Free speech and media literacy for all?

It continues to suprise me how often different standards are uncritically applied to young people and to adults. The justification for the difference is assumed, but never articulated.

James PurnellIn his speech at the Digital Media Literacy Summit today James Purnell, MP, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, robustly argued that government shouldn't attempt to censor access to digital media – but quickly noted and praised not long after work going on to develop and certify software that allows parents to block young people's access to 'harmful material'.

I'm not going to go as far as the child liberationists to argue that media censorship for children and young people and not adults is an arbitary imposition without grounds. But I would suggest we need more critical thought about the risks of uncritically talking about a blocking approach to young people's media access and to the protection of young people online.

What do you think?

(I've been acting a social media reporter at the Summit today. You can see some of the videos I captured at More coming on Monday when I get chance to edit them…)

3 thoughts on “Free speech and media literacy for all?”

  1. Tricky one this. As things stand I think many young people don’t have as much access to the internet as they could because there aren’t enough good ways to ‘block’.

    Some schools (ridiculously) blanket block access to sites outside of the school intranet (which hardly prepares them for life!), and parents prevent or restrict access for fear of what content children may access.

    If it was possible to have good intelligent blocking software then perhaps these kinds of restrictions could be lifted.

    From the point of view of these restrictions being a restriction on childrens liberties – frankly I don’t care! I don’t say that not as somebody working with young people – I say it as a parent, and I see my duty as a parent to protect my children from certain things that are easily accessible online. Therefore if good blocking software was available I would probably use it.

    In terms of justifying the different standards applied to young people and adults I think this is important. The standards should be different because young people are still children and society has a duty to care for them. I think a great deal of work done with young people currently is misguided – it seems more concerned with making young people into adults at as early an age as possible rather than valuing them as children and young people and helping them to make the most of being so.

  2. If we can show that children are less able to cope with or avoid objectionable material than adults (which I would strongly suspect we can for some stages of childhood) then we do have a case for restrictions.

    They key is making these restrictions age appropriate, and making sure they are, as you identify, intelligent restrictions.

    A tough question seems to come up if we cannot get intelligent enough blocking software. Do we go for software that creates too many false positives (blocks more than it should) and so over-restrict children’s access to information? Do we opt for software that has too many false negatives, and to means objectionable content can be accessed (and so either find ourselves not that much further forward, or lull ourselves into a false sense of security)?

    I wouldn’t argue that blocking has no role to play, but:

    a) It must be age (developmentally?) appropriate and effective, not blanket across ages and full of false positives.

    b) It mustn’t replace working with children and young people to develop the resiliency skills and capacities in young people to navigate all forms of content, including objectionable content that, in a complex world, they can never be completely shielded from.

  3. Agree with all of that 🙂

    Thats similar to what I meant with my first point – how do you create an ‘intelligent’ software that can acknowledge what a Child/Young Person is capable of viewing?

    I know the strict answer is that parents/adults should supervise but thats just not a reality for this to always be possible. So yes then you get unreasonable blocking which I think is frustrating all round because we work with young people and expect them to understand how to use the internet but actually their ability is very low because they haven’t had proper access to it (despite the myth that all young people are supposedly technical geniuses!)

    I think the solution is probably to do with more regulation of what is actually online – but somehow I don’t think that would be a very popular suggestion!

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