Social Giants Should Fund Safety Lessons, Or Risk Losing A Generation

Could the unthinkable happen? Could social media get turned off not by parents, but by children themselves?

It was a question posed by Digital Awareness UK at the end of last year in a report that found two in three school children claim they would not be bothered if social media didn't exist.

Then today we have the findings of another report from the Children's Commissioner for England, issuing a separate report that questions support given to secondary school children. The findings are interesting because they show the changes with age in the ways that children use social.

Most parents have probably seen the story unfold in front of them. Primary school children use social sites that allow them to build and be creative. There may be communication with other users of the platform, but typically, this is reduced to pre-stored stock phrases. 

Then, around the time they are about to start secondary school, something changes. Although they are not allowed on Facebook until they are 13, many sign up early with a false birthday -- and then the problems begin.

Adults are just as prone to seek validation through likes and shares, but as you can imagine, the Children's Commissioner for England finds this is more pronounced among children.

The report suggests that secondary school children are suddenly moving from creativity to being judged for their appearance, and this has a negative effect on their perception of themselves. We know adults who do this, but now children are endlessly chasing "likes" and "shares" so they will feel validated and liked. 

The Commissioner's advises schools to teach young people midway through primary school how to use social media and how to avoid judging themselves by how many likes they receive.

Is it just me, or wasn't this something Theresa May talked about at the last election? I know it's probably a failed gamble she wishes she had never taken, but there was definitely talk at the time of social media companies being hit with a levy that would go toward preparing young people to face the pitfalls of trolls and likes. 

Is this latest report a means of reigniting the debate? The social giants are already under the threat of a new regime fining them for not removing malicious content quickly enough. Could this feeling be easily transformed in to calls for them to fund social ambassadors who educate young children on social? Perhaps an e-learning course might do the trick or a series of lessons drawn up by, and funded by, the social giants?

As I have already said this week, I don't see the Government following up on threats of a punitive levy or "windfall tax" on the social giants. In a post Brexit world, the UK will want to have the biggest tech giants based here rather than be tempted away to Berlin or Paris. 

But a levy -- a charge of some kind to fund better education for schoolchildren -- has to be an all-round win-win. Social media giants get to play nice and get a CSR boost. The Government wins a long-running battle through getting something from the tech giants to pay for some of the damage it says they are causing. 

Of course, the ultimate win for the social giants is that if children are unsafe online and have a bad experience, they are likely to churn and ditch the platforms their parents have used for many years.

Get those kids feeling safer online and able to report abuse and those sites can surely only improve their chances of survival. 

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