Friday, July 10, 2009

Does Australia need Safer Social Networking Principles?

Around the world governments are struggling to understand and address some of the age-old issues that have been accelerated by the intranet.

One attracting particularly high attention is the protection of young people from illegal and inappropriate material, cyberstalking, cyberbullying and, sometimes, themselves.

Various governments are attempting different approaches to address these issues, with the European Union using a balance of approaches including new law enforcement initiatives, legislative change, parent and carer education, young people education and industry self-regulation in consultation with government.

I have been reviewing the Safer Social Networking Principles for the EU (PDF), released in February this year, which clearly defines the unacceptable range of practices,
As with many products and services, the misuse of these technologies can present an element of potential risk to children and young people. SNS [CT: Social Network Service] providers must assess if and how these potential risks apply to their own services. Potential online risks to children and young people fall into four categories:
  • ‘Illegal content’, such as images of child abuse and unlawful hate speech
  • ‘Age-inappropriate content’, such as pornography or sexual content, violence, or other content with adult themes which may be inappropriate for young people.
  • ‘Contact’, which relates to inappropriate contact from adults with a sexual interest in children or by young people who solicit other young people.
  • ‘Conduct’, which relates to how young people behave online. This includes bullying or victimisation (behaviours such as spreading rumours, excluding peers from one’s social group, and withdrawing friendship or acceptance) and potentially risky behaviours (which may include for example, divulging personal information, posting sexually provocative photographs, lying about real age or arranging to meet face-to-face with people only ever previously met online).
With the interactivity that web 2.0 technologies enable, it is also important to remember that in addition to being victims young people can also initiate or participate in anti-social or criminal activities.
The principles make acceptable and unacceptable conduct very clear and have become a benchmark for parents, educators and governments to judge companies against.

A number of Social Network Service providers have signed these principles and taken steps to make their services compliant and supportive of the principles.

I wonder whether Australia should look at a similar approach.

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