Children and the media
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Child protection on the Internet
As we entered the new millennium an estimated 305 million people
were making use of the Internet, including well over 17 million
of the world's children.
The World Wide Web is an exciting place for inquisitive young minds
and it does not take long for children to pick up the skills needed
to go online. However, without proper precautionary measures, cyberspace
can be a potentially threatening environment in which children and
young people can be exposed to hate messages, sexually explicit
material, graphic violence and even predators who roam chat rooms
in search of innocent prey.
Young people surfing the Internet are also vulnerable to exploitative
marketing. They may be persuaded to engage in activities that could
have negative legal or financial consequences, such as giving out
a parent's credit card number. Buying and selling of information
about children by direct marketers and information brokers is a
In 1998 the controversial US Children's
Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) placed obligations on
websites with content for children to adopt and publicize a privacy
policy, and obtain the consent of parents of children under 13 years
of age before collecting or disclosing personal information from
them. Direct parental consent must also be obtained if the sites
offer access to third parties through chat rooms, email and instant
Other parts of the world, including France and South Africa, are
also establishing laws on Internet content. The European Community
has initiated an Internet Action Plan aimed at combating illegal
and harmful content on global networks. Internet service providers
have introduced filter systems, while increasing numbers of individuals
and organizations are developing activities designed to protect
young people. Internet safety hotlines in eight European Union countries
are linked into a network
that allows the public to report illegal content.
To exclude children from the Internet because crimes are being
committed online would be to deprive them of an extraordinary source
of information and self-improvement. Child protection experts argue
that the responsibility lies with parents and carers to protect
their children. The challenge for parents, schools, public authorities,
community groups, Internet service providers, media industries and
regulatory bodies is to ensure that children are properly advised
about the benefits and perils of cyberspace and are equipped with
the skills to safeguard themselves.
There are some obvious precautions that need to be taken when introducing
children to the Internet.
Have the terminals been checked for screening mechanisms
that prevent access to harmful material?
Have the children been coached in personal safety - and
been given opportunities to express the safety code in their own
words, so that they feel they have ownership of it - before being
allowed to go online?
Have procedures been put in place for the reporting of improper
behaviour on the Internet?
Do teachers know about the regulatory agencies that need
to be informed about sites, search engines and Internet service
providers that might be considered harmful to children, especially
those promoting unlawful activities?
The following initiatives give examples of good practice, suggested
further reading and weblinks.
The US Federal Trade Commission has a Kidz
Privacy webpage explaining the Children's Online Privacy Protection
Act for adults, teachers, children and the media.
considered to be one of the best US children's activity websites,
monitors communications, offers no realtime chat rooms, limits the
collection of children's personal information and does not share
user information with the site's business partners. It also requires
all those who register to supply parental email addresses so that
consent can be obtained.
Content Rating Association (ICRA) is an international, independent
organization that empowers the public, especially parents, to make
informed decisions about electronic media by means of the open and
objective labelling of content. Web authors fill in an online questionnaire
describing the content of their site, which is then given a Content
Label by the ICRA.
The international campaign group Innocence
en Danger is one of many groups of concerned parents seeking
alliances to protect children from the risks of unsupervised Internet
The UK-based interactive website Miss
Dorothy provides links for children and adults to examine safety
codes, government guidelines and examples of good safety practice
Danger provides parents with advice on how to recognize and
prevent problems that can arise in chat rooms. Although it is aimed
primarily at the UK and Europe, advice is applicable for anyone
in the world.
The local police in Montreal, Canada, have prepared a Guide
de Sécurité pour les Jeunes Internautes (Security
Guide for Young Internet Users) for parents to teach their children
about navigating the World Wide Web safely.
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