Protecting children using the internet

Posted in Uncategorized by coda on April 30, 2009

Some background information:
Last year, the Council decided to consult the European Economic and Social Committee, under Article
153 of the Treaty establishing the European Community, on the Proposal for a Decision of the European Parliament and of the Council establishing a multiannual Community programme on protecting children using the Internet and other communication technologies. This program continues very much in the vein of the Safer Internet (1999-2004)and Safer Internet Plus (2005-8) programmes.

The program has four key areas for action:

a) reducing illegal content and tackling harmful conducts online,
b) promoting a safer online environment,
c) ensuring public awareness,
d) establishing a knowledge base.

The meeting on 5th May will hear views from a range of stakeholders. Reading the Opinion, I am reminded of Anne Colliers’ feature on Technopanics. Anne uses the current sexting panic to illustrate society’s ambivalent attitude towards technology and parental concerns about the impact of technology on the moral well-being of children. Her central argument appears to be that the conflation of panics with concerns can prove to be counterproductive. As she observes:
“”But why are technopanics bad, if there’s a chance they’ll scare people into safe behavior?” you might ask. For one thing because the Internet is ubiquitous, here to stay, a tool of participatory culture and democracy, and youth are its most active, fluent users – its drivers, in many ways. Young people aren’t scared of technology. They know all the workarounds if we get scared and try to ban the Net from their lives. They can easily go “underground” (away from home, at friends’ houses, public hot spots, using friends’ very mobile connected devices, from smartphones to music and game players), which can actually put them at greater risk, because when they’re in stealth mode, we’re no longer in the equation, and they need us as backup in their online as well as offline lives.”

In short- moral panics lead to skewing public policy and debates. Anne adds further:

“And there are macro-level, national and global, reasons why panics are bad. Here’s a list, a draft for which your comments and additions are welcome. Technopanics are bad because they…

  • Cause fear, which interferes with parent-child communication, which in turn puts kids at greater risk.
  • Cause schools to fear and block digital media when they need to be teaching constructive use, employing social-technology devices and teaching new media literacy and citizenship throughout the curriculum.
  • Turn schools into barriers rather than contributors to young people’s constructive use.
  • Increase the irrelevancy of school to active young social-technology users via the sequestering or banning of educational technology and hamstringing some of the most spirited and innovative educators.
  • Distract parents, educators, policymakers from real risks – including, for example, child-pornography laws that do not cover situations where minors can simultaneously be victim and “perpetrator” and, tragically, become registered sex offenders in cases where there was no criminal intent (e.g., see this).
  • Reduce the competitiveness of US education among developed countries already effectively employing educational technology and social media in schools (for an international view, see Joan Ganz Cooney Center/Sesame Workshop’s “Pockets of Potential: Using Mobile Technologies to Promote Children’s Learning”).
  • Reduce the competitiveness of US technology and media businesses practicing good corporate citizenship where youth online safety is concerned.
  • Lead to bad legislation, which aggravates above outcomes and takes the focus off areas where good laws on the books can be made relevant to current technology use.
  • Widen the participation gap for youth – technopanics are barriers for children and teens to full, constructive participation in participatory culture and democracy.”
  • I think this is something that will become a feature of public debates. Many of the participants attending the presentation will no doubt steer clear of technopanics – but something continues to trouble me as I read the document prepared for the Meeting on 5th May. I think that technopanics lead to 2 other problems not dealt with by Anne (which merits a separate post): age discrimination and privacy.


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