Tuesday 16 December 2014

Where wild things go on

My 11-year old daughter has just discovered the photo-sharing app, Instagram. It is her first foray into the digital world. At the moment she has a private account with a nickname, and only a handful of followers, all of whom she knows. Mostly she posts pictures of the dog ("another picture of my lovely doggy") or the cat so hopefully we are safe for now.

Photo grab of Instagram profile
Instagram: a gate into the world of social media
Which is a good thing, particularly as she behaves online just as she does in real life, in a characteristically candid way. 

"I am not sure I like that very much. Sorry )-:" she wrote under her dad's picture of some autumn leaves the other day. Under another picture, she wrote: "Completely gorgeous. Never seen anything so beautiful and colourful, Mister Fantastic Photographer!"

The point is that she has yet to moderate her behaviour between a personal and public sphere - and why should she? She is only a child with no experience of these things. The problem is that anyone reading her comments wouldn't be able to see them in that context. To most people online she is just another user.

I am reluctant to rain on her parade - particularly as she posts with such relish - but soon we will have to sit her down and 'educate' her in the ways of the digital world. Fun as it seems, it can be an unforgiving place, where apps and media channels compete to hog her attention. As a confirmed social media addict, I should know. And, if she makes a small error of judgment, it could be very hard to undo it.

Empowering young people

My sense of anxiety over this has motivated me to sign up to iRights, a coalition of organisations and users committed to making the internet a safer place for children. The goal is to empower young people to access the digital world "creatively, knowledgeably and fearlessly". It is not about denying them access, but more about educating them and creating a space where their rights as children are respected.

"Twenty five years ago we recognised the human rights of all children and young people by adopting the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child," says the website. "The iRights principles contextualise these rights for the digital world."

In a nutshell, the five basic iRights are:
  • The right for any person under 18 to remove content (edit or delete) they have created
  • The right for young people to know who is storing or profiting from their personal information (with T&Cs that can be easily understood)
  • The right to safety and support, with an emphasis on what is unpleasant and distressing as well as illegal
  • The right to make informed and conscious choices so that young people can understand and use the technologies creatively (but not be controlled by them)
  • The right to digital literacy enabling young people to learn the skills to use (and critique) technologies, such as web and app design

The iRights movement hopes that these five principles will be universally adopted to shape the way in which the internet is designed, delivered and consumed. Signatories include organisations ranging from the Girl Guides and the NSPCC to Baroness Martha Lane-Fox and Barclays Bank. I've signed up - so if you are concerned, you can too!

With enough support, we can give our children the sophistication to use the internet wisely and emerge into adulthood unscathed. My daughter is already picking up on the protocol: she has started thanking her followers on Instagram for any comments they leave. Like most young people, she is keen to follow the codes by which we live and interact. All she needs now is an appropriate framework in which to learn about this exciting, new frontier.

For more information, read FAQ on the iRights website.


Lonely Planet's Best Ever Photography Tips by Richard I'Anson
A  collection of 55 tips to hone your photographic skills, from filling the frame with flowers to scoping out iconic scenes. 

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