CONSULTATION RESPONSE: General Comment on children’s rights in relation to the digital environment

CONSULTATION RESPONSE: General Comment on children's rights in relation to the digital environment

How should the rights of children and young people be interpreted in a digital age?

We asked our Youth Board to tell us about the rights they felt were important to have as children and young people operating in a digital environment. The following are a list of rights they want realised in a digital world:  

1 Privacy

1.1 The right to remove content of yourself online

The Youth Board believe in the right for individuals to remove content of themselves if they haven’t given full consent for it to be posted online. They believe consent should be obtained regardless of who has posted, particularly if it uses identifiable content such as photos.

The Youth Board pointed out that without consent, some young people can be targeted by bullies who use online platforms to purposefully post negative photos and messages about individuals within their peer groups, schools or communities.

Bullying is a very real problem online, particularly for young people. The Diana Award has found that from a sample of over 1,400 young people, around 33% had experienced bullying via social media (Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook), while a further 12% had experienced it via online gaming.

Technology-based bullying, or 'cyberbullying' as it is commonly referred to, is different to other forms of bullying as it can happen at all times of the day, with a potentially bigger audience, who can forward on content at a click (Department for Education, 2017). The safety of the screen gives perpetrators the perceived anonymity to send personal or widespread attacks on others online. It was with this in mind that one member suggested, “You are more vulnerable online than you are in real life”.

1.2 The right to permanently delete things online

The Youth Board expressed concern about the permanency of online posts and its potential to impact individuals later on in life. In the offline world, if a child commits a crime or misdemeanour, their punishments are subject to their age and the individual is reprimanded accordingly. However, the Youth Board feel as though this rule doesn’t necessarily apply when it comes to online behaviours. One member of the Youth Board added, “You can delete things instantly but they do stay on the internet and they’ll always be there so the right to permanently delete something if you were a minor when you did it is important”. This is an acknowledgment that the “self” evolves, so the concept of the “digital self” needs also to allow for this kind of evolution over time.

1.3 The right to share as much or as little as you feel comfortable with online

The Youth Board talked about the pressure they have felt from online platforms such as Facebook to share personal data (names, location) in order to use them, or complete their profiles. While acknowledging that this information was not necessarily a requirement, the constant reminders to fill in sections of their profiles with personal details has compelled them to do so. One person added, “To make an account you are forced to, every time you go to the site it tells you fill in this, fill in this, then fill in this”.

This falls in line with the GDPR idea that consent be specific and ‘granular’ so that you get separate consent for separate things. Vague or blanket consent is not enough. Signing up to using a platform should be thought of as separate from consenting to that platform acquiring your personal details. In the offline world, it is less common for a child to be expected to disclose personal information without their or their parent’s prior consent. This begs the question as to why the same rule does not apply in the online world.

2 Protection from harm 2.1 The right to protection

The Youth Board were keen to make the connection between online safety and offline protection. The online world poses a number of threats to young people’s safety that aren’t necessarily followed up with the same severity as they would in the offline world, despite the fact that online harms could have offline consequences. While ensuring the rights of children and young people online, including their freedom to do certain things, we also need to consider the parameters in which these rights are afforded. What provisions will be established to ensure the protection of children and young people online as well as offline? As one member pointed out, “You shouldn’t be exposed to bad content that you wouldn’t want to see. You’re just exposed to whatever they give you. It shouldn’t be that kids have to accept the fact that there’s dodgy things online”

In calling for parity between the treatments of online and offline harms, the Youth Board’s arguments echo recent UK Government policy statements that “if it’s unacceptable offline, then it’s unacceptable online.”

2.2 The right to turn off ads

The Youth Board spoke quite strongly about the role advertising plays in the online world, and that children can be subject to an overwhelming number of ads that don’t relate to their lives nor are they accessible to children and young people in the offline world. As one Youth Board member pointed out, “I mean should they be monetising from children on social media?”

The purpose of online advertising is to help businesses target global customers, their audience made up of largely adults who have the financial power to invest in their products. The Youth Board recognise that, for many children and young people, these advertisements have no bearing over their lives and often do not relate to their interests.

2.3 The right to use websites without terms and conditions

Cookies, terms and conditions, and privacy notices are a common feature on websites today. They pop up on most web pages and will often block access to that page if the individual has not accepted their terms of use.

For young people keen to explore the online world, these are part and parcel of using the internet. Feedback from the Youth Board suggests that they will often click “OK” or “Accept” in order to use the website or app without first checking what it is they are agreeing to.

One member of the Youth Board felt particularly strongly about this point, adding that, as a child, “You should be able to use a website without them stealing your data”. There is an assumption here that by clicking “Accept”, young people are handing over their data without knowing how it is being used.

The Youth Board’s concern about whether, to what extent and in what ways it is ethically correct for websites to be using the data of children and young people, particularly when that data may go on to be (mis)used in ways that expose young people to harm, finds echoes in a number of recent policy discussions and legal frameworks, not least the GDPR provisions specifically relating to minors. 3 Connecting with family

3.1 The right to use digital technology to connect with family The Youth Board believe that in a digital age, children and young people have the right to connect with their family members via online platforms if they cannot be physically present in their lives.

Referring to Article 20 of the UNCRC, they argued that just as children and young people have the right to special protection and assistance if they cannot be looked after by their immediate family, the digital environment should also be a means through which familial connections are made.

Read the full report here