By Larry Magid
Reporters Without Borders has declared Tuesday, March 12th as World Day Against Cyber-Censorship in support of an “Internet without restrictions and accessible to all.”
The last time I checked, the word “all” applied to everyone — people of all ages. And the same is true for the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment, which makes no mention of age.
Yet, we live in a world where young people — especially those under 18 — are regularly denied access to unfettered access to speak or seek information on the Internet.
I’m not arguing that there should be no parental supervision. There are young people — especially very young children — who need to be protected from inappropriate content such as pornography but that shouldn’t be used as an excuse to ban young people from social media (as it is in many schools, even during free time) nor install software on the computers of teens that would block or monitor their activity.
Of course there are exceptions. Some young people exhibit high-risk behavior that justifies imposing restrictions or monitoring. But that’s true for some adults as well. In the U.S. and other countries there are procedures where people of any age can be denied some of their liberties after having been convicted of a crime or having been found to be mentally incompetent but, the assumption — at least in enlightened societies — is that people are able to make their own decisions and are given free access to speak and consume information unless a judge makes an exception after due process.
In the mean time, it’s worth reviewing Reporters Without Borders’ Enemies of the Internet list to learn how some countries — like Bahrain, Belarus, China, Cuba, Iran and North Korea have imposed strong restrictions on citizen’s use of Internet technology and how others — including Australia Egypt, France, Russia and South Korea are “under surveillance by the group for less stringent restrictions that nevertheless potentially restrict free access.
But when it comes to children, there are restrctions in every country — including the United States and Western Europe including those countries that have signed the United Nation’s Convention on the Rights of the Child, that specifies (in aricle 13) that “The child shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of the child’s choice. It does go on to say that “the exercise of this right may be subject to certain restrictions, but these shall only be such as are provided by law and are necessary” which — as I read it — means that most kids should be given free access to information unless there are well thought out and well documented reasons to make an exception.
Digital Citizenship Includes Rights as Well as Responsibilities (Larry Magid, Huffington Post)
Digital citizenship in process: Notes from the Baku IGF (Anne Collier, NetFamilyNews)