Referring to the child online safety issue in my previous SMC blog post (article) I raised, I want to bring forward another angle of safety & privacy for the kids, their parents and teachers in this article – Who should be held responsible for the child safety & privacy in social media?
Parental Part: Most of the time, we as parents feel comfortable and perceive that our kids are safe on/with the sites we trust. But we forget that the ideology which fits adults may not best fit our kids. We also neglect the fact that every site has a motive behind its presence. Whatever the point a site starts with, ultimately it ends up with a motive either promotional one or monetary. And this basic difference in motives and the respective approaches, are really the big things to discuss before we can endorse such a site to be safe for our kids.
Teacher’s Part: Researchers Deborah M Moscardelli and Catherine Liston-Heyes in their study “Teens Surfing the Net: How Do They Learn To Protect Their Privacy? (Journal of Business and Economics Research)” say "differences between adults and young people with regard to privacy may be due to lack of knowledge about privacy." And it is true, unless our kids are taught about the online safety & privacy issues, we can’t expect them to behave in a safer way! So, it is the responsibility of parents as well as teachers to teach about online safety & privacy to the kids on priority.
Responsibility of the social networking sites: Coming to the point of social networking sites, they are no different in terms of motive and the respective approaches. In the current time, social media has become the biggest online advertising tool one could ever guess. Of course we can’t deny the goodness of connectivity and the availability of user shared information on these sites, but at the same time we should be aware of these marketing/advertising parts associated with each and every social networking site and also their respective effect on the society and especially on the kids. With increase in the numbers of impotent and aggressive marketers and the fraudulent activities, the level and the amount of advertisements and black hat attacks are also growing at a very robust level. This increase, in turn, is affecting the kids of different age groups. So, this is the moral responsibility of these sites that they ensure the interest of the greater mass by protecting the kids in a far better way than now. Most of the sites have their age restriction policies in place, but all in vein. Rather they should implement some intelligent techniques which can automatically block kids of certain age groups.
If these social networking sites can employ HTTP cookies & web-bugs to track and enhance their advertising efforts, I don’t see a point that they can’t implement a similar technology for the issue coined.
The Kids Group Concerned: When I say kids in this article, I am talking about all the children in the age group of 3 to 17. And further according to their level of understanding, there can be 3-4 groups among this primary group of kids.
Author of the book “Toxic Childhood” Sue Palmer in a comment to my blog post says, “The most important group to consider is the youngest — children under the age of 7, many of whom are now spending as much time on screen-based activities as teenagers did a decade ago”. Palmer further adds “At this very early age, children need to be learning real-life human skills — social and physical skills that can only be learned in real time and real space through interaction with real people. I should like to see worldwide recommendations that children under three shouldn't use screen-based technology at all (that includes TV and DVDs), and children between three and seven should be limited to an hour or so a day. From seven to twelve, there should also be sensible limits, negotiated with parents.” Fitting into the guidelines proposed by Palmer, we can coin the issue of violation of age restriction for the use of social media, which is generally 13 years or above.
According to UK media regulatory Ofcom, ¼th of 8 to 12 years old have a profile in social networking sites like Facebook, MySpace, Bebo etc. A kid enjoying social networking, catchy illustrations and online gaming on internet etc. despite such age restrictions is a common case in all the nations worldwide.
So, kids should be motivated to a stage where they think twice before taking any action online. If we wouldn't let a kid drive a car or drink alcohol because it could damage an immature body and brain, so is the case with social networking and other online activities for children.
To sum-up: To ensure the best levels of safety & privacy for our kids, the responsibility lies upon (1) Parents & Teachers, (2) kids themselves up to a level and (3) on the sites so concerned. Whereas parents & teachers should assist their kids in learning these issues in an interactive way, the sites should employ technologies as mentioned above to ensure the safety & privacy of kids.
Remember, cookies, web-bugs or any other technology used by the social networking sites and other online stuffs won’t and can’t differentiate between a kid and an adult all by default. So, it is the responsibility of the marketers and the assisting parents & teacher that they teach their kids what is safe and what is not.