Dan Harris

Building children’s rights into our digital society

Creating a society where the most vulnerable, especially children, can exist without risk, or fear has been a major purpose of communities in the developed world. Yet in the world of digital, we seem to have left that task behind. By way of addressing this gap, we are fortunate to be currently working with an organisation and movement that explores the ways in which children can be children – on the street, online, or on their smartphones.

The digital society gap

My two sons, aged four and six, are growing up in a world where we have overcome the limits of our brains by evolving a hyper-networked digital society, powered by the Internet. Pioneering entrepreneurs are working away at uncovering amazing opportunities for human advancement within this. Yet, instead of leveraging the opportunity, the vulnerable are becoming victims – a curious dichotomy as the Internet promised to be THE place where true equality and diversity could exist without risk or consequence. Our digital society has been built by adults, for adults, without the principles of positive society being embedded – including, critically, the principle of supporting children until they reach maturity.

Children in the digital society

Even as a parent who works within the digital industries, I feel woefully under-confident – largely because even when I identify a problem, it is hard to find the matching tool to enable my children to access the digital world – in a manner that treats them with respect. Children, as physically and mentally immature members of society are being denied special care and legal protection that the offline world affords them because of their age. At best, they are thrown into the digital society, without education for the social norms that exist online, and at worst, in an ambiguous legal position. Many of the data agreements that exist between companies and children, result in their data being open to exploitation without legal binding.

Children’s experience

As well as the big themes and the campaigns, it’s the everyday experience of children, fumbling without support to engage, understand, let alone leverage true opportunities from the digital society, which lies as the heart of the problem. Children missing sleep to deal with their online profiles. Experiencing the stress of unwanted viral content involving friends or family. Being targeted digitally for unwanted products. And going through all of this without a support ecosystem that has been unable to keep up. When did we accept that these experiences are a normal part of a childhood?

5Rights

This is where 5rights comes in. 5rights is five principles that allow children to be children online, as in the real world. They are obvious, practical and yet astonishingly still aspirational. They were created by Baroness Beeban Kidron and have seen extraordinary success at inspiring action globally. I am honored to be a member of the 5Rights leadership group, and Fjord with Accenture, will continue to be a partner to the movement. Our work to this end has recently been to support Beeban in her mission to grow the 5Rights movement by developing a number of concepts that begin to put children at the heart of digital society. Her 2016 TEDX talk which we helped design, includes many of these ideas.

  1. The Right to Remove

That is the right to easily remove what you yourself have put up. It doesn’t challenge Freedom of Speech, but the first rule of conscious use is being able to control what your history will look like online, in the space you curate.

  1. The Right to Know

That is the right to know who, what, why and for what purposes, your data is being exchanged. As well as a meaningful choice about whether to engage in that exchange.

  1. The Right to Safety and Support

The law must pursue what is illegal. But much of what upsets young people online is not illegal and the support is sparse, fragmented and largely invisible to those children and young people when they need it most.

  1. The Right to Informed and Conscious Use

It is simply undemocratic that young people are looped in to technology that is deliberately designed to keep them attached, based on the same principles as a casino slot machine.   “Addicting” is what product designers call it. ‘Addicting’ is what product designers’ work towards.

  1. The Right to Digital Literacy

Digital literacy means understanding the purposes of the technology that you are using.  Growing up as a CREATOR and contributor as well as an informed consumer. And having a clear grasp of the likely social outcomes of that use.

Living service for children

At Fjord, we want to support 5Rights by creating a true Living Service for children that will enable them to be in control of their digital experience as well as nurture them throughout their lives to become responsible, safe, and empowered digital citizens. A number of concepts from the TEDX talk form some basis to this mission. We are continuing to work with Beeban on a number of fronts to bring this into reality right now, so please watch this space for updates!

Dan Harris

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