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Playing it safe

30th Jul 2015

A report out this week, highlighting the risks of the internet for children who don’t necessarily understand the potential repercussions of putting personal information out there, is recommending that under 18s be allowed to delete anything they post about themselves online.

Civil society initiative, iRights states on its home page that it is aiming to ‘make the digital world a more transparent and empowering place for children and young people by delivering a universal framework of digital rights, in order that young people are able to access digital technologies creatively, knowledgeably and fearlessly’.

It’s a laudable goal. Just because our children are riding the crest of the digital wave and are the generation we expect to be the masters of it, does not mean that they are in control of it. They also don’t necessarily get how important it is to keep certain things private and to include and acknowledge boundaries.

Children need a certain amount of support online. They are incredibly vulnerable when surfing the net and the digital world is not a particularly safe world for children. We shouldn’t be less concerned just because they are exploring it in their bedrooms or in our own front room and stranger danger is as real an issue online as it is offline - if not more.

There are certain measures that can be put in place to enable children to protect themselves and to help them to act responsibly but, for the young and the vulnerable, there most definitely needs to be some extra safety nets in place.

Current safety advice includes refraining from posting any personal details such as home addresses, mobile phone numbers and school and club names and setting privacy settings to limit the amount of people who can access certain information on your personal profile. 

Child Safety website, Parents Protect recommends parents encourage their children to only allow friends to view profiles and information and to check their children’s privacy settings frequently as they can change it.

If you’re a parent, it’s worth considering making setting up a profile together a condition of your child using a specific site. You can then help them to create a profile that gives them maximum privacy. You can also advise them on their choice of username and password so that the latter can’t easily be guessed; you need to stress that they should never share that detail. This, of course, is great for the overall issue of safety but doesn’t quite cut it when it comes to looking to the future and protecting your children’s reputation and general privacy.

Most children don’t fully understand how exposed they become once they post personal information (along with a surprising amount of adults too!) Anything you put out there can be discovered and looked at by anyone, at any time, now and in the future. If you put a picture up and then remove it, for instance, it may have been copied by someone else and posted elsewhere. The point to absorb is that you don’t have real control over your own content.

And this is where today’s recommendations from iRights fit in. If we do want to make the digital world a better place for our children to roam in then it’s time that they are given some rights. The right to remove any material that they post, at any point, should be a mere starter for ten…

The government has made noises to endorse this report but what we really want is for all of its recommendations to be put into practice as soon as possible.