Often called a social network on training wheels, Club Penguin serves as an introduction to the online world for kids ages 6 and above. It provides a multitude of learning opportunities for children and parents alike. After my behind-the-scenes look at Club Penguin through my visit to headquarters and being privy to things that I’m not even allowed to write about, I believe it is the best way for kids to learn about appropriate social interactions and social networking in an age appropriate way.
Disclosure: I was invited to Club Penguin headquarters as part of a press trip with Disney Interactive who covered my travel expenses to attend. I was not asked or required to publish content related to Club Penguin and all opinions are my own. Photos courtesy of Club Penguin and Disney Interactive.
“We put safety above all else. Kids need to feel safe to have fun,” Vice President and General Manager of Disney Interactive, Chris Heatherly, said during our time at Club Penguin. Seeing how the company’s three pillars of safety, human interaction, technology and tools, and education, were echoed over and over again was most impressive.
As soon as a child creates a penguin, a human behind a screen moderates each and every name submitted to ensure that no personal information is shared. Children can be as creative as they want as they name their penguin but each name is reviewed by a member of the human global moderation team that consists of over 200 people in four locations. Moderators check to ensure that kids aren’t giving up any personally identifying information, such as first or last name and address, in their screen name before being allowed to enter the Club Penguin community.
The virtual Club Penguin world is always being moderated by teams located at the Kelowna headquarters and in locations such as Brighton, Sao Paulo, and Buenos Aires. In addition to worldwide moderators, Club Penguin has a global security team that works around the clock to intervene in serious situations. They scan conversations in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, and German and review chat logs, looking for inappropriate conversation, bad words, and even players asking fellow penguins for their addresses. When the moderators see something inappropriate or kids testing the rules, they send a reminder to kids. The first infraction comes with a warning but subsequent ones come with a 24 hour ban. The second inappropriate action results in a 72 hours ban (3 days in the eyes of a kid is a LONG time!). The third infraction results in a forever ban where the player is removed from the site.
Each time a player is subjected to a ban, it provides a teachable moment for kids and parents alike. In some instances, Club Penguin has received phone calls and emails from kids and parents that provides the company with a way to partner with parents to educate them about why their child was banned.
Technology and Tools
During our visit, we got an exclusive behind the scenes look at how Club Penguin works to always keep kids safe. The technology behind Ultimate Safe Chat works to select words from predetermined dictionary to make it more efficient for kids to communicate and make friends quickly without having to worry that what they’re writing is spelled perfectly. Standard Safe Chat uses predictive technology to autofill words that also assists with spelling.
Of course there are many more tools besides word filters and moderation software. Club Penguin employs sophisticated innovative technology that I got to see as a friend of Aunt Artic that is truly impressive but is so super secret that I can’t even write about it. Just believe me when I say that it’s awesome! After seeing how it works to keep kids safe, I truly trust everything that Club Penguin is doing behind the scenes to ensure that our kids are safe while playing in this vast online playground.
“We strive to put safety at the highest level . We have the responsibility of teaching kids beyond the world of Club Penguin,” shared Gerald Poitras (aka Styoma Storm), Head of Online Safety.
While playing in the virtual Club Penguin world, kids learn to stand up to bullies thanks to a one click reporting mechanism that empowers them to report bad behavior in the community. Being able to stand up and report bad behavior among fellow penguins is taken very seriously by everyone at Club Penguin but also sends an important message to players that they don’t have to be bystanders. The community feels empowered to report those that are violating the rules of the penguin world and this creates a culture of respect. It also teaches kids that they don’t need to be bystanders. Such lessons are not only important in the virtual world but also in real life situations.
Club Penguin also provides plenty of tools for parents to be educated about online safety issues through various avenues. Through the Parent Tools resources available upon logging into the website, Club Penguin helps parents find answers to frequently asked questions. A monthly parent newsletter goes out to educate families through tips and links to resources by online safety partners. The notification dashboard is also a way that families can access tips about the game and conversation starters for ways to parents talk to their kids about important online safety issues or topics such as screen time. Club Penguin also makes a timer feature available to parents to help limit game play on a daily basis and they provide notifications about progress and rewards as well as bans.
“The minority of parents engage with tools on a daily basis but throughout the lifetime, parents do engage with it a couple of times. For kids who get banned, parents start to use the resources more,” Petras said. “We see a big opportunity for finding ways to reach parents where they are, send notifications via Facebook. Email can be spammy so we’re trying to find different ways along with more automation of ways we can communicate.”
To learn more about Club Penguin, visit my post: An Introduction to Club Penguin