The Children’s Media Foundation (CMF)

House of Lords, Children and the Internet

At the end of August the CMF made a written submission the House of Lords Communication Committee's Inquiry into "Children and the Internet".

The inquiry sets out to investigate the children's access to and use of the internet, and to consider risks, benefits and regulation, as well as the roles that parents, schools, media companies and regulators should play in children’s use of the internet.

Obviously this is a subject that is very close to the CMF’s heart.

We have been watching developments closely and considering our approach for some time, based on a sense that the internet is of tremendous value to children and young people, but the dangers are real and need to be addressed. Our approach in the consultation response is based on "rights and responsibilities" - the right of kids to benefit from the internet and the responsibilities of those providing it to take the in to account.

Traditionally, in children’s TV, there has been a 3-way relationship between broadcasters, parents and children about what constitutes child-appropriate content and when and how it can be accessed. This manifested itself as discreet programming blocks on the mainstream TV channels or dedicated children’s channels in multichannel homes. Television outside these walled-gardens was widely understood to be designed primarily for grown-ups but, before the watershed, still had to take account of children who might be watching. However, the always-on nature of the internet, the rise of on-demand services, the advent of new distribution platforms, the dominance of certain search tools for 90%+ of all discovery, the shift from ‘push’ broadcast delivery mechanics to individualised ‘pull’ services, and personal device ownership have changed all that - forever.

These developments are not by themselves inherently bad for our children. And as with previous generations, when grown adults adapt and embrace the new opportunities offered by the changing technology, so children naturally want to emulate these behaviours. The rapid speed of recent digital developments has meant that many scenarios we could never previously imagine are now possible, and we need to adapt our interventions to suit.

The CMF submission to the House of Lords Committee was drafted by our Executive Group advisory team, comprising industry leaders from the children’s digital sector, ex-BBC executives and representatives from the tech-start up community.  They concluded it was time for some specific proposals to move the debate on.

As part of a detailed submission, we argued that children are often the last group to be considered in the digital world, and that there are ten clear needs:

  1. A means to bench-mark and clearly flag age-appropriate content to help parents and children make informed decisions.
  2. Any public health recommendations about appropriate levels of screen-time must be based on evidence.
  3. Clear rules about what age verification is required for non-children’s content with an emphasis on the platforms to demonstrate that users are the age they say they are.
  4. Definitions about what content and services are appropriate with the right parental permission with clear guidelines about how to collect and verify parental consent.
  5. Clearer demarcation of adverts in search results.
  6. Much more effective child-specific search tools (not hidden at the bottom of a page).
  7. Tighter regulation on automated links that lead children out of these safe havens.
  8. Commitment not to mine children’s data or target or manipulate children based on their online activity - particularly regarding marketing and advertising.
  9. Rules against behavioral mechanics that try to draw children into addictive behaviours or exhortation.
  10. Commitment to make UK specific children’s content visible in the first page of search or app store results.

You can read the full submission on the CMF website, and find more about the inquiry via the House of Lords.

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The Children’s Media Foundation (CMF)