Two milestone documents out of the UK – one a 200-page report requested by Prime Minister Gordon Brown and called “The Byron Review” after its lead author, clinical psychologist and TV personality, Dr. Tanya Brown, and the other a set of guidelines for social-networking-service best practices issued by the Home Office itself – have just been released. With the exception of references to British law and government, both are relevant wherever young people are online, including in the US, where we haven’t yet been able to come up with a consensus on best practices (even though the world’s most popular social sites are US-based) and haven’t seen a comprehensive Net-safety report since Web 1.0 days (the COPA Commission in 2000 and the “Youth, Pornography, and the Internet” report of 2002). Maybe some contributions like these will emerge from the work of the Internet Safety Task Force that just got started at Harvard’s Berkman Center.
This week a look at the Byron report – not a summary, just what I feel is universally relevant and merits highlighting. Next week: the Home Office’s guidance.
The Byron Review
Right up front, in her introduction, Dr. Byron says something important about risk and child development: “My Review is about … [young people’s] right to take the risks that form an inherent part of their development by enabling them to play video games and surf the net in a safe and informed way.” In focus groups, she listened to young people, thereby “putting them at the heart of this Review – and by replacing emotion with evidence – I hope I have provided some very necessary focus to what is a very necessary debate.”
1. “Reduce availability [of harmful contact and contact to online kids] … and the conduciveness of platforms to harmful and inappropriate conduct”
2. “Restrict access … and reduce … harmful and inappropriate conduct”
3. “Increase resilience: Equip children to deal with exposure to harmful and inappropriate content and contact, and equip parents to help their children deal with these things and parent effectively around incidences of harmful and inappropriate conduct by their children.”
We all – parents, Internet companies, advocates, government, law enforcement, researchers – have been working on the first two since the early ’90s, and the effort continues, with no end in sight. The third is, through education, the most immediately actionable. It reinforces what some of us have been saying on the US side of the pond for some time: that it’s increasingly imperative to help children develop the filter between their ears – critical thinking and media literacy, so they can think not only about what they’re reading, seeing, and hearing online and on phones, but also about what they’re saying, doing, and uploading.