24 Pages Posted: 5 May 2013
Date Written: May 4, 2013
For many there can be no better illustration of the dark side of the Internet than the media’s emotive portrayal of children’s daily exposure to paedophiles, pornography and gambling. Yet although such risks undoubtedly do exist and merit serious-minded attention from policy-makers, the moral panic surrounding their prevalence serves to obscure another dark corner in this debate, namely the disempowerment of children through Internet policy and regulation. Drawing on liberal political theory as well as empirical research into Internet use, this paper argues that children’s interests are ill-served by dominant trends in Internet policy-making towards censorship and filtering. Specifically, too much attention is devoted to the concealment of content or activities that challenge norms of innocent childhood whilst too few resources are targeted at positive empowerment of children and families as active and discerning Internet users. From a theoretical perspective, it would appear there is an unwillingness to accept that childhood is itself a socially defined construct, and that media portrayal of children as helpless, vulnerable victims of online harms may be outdated at a juncture where youngsters are capable of both perpetrating online abuse, and protecting themselves against it. Finally, this critical paper asks whether the great myth of the Internet’s supposed unregulability and the state’s impotence in the face of online abuse and harm simply serves to mask the dark politics of yet another technology subsumed in the quiet pursuit of moral conservatism and social control.
Keywords: Internet, regulation, children, policy-making, power
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