How do we protect children in the Digital Age?

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Synopsis: Protecting children has become far harder in the digital era.

Introduction

Recently, a whistle-blower of Facebook, Frances Haugen, accused Facebook of hurting children and harming democracy by promoting social divisions.

She tried to reveal the technical depths of the problem that the young consumers of the Facebook face. For instance, she tried to explain how the company entices its customers to linger on content, enabling advertisers to target more accurately, and so on.

One of Haugen’s charges is the impact Facebook makes on its teenage clients’ self-image. She advocated that the existing legal restraints on hi-tech giants like Facebook will have to be tightened further.

On the same lines, Maria Ressa (Nobel laureate), in an interview with the BBC, has mentioned the behavior modification effects of social media and other offerings of the internet as the factors that led to the decline of liberal democracy in the Philippines.

Today, digital industries have successfully invaded both home and school, and no one knows how to protect children from exposure to things they ought not to see and messages they must not receive.

What are the challenges in ensuring protection to children on social media?

The first challenge is, how children can be protected from inappropriate content. Different varieties of such content ranging from hateful material to pornography are freely available now. Further, they focus on children because they believe, that “catching them young” guarantees long-range benefits.

The second is to save children from the effects of addiction to digital media. The addictive effects of digital inducement at an early age are potentially dangerous. The situation now is far worse, and the pandemic has exacerbated it by compelling children to learn online.

Third, is to protect children from the adverse effects of falsehood and hateful propaganda of different kinds. False facts, hoaxes, and rumours circulate through social media and serve as sources of profit for the companies that control these media.

Fourth, Predatory activity apart, the injurious potential lurking in communication networks has greatly increased with children’s own participation in these networks.

Source: This post is based on the article “How do we protect children in the Digital Age?” published in Indian Express on 13th October 2021.

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