'The Not-so-Secret Life of Five Year Olds': Legal and Ethical Issues Relating to Disclosure of Information and the Depiction of Children on Broadcast and Social Media
22 Pages Posted: 4 Apr 2016
Date Written: April 3, 2016
Widespread concerns around the privacy impact of online technologies have corresponded with the rise of fly-on-the-wall television documentaries and public-by-default social media forums allowing parallel commentary. Although information about children has traditionally been regarded by society, law and regulation as deserving of particular protection, popular documentaries such as Channel 4’s ‘The Secret Life of 4, 5 and 6 year olds’ raise the question as to whether such protections are being deliberately or inadvertently eroded in this technological ‘always-on’ online age.
‘The Secret Life of 5 Year Olds’ is an example of the public depiction of young children alongside scientific and medical commentary designed for popular appeal and the encouragement of real-time interaction over Twitter by the publication of a hashtag. According to Channel 4, the programme eavesdrops on the children’s ‘secret world’.
The paper first describes the series and the results of an analysis of related Twitter interaction. It will consider responses to freedom of information requests sent to the public bodies involved in the series (Channel 4 and the bodies associated with the scientists and clinician providing the commentary) with the aim of establishing the ethical considerations given to the involvement of the children in the series. The paper goes onto explore the privacy law context; the wider child law issues, the position of parents/carers and impact of broadcast codes; and considers if lessons can be learned from how decisions in the medical context have dealt with issues of best interests in decision-making and in disclosure of information concerning the child. Finally, the paper considers whether additional legal and ethical safeguards are needed to ensure that the best interests of children are properly considered when images and information are exposed on broadcast and social media.
Keywords: law, social media, broadcast media, privacy, children’s rights, ethics
JEL Classification: K00
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation