It was a privilege to have been asked our opinion last week, about whether to permit national school children to have smartphones. It featured in the Irish Daily Mail. We have always been very firm in our advice to all parents when we recommend, under no circumstances should children in National Schools ever be given a Smartphone. They have neither the maturity, not the intellectual ability to deal with the enormous amount of harmful content and online deviant behaviour of others.
There is a duty of care both on us as parents and the platform providers. However it is an unreal expectation, as parent’s can’t just rely on the companies who provide platforms for Social Media Apps, to protect children fully. If we are to learn anything from the Channel 4 Dispatches episode “Secrets of a Social Network”, it should be that these sites, despite their attempts at moderation are simply unsuitable for children, full stop.
Large companies such as Facebook, exist to make profit. Profit is made from advertising. A user is a consumer. The personal information you, or your child provide every time you log in, Like, Comment, or even look at on a page or post, is generating information on you. This information is then sold on to third parties, who target you with advertising. The revenue generated keeps the company going. You are not availing of these Apps for free, there is a huge cost. It is the sacrifice of your privacy and personal information, and that of your children if they also use the platforms.
Facebook is coming under an incredible amount of pressure to address the moderation issues and remove Child Abuse, Self-Harm and Hate Speech content. However, it is important to realise your children are not using Facebook. All eyes are now focused on the one company, children do not use. We have literally not seen more than a handful of children with a Facebook account, in all of the schools we visited.
“Ugly or Not Instagram Poll”
Children are using Snapchat and Instagram and many other apps parents would not be familiar with. Each of these social media giants, also have enormous issues with the type of content being shared and posted online. Last week it was reported that a 10-year-old girl Mia-Lili Bennett, 10, had told her parents Corrinia Bennett, 33, and John Bennett, 42, how she wanted to “end it all” after seeing her image on Instagram.
A photo of Mia-Lili’s face had been used in a post along with the words “who thinks she ugly” 53 per cent of those who responded to the Instagram pole, chose “hell ya”. Mia-Lili had to be placed on a 24 hour suicide watch, such was the impact this cruel and unacceptable post. This post was created on the 2nd of June 2018, however it was only last Tuesday, family friends made mum Corrina aware of the post existence.
Smartphones are not toys. There is a level of maturity required to navigate the online world as it’s not just filled with cute and funny kitten images. Permitting a child to enter this world and not be impacted by it is an unreasonable expectation. It will be next to impossible to moderate every single site. Even if it was attempted, those who defend the right to free speech will argue their entitlement to post and access content, which while it may represent their interests, is in no way suitable for children.
There is also a great deal of responsibility being placed on a person who is entering the online world, to respect the right of every other user. While we expect this at all times from children, kids will be kids. They make mistakes. Children do not have this level of maturity by default. It is taught by parents and teachers to respect on another in the real world. This can be hard to teach a child in an online perspective as the online world appears disconnected from the real world, until something goes wrong.
For parents to have an expectation for a child to self-police themselves online at a young age online is unreasonable. Or to believe that Apps the child use are going to be 100% child moderated, is unrealistic. The amount of content being generated all over the world on a daily basis is difficult to moderate. Yet we have an expectation companies will. If any lesson needs to be learned from the type of content Facebook permitted to host, it is the need for parents to be an active part of their children online experience.
We don’t get a rewind button with this. We also can’t delete the memories or the experiences of a child, if those experiences impact them in a negative way. It is great to see a public outcry, demanding the removal on inappropriate content from Facebook The company should have higher standards when it comes to what people can post. Remember, Facebook is but one of a multitude of Apps and platforms children have access to, but more importantly, Facebook is not the App of choice for most kids these days.
Children of the Digital Age