“Net filter patronises the digital generation”Apr 22 2010, 1:44
Would somebody please not think of the children. At least not while we are discussing internet censorship. This may sound like an odd request given that, historically, almost all censorship debates have pivoted around children and the need to protect them. But moral panics and fear-mongering campaigns concerning “the helpless children” often muddy what could otherwise be rational, evidenced-based debates.
And there is no easier way to get an otherwise progressive, reasonable parent to endorse an illogical, anti-democratic censorship regime than by appealing to (and exploiting) their deep-seated fears concerning their children.
But here’s the thing. Censorship debates over child safety have little to do with actual flesh and blood children. If they did then they would acknowledge and include the voices and views of young people and they would recognise the competencies and strengths that children bring to online interactions.
After all, while children may be vulnerable to certain elements of the internet, they are typically more digitally savvy than the rest of us, precisely because they have grown up with the World Wide Web.
But conservative moralisers rarely acknowledge this. Instead they tend to hinge their arguments on the patronising, victimised view of children as inherently vulnerable and corruptible. Even worse, by using the figure of the innocent child as a political pawn to advance their own agenda, conservatives are guilty of exploiting children.
And when you think about it, it is a cunning move because anyone who disagrees with the censorship plan is instantly cast as being anti-child welfare, or worse, pro-paedophilia. But this only silences and skews debate.
As someone who lobbies fiercely for the rights of survivors of sexual assault and young people in general, I can say that the best way to protect children is to stop talking about them as though they are vulnerable Oliver Twist-type caricatures awaiting corruption by the big bad world. Instead, we should start talking with our children and empowering them by building on their strengths and by providing them with practical tools to negotiate the online world.
And here is the sad reality. The proposed censorship plan is not going to stop paedophilia or child exploitation.
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