World Wild Web
Some of the content available on the Internet is wild, to say the least. This can be especially worrying to parents: What their children could come across when they use the Internet. Parents with a sound mind wouldn’t take their pre-teens to a strip club nor toddlers to play unattended near a highway. So, while parents might take restrictive or enabling mediational approaches to their children’s Internet use, any social networking sites – just like play parks or social clubs – must provide rock solid, full of merciless punishments regulations that can ensure an appropriate environment for their young users.
The Global Media and Children Summit held last December in Manchester, UK, brought together policy makers, researchers, members of industry, media representatives, journalists, NGOs, parents, teachers, self-proclaimed pundits, and cartoon characters under one roof. All of them had a role to play – express concerns, announce new developments, discuss issues, search for solutions to create a safer Internet for children to let them fully benefit from the affordances of technologies. Oh, and also to get a hug from Peppa Pig.
More talk; business as usual
The gathered forces were undeniably strong. Media representatives, researchers and academics, campaigners supporting various causes related to children and media, children’s rights activists, and, ironically, the less popular – at least at that particular party – industry giants like Google and Facebook.
Each force pushed their own ways: Facebook – insisting that they are “not a media company” (a matter of semantics at this point!). Google’s Cardboard and Facebook’s Oculus VR – The dawn of new everything and the dawn of every extreme to a new extreme level. Researchers and academics – converting data into human language, performing a balancing act. Peppa Pig – doing selfies with strangers.
The outcomes from the summit seemed overall positive. For one, BBC launched their Own It (some bits inaccessible from Malta), a website aiming to help children, 9-12, “navigate their digital lives with confidence and resilience”. However, at least one issue remained unresolved since last December. One that concerns children.
Instagram’s (owned by Facebook) safety policy remains largely optional for users. Kate’s newest coat certainly gained more coverage during CGMS than the fact that Instagram’s zero nudity policy is not enforceable. When Simon Milner, policy director of Facebook, was confronted with the practical preview of the company’s weak rules, his reaction during a CGMS session was that he would have a look at the problem.
While Facebook claims that it protects children by imposing age restriction for use, which is 13, we know that kids get around these rules. With Instagram, it’s even easier. Children don’t even have to lie. You have the options to:
- sign up with your Facebook account or
- with a phone number or email
- put any name – Tom, Dick or Harry
- choose a password
- select a photo – of a cat or of your thumb
- and you’re in … and any Troll, Demon or Harasser, too. Not necessarily always but as online access provides opportunities those come with risks, too.
Risks lurk even on the streets. Agreed. Children cannot completely avoid risks anywhere even in their own homes. Here a differentiation must be made between risks and actual harm. We deploy various methods to minimize risks while avoiding harm completely through education, law and order, fines and punishments, all kinds of rules and so on.
Enforce rules or lose
While it can be argued that children build resilience at the face of some risk, it is also imperative, especially in the hands of those providing the social platforms, to take responsibility and stick to their own rules that they themselves ask users to read and agree to. It’s about time that industry players, social media owners, siren servers, powerful players find means to enforce their rules for the sake of children.
Ultimately, this also should give others the competitive advantage to provide better services – better social online areas for young people bar the nastiness.