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Online etiquette must be taught in classrooms

28 March 2014

4:09 PM

28 March 2014

4:09 PM

Can we protect children from the darker aspects of the internet? That was the question put to the panel last night, when the Spectator hosted a feisty discussion about the effects of technology on childhood. Child abuse, pornography and online dating were discussed, as was the idea that children have become self-centered and socially inept.

Andrew Neil chaired the event, and was joined by culture minister Ed Vaizey, psychologist Oliver James, The Spectator’s Rory Sutherland and Microsoft’s Jacqueline Beauchere. Each panelist presented a different angle on the subject of The ‘Always On’ Generation, but all agreed that technology had created new opportunities and challenges.

Ed Vaizey took the stage first, and explained how the government is attempting to protect children from the three main abuses of the internet: pornography, child abuse and adult content. He discussed how close work with internet service providers has enabled them to begin to curb these issues. Vaizey also revealed that an ‘Internet Matters’ campaign will launch soon, and will provide digital tools to help protect children.

Oliver James rejected the argument that the Always On generation is at any special risk. ‘Cyber-bulling only happens to people that are vulnerable to it,’ he said. ‘We do spend too much time on screens but there have also been positive developments in the romantic sphere.’ He then stressed the correlation between unstable upbringings and vulnerability in cyberspace.

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Jacqueline Beauchere, Microsoft’s Chief Online Safety Officer, dissected how technology is changing childhood. ‘We see technology as redefining childhood, but for the digital natives, it’s just childhood,’ she said. Her solution to the problems created by the technological era was to ensure online etiquette was taught in classrooms. ‘It’s no longer sufficient to try to protect children from others online; we need to teach children to protect themselves online.’

The discussion was rounded off by Rory Sutherland, The Spectator’s technology correspondent. Sutherland predicted (with typical bombast) that the effects of technology on children will take time to reveal themselves, but that there will inevitably be unforeseen consequences.

The gravest threat, Rory said, was that children run the risk of forgetting how to entertain themselves. ‘Young children can’t walk around on their own or spend any time in solitude. Boredom is not necessarily bad for you,’ he said.

But as Rory pointed out, older generations should perhaps take note of the Always On generation’s intensely social use of technology. ‘I’m planning on launching Grindr for middle-aged married couples,’ he said. ‘It’s a very simple app that reminds you to have sex on Saturday because Sunday is Downton night.’

Questions from the audience rounded the discussion off. The overriding consensus seemed to be that yes – children did need to be protected from the perils of the internet. But in an age when the intricacies of the web are often better understood by the young than by the old, this could be easier said than done.

Listen to the debate in full:

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Show comments
  • Liz

    The Internet feels like it is dominated by men. Men are creating the technology so it inevitably favours the male perspective. The majority of online journalism is by and aimed at men; female journalists and posters report being hounded by violent and sexist abuse and threats so many retreat behind anonymity or don’t enter the field. Many of the social networks are dark places and openly hostile to females and women fear to tread there. And even women’s forums and sections of newspapers are increasingly colonised by men berating and deriding women. P*rn of course is ubiquitous and often hugely misogynistic and could be considered incitement. Then there’s voyeurism, revenge p*rn, online stalking.

    It just feels like a very unfriendly landscape for female people and is becoming increasingly so. And the attitudes and characters it fosters spill out into the offline world too. And yet women have none of the protections of anti hate crime legislation that people do for race, sexual orientation, disability or religion. And the Conservatives inexplicably and unforgivably block even education about it in schools.

    I think it must be extremely difficult being a teenage girl today and we probably don’t know the half of it. The future for women is very scary indeed, I dread the development of better virtual reality, google glass, face recognition software. I wonder if we will have time to turn the tide before these things become mainstream.

  • Guest

    The point is not professional engineers are unable to use the ‘toys’ that you make, as you put it. The point is that children are no longer able to do anything but play with them. Students are so socially inept that they are unable to deal with confrontation head on. They are unable to cope with boredom and are socially disadvantaged if they do not have access to the latest fads and social media sites. The point Constance makes is that many schools do not have professional engineers as teachers. Many wold not know what Snapchat was if it him them in the face. Let alone how to use it. Thus, how can children be taught the dangers of the internet if many teachers do not have the knowledge to teach it.

  • Colonel Mustard

    Drip, drip, drip towards full on internet censorship.

    Drip, drip, drip towards minimum price alcohol

    Drip, drip, drip towards banning smoking in homes with children

    All of the drips work in lucrative jobs in taxpayer subsidised fake charities, think tanks and quangos. Each drip of the tap is always preceded by a scaremongering “report” quoting dodgy or misleading statistics.

    Banning Crusades. Mainly fronted by ‘concerned’ women or wet ‘men’. The new lucrative growth industry in the UK. No risk of redundancy because once you have succeeded in banning one thing you can spread the net wider and campaign to ban another. Perfect for meddlers and interfering busybodies whose lives are so empty they need to control what others can do and who just love to preach from the sanctimony pulpit.

  • Guest

    I suggest never to sit in your underwear in front of a laptop with webcam capability. That will of course not cure the ills of virtual exhibitionism.

  • terence patrick hewett

    The division is not between the old and the young: it is between the technically literate and the technically illiterate. Who do you think invented and developed all the toys that you use Constance? The answer is: old engineers and scientists. I have spent 40 years designing sophisticated devices and production cells/lines and have more letters behind my name than you can shake a stick at: to aver that technology confuses me is quite laughable. I am a professional engineer: it is my job.

    • D Thompson

      The point is not professional engineers are unable to use the ‘toys’ that you make, as you put it. The point is that children are no longer able to do anything but play with them. Students are so socially inept that they are unable to deal with confrontation head on. They are unable to cope with boredom and are socially disadvantaged if they do not have access to the latest fads or social media sites. The point Constance makes is that many schools do not have professional engineers as teachers. Many wold not know what Snapchat was if it him them in the face. Let alone how to use it. Thus, how can children be taught the dangers of the internet if many teachers do not have the knowledge to teach it.

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