Category Archives: Children

ILPC Annual Conference and Annual Lecture 2017 Children and Digital Rights: Regulating Freedoms and Safeguards

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ILPC Annual Conference and Annual Lecture 2017
Children and Digital Rights: Regulating Freedoms and Safeguards

The Internet provides children with more freedom to communicate, learn, create, share, and engage with society than ever before. Research by Ofcom in 2016 found that 72 percent of young teenagers in the UK have social media accounts. Twenty percent of the same group have made their own digital music and 30 percent have used the Internet for civic engagement by signing online petitions or by sharing and talking about the news.

Interacting within this connected digital world, however, also presents a number of challenges to ensuring the adequate protection of a child’s rights to privacy, freedom of expression, and safety, both online and offline. These risks range from children being unable to identify advertisements on search engines to being subjects of bullying or grooming or other types of abuse in online chat groups.

Children may also be targeted via social media platforms with methods (such as fake online identities or manipulated photos and images) specially designed to harm them or exploit their particular vulnerabilities and naivety.

These issues were the focus of the 2017 Annual Conference of the Information Law and Policy Centre (ILPC) based at the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, University of London. The ILPC produces, promotes, and facilitates research about the law and policy of information and data, and the ways in which law both restricts and enables the sharing and dissemination of different types of information.

The ILPC’s Annual conference was one of a series of events celebrating
the 70th Anniversary of the founding of the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies. Other events included the ILPC’s Being Human Festival expert and interdisciplinary panel discussion on ‘Co-existing with HAL 9000: Being Human in a World with Artificial Intelligence’.

At the 2017 ILPC Annual Conference, leading policymakers, practitioners, regulators, key representatives from industry and civil society, and academic experts examined and debated the opportunities and challenges posed by current and future legal frameworks and the policies being used and developed to safeguard these freedoms and rights.

These leading stakeholders included Rachel Bishop, Deputy Director of Internet Policy at the Department of Digital (DCMS); Lisa Atkinson, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) Head of Policy; Anna Morgan, Deputy Data Protection Commissioner of Ireland; Graham Smith, Internet law expert at Bird & Bird LLP), Renate Samson, former CEO of privacy advocacy organisation Big Brother Watch, and Simon Milner, Facebook’s Policy Director for the UK, Africa, and Middle East.

The legal systems under scrutiny included the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the related provisions of the UK Digital Charter, and the UK Data Protection Bill, which will implement the major reforms of the much anticipated EU General Data Protection Regulation (2016/679) (GDPR) which will soon enter into force on 25 May 2018. Key concerns expressed at the conference by delegates included the effectiveness in practice and lack of evidence-based policy for the controversial age of consent for children and their use of online information services provided for under the GDPR.

Further questions were raised with respect to what impact in practice will there be for children’s privacy, their freedom of expression, and their civil liberties as a result of the new transparency and accountability principles and mechanisms that must be implemented by industry and governments when their data processing involves the online marketing to, or monitoring, of children.

Given the importance and pertinence of these challenging and cutting-edge policy issues, the Centre is delighted that several papers, by regulators and academic experts from institutions within the UK, the EU, and beyond, which were presented, discussed, and debated at the conference’s plenary sessions and keynote panels, feature in a special issue of the leading peer-review legal journal of Communications Law, published by Bloomsbury Publishers.

This special issue also includes the Centre’s 2017 Annual Lecture delivered by one of the country’s leading children’s online rights campaigners, Baroness Beeban Kidron OBE, also a member of the House of Lords and film-maker, on ‘Are Children more than Clickbait in the 21st Century?’

For IALS podcasts of the 2017 ILPC Annual Lecture delivered by Baroness Kidron and presentations from the Annual Conference’s Keynote Panel, please see the IALS website at: http://ials.sas.ac.uk/digital/videos.

Nora Ni Loideain
Director and Lecturer in Law,
Information Law and Policy Centre,
IALS, University of London.

Annual Conference 2017 Resources

The Information Law and Policy Centre held its third annual conference on 17th November 2017. The workshop’s theme was: ‘Children and Digital Rights: Regulating Freedoms and Safeguards’.

The workshop brought together regulators, practitioners, civil society, and leading academic experts who addressed and examined the key legal frameworks and policies being used and developed to safeguard children’s digital freedoms and rights. These legislative and policy regimes include the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the related provisions (such as consent, transparency, and profiling) under the UK Digital Charter, and the Data Protection Bill which will implement the EU General Data Protection Regulation.

The following resources are available online:

  • Full programme
  • Presentation: ILPC Annual Conference, Baroness Beeban Kidron (video)
  • Presentation: ILPC Annual Conference, Anna Morgan (video)
  • Presentation: ILPC Annual Conference, Lisa Atkinson (video)
  • Presentation: ILPC Annual Conference, Rachael Bishop (video)

Too much information? More than 80% of children have an online presence by the age of two

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In this guest post, Claire Bessant, Northumbria University, Newcastle, looks into the phenomenon of ‘sharenting’. Her article is relevant to the Information Law and Policy Centre’s annual conference coming up in November – Children and Digital Rights: Regulating Freedoms and Safeguards.

A toddler with birthday cake smeared across his face, grins delightedly at his mother. Minutes later, the image appears on Facebook. A not uncommon scenario – 42% of UK parents share photos of their children online with half of these parents sharing photos at least once a month.

Welcome to the world of “sharenting” – where more than 80% of children are said to have an online presence by the age of two. This is a world where the average parent shares almost 1,500 images of their child online before their fifth birthday.

But while a recent report from OFCOM confirms many parents do share images of their children online, the report also indicates that more than half (56%) of parents don’t. Most of these non-sharenting parents (87%) actively choose not to do so to protect their children’s private lives.

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Has Facebook finally given up chasing teenagers? It’s complicated

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Facebook Watch.
Facebook

In this guest post, Harry T Dyer, University of East Anglia, looks into the complicated relationship between social media and young people. His article is relevant to the Information Law and Policy Centre’s annual conference coming up in November – Children and Digital Rights: Regulating Freedoms and Safeguards.

Facebook’s latest attempt to appeal to teens has quietly closed its doors. The social media platform’s Lifestage app (so unsuccessful that this is probably the first time you’ve heard of it) was launched a little under a year ago to resounding apathy and has struggled ever since.

Yet, as is Silicon Valley’s way, Facebook has rapidly followed the failure of one venture with the launch of another one by unveiling a new video streaming service. Facebook Watch will host series of live and pre-recorded short-form videos, including some original, professionally made content, in a move that will allow the platform to more directly compete with the likes of YouTube, Netflix and traditional TV channels.

Lifestage was just one of a long series of attempts by Facebook to stem the tide of young people increasingly interacting across multiple platforms. With Watch, the company seems to have changed tack from this focus on retaining young people, instead targeting a much wider user base. Perhaps Facebook has learnt that it will simply never be cool –, but that doesn’t mean it still can’t be popular.

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Why the very idea of ‘screen time’ is muddled and misguided

In this guest post, Dr Natalia Kucirkova, UCL and Professor Sonia Livingstone, (London School of Economics and Political Science), explore ‘screen time’ as an outdated term and why we need to recognise the power of learning through  screen-based technologies. Their article is relevant to the Information Law and Policy Centre’s annual conference coming up in November – Children and Digital Rights: Regulating Freedoms and Safeguards.

The idea of “screen time” causes arguments – but not just between children and their anxious parents. The Children’s Commissioner for England, Anne Longfield, recently compared overuse of social media to junk food and urged parents to regulate screen time using her “Digital 5 A Day” campaign.

This prompted the former director of Britain’s electronic surveillance agency, GCHQ, to respond by telling parents to increase screen time for children so they can gain skills to “save the country”, since the UK is “desperately” short of engineers and computer scientists.

Meanwhile, parents are left in the middle, trying to make sense of it all.

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Social media genie won’t go back in the bottle, so we must teach youngsters to use it wisely

File 20170717 6069 1cwo9kn

Beer5020/Shutterstock

In this guest post, Vladlena Benson, Kingston Universityassesses the need to encourage conscious social media use among the young. Her article is relevant to the Information Law and Policy Centre’s annual conference coming up in November – Children and Digital Rights: Regulating Freedoms and Safeguards.

Teenagers in Britain are fortunate to have access to computers, laptops and smartphones from an early age. A child in the UK receives a smartphone at around the age of 12 – among the earliest in Europe. The natural consequence of this is that children spend a significant amount of their time on the internet. Nearly 20 years or so since the first social networks appeared on the internet, there has been considerable research into their psychological, societal, and health effects. While these have often been seen as largely negative over the years, there is plenty of evidence to the contrary.

A recent report from the Education Policy Institute, for example, studied children’s use of the internet and their mental health. The report found that teenagers value social networks as a way of connecting with friends and family, maintaining their networks of friends, and long distance connections. Teenagers see social networking as a comfortable medium for sharing their issues and finding solutions to problems such as social isolation and loneliness. They are also more likely to seek help in areas such as health advice, unknown experiences, and help with exams and study techniques.

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Information Law and Policy Centre’s Annual Conference 2017 – Children and Digital Rights: Regulating Freedoms and Safeguards

This event took place at the Information Law and Policy Centre at the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies on Friday, 17 November 2017.
ANNUAL CONFERENCE 2017 RESOURCES

Date 17 Nov 2017, 09:30 to 17 Nov 2017, 17:30
Venue Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, 17 Russell Square, London WC1B 5DR

Description

The Internet provides children with more freedom to communicate, learn, create, share, and engage with society than ever before. For instance, research by Ofcom in 2016 found that 72% of young teenagers (twelve to fifteen) in the UK have social media accounts which are often used for homework groups. 20% of the same group have made their own digital music and 30% have used the Internet for civic engagement by signing online petitions, or sharing and talking online about the news.

Interacting within this connected digital world, however, also presents a number of challenges to ensuring the adequate protection of a child’s rights to privacy, freedom of expression, and safety, both online and offline. These risks range from children being unable to identify advertisements on search engines to bullying in online chat groups. Children may also be targeted via social media platforms with methods (such as fake online identities or manipulated photos/images) specifically designed to harm them or exploit their particular vulnerabilities and naivety.

Continue reading

No, the internet is not actually stealing kids’ innocence

Child with phone

In this guest post, Professor Sonia Livingstone, (London School of Economics and Political Science), assesses the evidence behind claims in the media that the internet is harming children and young people. Her article is relevant to the Information Law and Policy Centre’s annual conference coming up in November – Children and Digital Rights: Regulating Freedoms and Safeguards.

The news is constantly awash with stories reporting on – and arguably amplifying – public anxieties over youth and media. The anxieties concern violence and video games, gaming addiction, internet and mental health, and teen suicide.

For example, child psychologist Michael Carr-Gregg recently linked the sexualisation of children and their easy access to online pornography to an increase in sexual and indecent assault allegations at school.

His argument reprised some familiar problems that are common in media panic stories about the supposed loss of childhood innocence.

Problems with the evidence

There are four common steps that are neatly illustrated by Carr-Gregg’s argument: the claim of a media cause, an outcome harmful to youth, evidence that these are causally linked, and a mediating factor that can make or break the causal link.

  1. Children are increasingly immersed in pervasive and damaging messages from the media (online, social and mainstream) that objectify women and legitimate sexual assault. The existence of such messages is not in doubt. But children’s immersion in them and their implied lack of critical media literacy is.
  2. Sexual assaults among school students are increasing. The increased reporting of such assaults is also not in doubt. However, it’s unclear whether this is a genuine increase in assaults or an increase in their reporting due to greater awareness.
  3. Exposure to pornography is causally responsible for the increase in sexual assaults among children. This is often the crucial missing link in such media accounts; there is simply no evidence cited to support this claim.
  4. Parents (and society) are unaware of and should be better prepared for the pervasive influence of sexualised media on their children. Again this is likely exaggerated, although not greatly in doubt. But whether it makes a difference to children’s vulnerability to damaging messages or to actual assault has not been established.

But, for each step, the evidence for media harm is insufficient.

Research on children’s exposure to pornography

The conclusions of a recent detailed 20-year review of the research on children’s exposure to pornography were:

  • Some adolescents – more often boys, “sensation seekers” and those with troubled family relations – tend to use pornography. This in turn is weakly linked to gender-stereotypical sexual beliefs that can be pejorative to women.
  • There is a link between exposure to pornography and sexually aggressive behaviours in boys. But, for girls, pornography use is related to experiences of sexual victimisation.
  • However, because of various “methodological and theoretical shortcomings”, the claim of causality cannot be considered conclusive.

These findings echo those from a recent meta-analysis, which found that sexting behaviour was positively related to sexual activity, unprotected sex and one’s number of sexual partners. However, the relationship was weak to moderate.

In general, research is clearer that online pornography can be problematic as an experience for adolescents rather than as a cause of sexually violent behaviour.

For instance, a 2016 UK study found that children report a range of negative emotions after watching pornography. On first exposure, children express shock, upset and confusion. They seem to become desensitised to the content over time.

Also complicating matters is the importance of allowing for adolescents’ right to express and explore their sexuality both online and offline, as well as the finding that one reason they seek out pornography is that society provides little else in terms of needed materials for sexual education. But some have made a great start.

What, then, should be done?

The evidence in support of effective public interventions is as limited as evidence of the harm these are designed to alleviate.

Still, the precautionary principle provides some legitimation for intervention – and there are solutions to be tried. For example:

  • In a recent report, my colleagues and I proposed a series of possible legislative and industry strategies. Several have potential to reduce harm without unduly restricting either adults’ or children’s online freedoms.
  • In another report, we focused on the importance of better digital literacy and sexual education in schools, as well as constructive awareness-raising and support for parents.
  • In the 2017 report by the House of Lords, the focus was on improving the co-ordination of strategies across society, along with learning from the evaluation of what works and, more radically, introducing ethics-by-design into the processes of content and technological production to improve children’s online experiences in the first place.

But if a mix of thoughtful strategies is to be implemented, tested, refined and co-ordinated, we need an open environment in which policy is led by evidence rather than media panic. We must also become critical readers of popular claims about media harm.

In terms of identifying causes, we should ask why the finger of blame is always pointed at the media rather than other likely causes (including violence against women, or problems linked to growing inequality or precarity).

In terms of identifying outcomes, are we so sure that problems among the young are really rising? Or that the internet can engender addiction in the sense that drugs or gambling can?

The ConversationWhile such doubts have validity, it would also seem implausible to claim that the unprecedented advent of internet and social media use on a mass scale in Western cultures has had no consequences for children, positive or negative. The challenge is to ensure these consequences benefit children and the wider society.

Sonia Livingstone, Professor of Social Psychology, London School of Economics and Political Science

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Social media is nothing like drugs, despite all the horror stories

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Nothing like Instagram. (cliplab.pro/Shutterstock

 

In this guest post, Andy Przybylski (University of Oxford) and Amy C Orben (University of Oxford), consider the impact of social media use on children and associated media coverage. Their article is relevant to the theme of the Information Law and Policy Centre’s annual workshop, Children and Digital Rights, to be held in November.

Letting your child use social media is like giving them cocaine, alcohol and cigarettes – all at once, or so we’re told. If you have been following recent press reports about the effects of social media on young people, you may well believe this. But there is no scientific evidence to support such extreme claims.

The real story is far more complex. It is very difficult to predict how social media will affect any specific individual – the effect depends on things like their personality, type of social media use and social surroundings. In reality, social media can have both positive and negative outcomes.

Media reports that compare social media to drug use are ignoring evidence of positive effects, while exaggerating and generalising the evidence of negative effects. This is scaremongering – and it does not promote healthy social media use. We would not liken giving children sweets to giving children drugs, even though having sweets for every meal could have serious health consequences. We should therefore not liken social media to drugs either.

For a claim to be proved scientifically it needs to be thoroughly tested. To fully confirm The Independent’s headline that: “Giving your child a smartphone is like giving them a gram of cocaine, says top addiction expert”, you would need to give children both a gram of cocaine and a smartphone and then compare the effects. Similarly, you would need to provide millennials with social media, drugs and alcohol to test The Conversation’s headline that: “Social media is as harmful as alcohol and drugs for millennials”. But ethical guidelines at universities were put in place so that such studies will never be done.

The diversity of social media

But maybe news headlines should be discounted – as exaggerations are often used to grab the readers’ attention. But even when ignoring these grand claims, the media coverage of social media is still misleading. For example, reports that talk about the effects of social media are often oversimplifying reality. Social media is incredibly diverse – different sites providing a host of different features. This makes it extremely difficult to generalise about social media’s effects.

A recent review of past research concluded that the effect of Facebook depends on which of the platform’s features you use. A dialog with friends over Facebook messenger can improve your mood, while comparing your life to other people’s photos on the Newsfeed can do the opposite. By treating all social media sites and features as one concept, the media is oversimplifying something that is very complex.

Focusing on the negative

Past media coverage has not only oversimplified social media, but has often only focused on social media’s negative aspects. But scientific research demonstrates that there are both positive and negative outcomes of social media use. Research has shown that Facebook increases self-esteem and promotes feeling connected to others. People’s physiological reactions also indicate they react positively to Facebook use.

By contrast, it has also been found that social media can decrease well-being and increases social anxiety. An analysis of 57 scientific studies found that social media is associated with slightly higher levels of narcissism. This array of conflicting evidence suggests that social media has both negative and positive effects. Not just one or the other.

The amount matters

The effect of social media also depends on the amount of time you spend using it. In a recent study we conducted of more than 120,000 UK teenagers, we found that moderate social media use is not harmful to mental health.

We compared the relationship between screen time and well-being. We found that those who used screens a moderate amount – between one and three hours each day – reported higher well-being compared with those who didn’t use social media at all and those who used it more than three hours a day. So, unlike drugs, those who practise abstinence do not appear to fare better.

The ConversationRecent media reports may have made parents unnecessarily anxious about their child’s use of social media. A flashy quote or headline can often distract from the real challenges of parenting. It’s time the media covered not only the bad, but also the beneficial and complex sides of social media. The effects of social media cannot be summarised by comparing social media to drugs. It is just not that simple.

Andy Przybylski, Associate Professor and Senior Research Fellow, University of Oxford and Amy C Orben, College Lecturer and DPhil Candidate, University of Oxford

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.