Before two children can start chatting on Messenger Kids, the app requires approval from a parent of each child, which should make it safer than other social networks. It also doesn’t harvest data for advertising. Messenger Kids is only available in the US for now.

How to block inappropriate content on Twitter

Block content on Twitter

Like Facebook, there’s no guaranteed way to avoid inappropriate content on Twitter. Rather, you can only specify the kind of content you don’t want to see once it’s already surfaced in your timeline. (You can set which topics you’re interested in when you sign up, but there’s no guarantee  that no inappropriate content will find its way into your timeline as a result.)

Tap the down arrow icon at the top of a tweet and you’ll be given various options for dealing with inappropriate content.

  • Unfollow means tweets from that account will no longer appear in your timeline.
  • Filter Notifications lets you adjust which kinds of notifications you receive. It’s useful if you get a lot of unwanted replies or mentions from accounts that you don’t follow, which could potentially include inappropriate content.
  • I don’t like this tweet tells Twitter that this is not the kind of content you’re looking for.
  • Mute lets you remove an account’s tweets from your timeline without unfollowing them. This is useful if you want to stay connected to an account – perhaps in order to contact them for some reason – without having their tweets clog up your timeline.
  • Block an account if you want to stop it from being able to contact you. This is useful if they are sending you or your child inappropriate content. Blocking an account shuts it off entirely – blocked accounts can’t view your tweets, followers or likes, and you won’t see any of their tweets or times they mention you.
  • You can also Report an account or tweets if you think others shouldn’t see it. Twitter will judge whether it violates its rules or terms of service, and if so, it may ban the offending account.

How to block inappropriate content on Instagram

Block content on Instagram

Again, there’s no real way of ensuring your child won’t be exposed to any inappropriate content on Instagram, so it’s best to make sure they’re using it wisely. If someone is harassing your child by repeatedly tagging them in photos they don’t approve of or making unwanted advances, they can block them, stopping them from contacting your child, tagging them or mentioning them in comments. To do so, head to the offering profile, tap the menu icon (it’s the three dots) in the top right, and tap Block User.

They can also report inappropriate content. Tap the same menu icon, then Report

How to block inappropriate content on Google

Google SafeSearch

Google has an option called SafeSearch that omits adult content from search results. To set it up, go to google.com and search for anything, then on the results page, just under the search bar, select Settings, and click Search settings. Tick the box at the top marked Turn on SafeSearch. You can also lock SafeSearch, so other users of the same device can’t disable it. Click the Lock SafeSearch link, then you’ll be prompted to enter a password.

How to block inappropriate content on Snapchat

Snapchat phone

The simplest way to restrict what kind of content your child will see on Snapchat is to limit who can contact them. Tap the Settings menu (it looks like a cog) and tap Who can – Contact Me. Tap My Friends. That way, only people your child has added as friends can send them a Snap.

They can also block anyone who is sending them inappropriate content. Select a chat with a friend, tap Menu > Block. if they’re exposed to anything unsuitable, you should also email safety@snapchat.com to report it.

[Get expert tips and advice about inappropriate content to help keep your child safe online]

More from BT