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Why I Liked Australia Better When Politicians Didn't Know About Technology

Late last week I was perusing the Coalition’s plan for child safety online. It’s a rigid document that proposes strict plans for pursuing court action against cyberbullies, and a proposal that would see age-appropriateness ratings and classifications slapped onto mobile phone products. Respectfully, I would like to label this plan as a load of tosh. I liked Australia better when our politicians didn’t care about technology. Here’s why.

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The Coalition’s 11-page document on the cybersafety of children (PDF) is a very serious document that talks about committees, action plans and processes. Here’s the long and short of it.

The Coalition — like the Government — wants to keep kids safe online. That’s a great idea, how are they going to do it?

Well, they plan on appointing a Children’s e-Safety Commissioner as a one-stop shop for parents, children and teachers. This commissioner would — among other things — act to swiftly remove offensive content from websites like Facebook and Twitter within 24 hours of a complaint being made. After that, the case can go to trial if required.

The plan also calls for mobile phone manufacturers to work with the office of the aforementioned Commissioner to slap appropriateness and warning labels on smartphones so that parents understand what the phones can do and how suitable they are for their children.

Phones would be “rated” like a movie or video game, with appropriateness scales going from Suitable for 0-12 and Suitable for 13-16. Also, smartphone manufacturers would be required to sell handsets with parental controls engaged so as to protect children from harmful material if their parents don’t know much about tech.

The Government this afternoon butted in and said that they’re glad the Coalition supports similar strategies for protecting children online as they have been for the last three years. Tee hee, haw haw.

Regardless of who says what in the polito-sphere, I call bullshit on this so-called strategy. Here’s an example:

I could go out right now and take a life with the spoon I used to eat my delicious lunch. Does that mean that all spoons need to have a warning label on them based on how sharp they are? Will that lead to the banning of sporks? Will we all have to resort to eating food with our hands again because a child might hurt itself on a simple spoon? Does my mum know I’m using sharp spoons, or is her level of education about cutlery something the government needs to commission an action committee meeting for?

Of course, this is reductio ad absurdum. That’s obviously not going to happen, but you can see what I mean.

I can leave a Facebook comment on your Wall telling you that you’re a lovely person. Conversely, I can leave a comment on the same Wall telling you what a giant douche you are. Whether or not it’s true is irrelevant: it can still happen. The way a Facebook post is used comes down to the behaviour of the individual.

Just because people can get on Facebook and call other people douchebags doesn’t make that the fault of Facebook. It makes it the fault of the individual and/or the individual’s upbringing and/or education. Why was that person never told that calling people names isn’t appropriate? If they were told, why isn’t anyone helping them to understand? That’s the failure of society, parenting and the education system. Not Facebook.

Run education nights for parents, send stuff out in the mail, run television ads, start websites, talk about issues to educate parents and teachers about what is possible online. Enforcement should come down to the parents and teachers, and not to some faceless G-Man who says that all phones should be rated “G” for kids, or that social networks need to take more responsibility for people being arsehats online.

If this was the policy five years ago, Australia would have never got Facebook, or Twitter, or Google Plus, because these companies wouldn’t want to deal with a country that gets them to jump through nonsense hoops as a result of political grandstanding. Australia wouldn’t have got the iPhone, or the HTC Desire, or the Lumia 900, because it’s hard enough selling a phone here without having to go through more work to get it “rated for children”.

I liked it when the government didn’t know about technology, because then it was up to parents to actually parent their kids, and I could go about buying gadgets, which were and still are intended for adults, in peace.


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