Keeping Kids Safe Online Through Cultural Understanding & Context

Carlos Figueiredo
June 30, 2021

This blog’s key objective is to empower you with a greater understanding of the cultural contexts found online so next time you chat with your child about their online experiences, you will be able to meaningfully engage them on this topic.

Balancing expression & safety

Ensuring online communities for kids like social apps, education platforms, and video games are places where children can be creative, learn and have fun while being protected from online harms like cyberbullying and hate speech is critical work.

Achieving a balance between expression and safety is hard and requires cultural and contextual understanding so companies can effectively protect children of all backgrounds and needs.


A global challenge

As the Director of Trust & Safety for Two Hat, a company that provides a holistic solution to those problems, I work with our partners to help them foster healthy and safe online communities.

Many of them are the biggest social platforms for kids out there and your child might be chatting, studying, or playing in one of them right now!

To put it into perspective, we currently classify over one hundred billion human interactions - live chat, comments, usernames, images and videos -  every month, automating and empowering community management operations to protect members in real time across the globe. For comparison, that’s many times the volume of tweets being shared monthly!


Tackling the challenge

To stay ahead of the changing nature of online language, Two Hat has a team of language & culture experts who understand the cultural nuances and contexts of each of their languages. Thanks to this cultural context, we are able to tell which of the latest online slangs and trends are being used positively versus the ones that are employed to bully and cause harm to others.

I asked Sabine Ernst, our Manager of Language & Culture, to share insights from her work and why cultural understanding matters when keeping kids safe online.

Sabine Ernst, Two Hat's Manager of Language and Culture


Sabine, can you tell us about your background working with kids offline and how that connects to your current role?

“Back in Great Britain I was part of a project run by the University of London in residential care where I worked with the most vulnerable citizens of society.

Many of our children and young adults experienced bullying offline on a regular basis. Some of the teenagers I worked with were sexually exploited. Working closely with law enforcement I learned that the majority of cases started online on a social platform or game.

When joining Two Hat I was surprised and excited to see that technology can be leveraged to prevent this type of harm and others.“


Cultural contexts beyond technology

Can you share an example of why cultural understanding makes the difference?

“Idiomatic expressions, informal language with a meaning different from the meaning of the words at face value, can lose intended meaning through direct translation. 

For example, the term ‘birthday suit’ is understood in English in the US and Canada as someone being naked. However, without cultural understanding, word to word translations will likely lead to an incorrect result otherwise, losing nuance, maybe giving the impression that it is a special outfit one wears at their birthday party, when in fact a community member might be asking for a nude picture. This is why human expertise is so important”.

Internet lingo and Pop Culture

Furthermore, online language changes all the time. What is that new slang your child is using? Is it trending on social media or perhaps from a new song?

“We stay on top of the latest slang, hash tags, and trends to ensure we capture current and relevant global contexts for our clients”, Sabine shared.

It all happens in the blink of an eye.

Take Pop Music as an example. Songs can create new acronyms - WAP by Cardi B Featuring Megan Thee Stallion, anyone? Since that acronym can now carry a sexual meaning that is inappropriate in the context of a digital space where kids are chatting, our team proactively identifies the new trend, categorizes and flags it to our clients so they can take action where needed.


Different languages, different needs

How about the differences between languages and their unique needs?

“One of the main topics we tackle is Personally Identifiable Information (PII), pieces of text that can lead to identifying specific details about a child.

For example, countries and their address formats. Our language specialists who are native speakers apply that knowledge to each language in our system. While the address formats in the US and Canada typically have a number followed by the street suffix (street, avenue, lane, etc), in Brazil the format is inverted: street suffix followed by the number. 

Phone numbers also have different formats and lengths depending on the country”.

Your child’s context

Next time you chat with your child about their digital experiences, consider an ongoing learning dialogue asking the following questions:

  • Have you learned a new slang or expression from your time online? What does it mean?
  • Do you see people quoting lyrics from your favorite songs online? Which ones?
  • Have you met anyone online from other countries or cultural backgrounds? What did you learn about them?  What language(s) do they speak?

I hope this blog increased your knowledge of the different cultural contexts present online, and sparked new ideas on how to connect with your children on their digital journey. 

Remember to approach it with an open mind and be prepared to learn from them!

To learn more, visit TwoHat.com!


Written by

Carlos Figueiredo

Carlos Figueiredo (he/him) has worked on Trust & Safety since 2008. Previously at Disney Online Studios (Club Penguin alumnus, and a proud Penguin at that!), now Director of Trust & Safety at Two Hat, he also helped co-found the Fair Play Alliance in 2017 and serves as the executive director of the organization. His mission is to foster healthy and safe online spaces where we can enable the full potential of digital human interaction. He has spoken at eSafety Australia, FOSI 2018, Game Developers Conference, CMX Summit, Unity for Humanity Summit, RovioCon, and other global events. Carlos has also been featured in publications by The Washington Post, Game Informer, and Polygon.