Chelsea Clinton: We Must Protect The Children On The Internet
from the oh-come-on dept
We urgently need a public conversation in our country among key stakeholders: parents, educators, technology innovators, policymakers and young people themselves. The dialogue must focus on the ways social media and technology enable our kids to give up their privacy before they fully understand what privacy is and why it's important to all of us. We should also discuss how social media can help empower kids to find their voice, find their purpose and potentially create the next technology revolution.Every few months, we see basically the same announcement from some somber-looking-concerned-person-of-importance who seems to feel they just discovered the internet. Suddenly, this person realizes that, you know what, not everything on the internet is appropriate for children, and then, suddenly, "we need to have a conversation." You know what? That conversation has been going on for ages, and there's tons of great research being done already. Don't ask for a conversation in a silly paternalistic tone. How about you go talk to researchers like Danah Boyd, who has done some really fantastic work in the space that involves (*gasp*!) actually going and talking to kids and seeing how they use the internet, rather than making that concerned pouty face about the need for "a conversation."
All adults know that the teen years are a critical time for identity exploration and experimentation. Yet this important developmental phase can be dramatically twisted when that identity experimentation, however personal and private, appears permanently on one's digital record for all to see.
Even worse, after admitting that they haven't been a part of the ongoing conversation, Clinton and Steyer immediately jump to the "but we need laws!" as the answer. Notice that it's the very first thing they suggest:
We need legislation, educational efforts and norms that reflect 21st-century realities to maximize the opportunities and minimize the risks for our kids. Only then will we be able to give them the safe, healthy childhood and adolescence they deserve.We've gone through this dozens of time. No, the internet is not perfectly safe for kids, but neither is walking down the street. In some cases, you don't let your kids walk down the street alone, but as they get older, you teach them how to have a basic sense of street smarts, and you give them more power. None of that required special "protect the children!" laws. It does seem clear that kids need to learn some "internet street smarts," but that shouldn't require legislation. We've already seen how "protect the children" legislation has backfired in a big bad way.
For example, we already have COPPA, which basically makes it very very very difficult for companies to offer services to kids under 13-years-old. But this artificial barrier means that parents lie to help get their kids online. It's not clear how that "protects" those kids. It doesn't keep them offline, but it does teach them that lying is a good idea.
So rather than rushing to regulate, and acting all "concerned" about children -- most of whom do a pretty good job on their own figuring out how to stay safe -- perhaps we shouldn't just look at the exceptional cases and jump to legislation, but figure out what a reasonable response should be by taking more typical usage into account. You're never going to stop kids from doing stupid things. It's part of growing up. We can certainly help to educate kids, but taking on a totally paternalistic role is bound to backfire.