Children’s online wellbeing in an age of coronavirus


Written by Jon Howard, Executive Product Manager, BBC Own It

With feeds and social media bringing bad news about coronavirus around the clock, this is a particularly perilous time for the wellbeing of children. Some young people may focus on details of the news and want to talk about it all the time – others may not want to talk about it at all. It is important that children are supported as much as possible in dealing with their feelings, particularly if they are sad, angry or afraid.

Own It is a BBC app that has been designed to provide support for children’s wellbeing as they use their smartphones. It consists of a keyboard and a companion app. The keyboard features AI technology that can assess and intervene so that the right help can be provided at the right time. Once the app is installed, the keyboard becomes the default for every text input field in all apps and web pages.

The Own It companion app provides insights and feedback to the user on how they are using their smartphone. Entertaining and informative content is presented that allows children to grow their resilient behaviours and to develop a better understanding of how their actions can directly affect wellbeing.

To better help children during these unprecedented and anxious times, we have developed and released new features for Own It that seek to provide directed support on coronavirus and issues surrounding the crisis:


The Own It keyboard uses an underlying dictionary to support its autocorrect, autocomplete and next-word-prediction functions. This dictionary is based on how children speak and the language that they use on popular platforms. To ensure that children are able to express themselves about the current crisis, words related to the issue need to be available within the dictionary. With this latest update, additions have included words such as coronaviruscovid, and pandemic.


When a child is typing a message, the Own It text analysis module will give live feedback on the sentiment of the message and also provides an intervention when the system determines hate, toxicity or a number of safeguarding issues. The intervention can be passive or a full-screen message – providing a nudge or friction to give the user a chance to consider their actions or whether they need help. A new addition to this system is the classification of messages related to coronavirus and isolation. The method looks for the occurrence of words or phrases concerning the issue and then measures if the emotion sentiment is anger, fear or worry. If a user were to type “I’m so lonely with this isolating”, a passive intervention would be presented supporting the child in understanding that it is okay to be worried and they’re not alone –the user is then offered a link to helpful content within the companion app. If the child was to type “I like isolation, I get to read more books”, no intervention would be presented. The nuance of when to intervene is important, it is key part of the user experience that interventions feel helpful and not an annoyance.


Within the Own It companion app, there is a For You section that contains content which the system has determined to be important for that user. A new feature added here is Collections. These are swipe-able carousels that contain curated content concentrated on a topic. The first two collections launched with this release are The Lowdown Lockdown and Feeling Anxious or Scared?

The Lockdown Lowdown – entertaining and informative content that inspires children to live their best digital online life while in isolation – with celebrity contributions from pop stars, YouTubers and vloggers.

Feeling Anxious or Scared? – a collection of videos and articles that provide support for children during a time that they are away from their day-to-day support network of friends. Articles cover how to tackle fears and worries, de-stressing and support in understanding that it is normal to have ups and downs.

All of the new features uphold the strict data privacy requirements that have been applied to the Own It app. All of the machine learning and AI is run on the user’s device. No personal data is transferred to the BBC and no messages are logged. All data that is generated within the system is stored and handled locally on the phone. Data privacy is regarded as sacrosanct.

Own It is available on the iOS App Store and Android Play Store. It is designed specifically for smartphones. If you have a child who has recently received their first phone or would benefit from support during these unique times, then encourage them to install Own it and let us know how you get on.

Originally posted here

More thought leadership

Comments are closed.