Online abuse: keeping children safe

Companies that produce the apps, social media platforms, online games and websites children use have an obligation to better protect them

The launch of an online database of 70,000 people buried in Mount Saint Lawrence Cemetery is the first in a series of cemetery projects aimed at establishing a social history of Limerick.

The launch of an online database of 70,000 people buried in Mount Saint Lawrence Cemetery is the first in a series of cemetery projects aimed at establishing a social history of Limerick.

 

A prominent court case – that of Matthew Horan from Clondalkin in Dublin, sentenced last Friday for disturbing interactions with young girls over four online platforms – led to saturated media coverage and a harrowing week for parents. The fact that even young children are often more adept at using smartphones, tablets and computers than the adults in their lives, can only have added to parental anxiety.

The Government swiftly resurrected a mothballed proposal for a digital safety commissioner, a poor idea if the role allows potentially sweeping censorship and clunky regulation

Adults are right to be concerned about the online safety of young people, which must be a priority for any caring and responsible society. But headlines too often create panic and that, in turn, results in proposed solutions that overreach. Such has been the case this past week. The Government swiftly resurrected a mothballed proposal for a digital safety commissioner, a poor idea if the role allows potentially sweeping censorship and clunky regulation.

Some argued the Irish digital age of consent (the age from which it is legal for data controllers to gather data from minors – so, the age at which children can use many websites and social media platforms) be raised from 13 to 16. Others suggested children be confined to an alternative internet.

Today’s schoolchildren are born digital: the first generation that has never known a world without the web, an extremely important social and education environment for them

Yet we must remember that cases such as Horan’s are rare. Yes, children can encounter bullying environments, find explicit content and be approached by predatory adults. But this is the case in the real world, too, where we do not isolate them or subject them to constant surveillance.

Today’s schoolchildren are born digital: the first generation that has never known a world without the web, which is an extremely important social and education environment for them. We must equip them with the knowledge, tools and support to understand and navigate that world, not mistrust them and cut them off from it.

And we must demand more from the companies that produce the apps, social media platforms, online games and websites children use. They profit from the data they gather from our children. They have an obligation to better protect them, too.

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