Out of the Mouths of Babes: Free Expression, Children and 21st-century Media – Report

Posted on: Friday 04 July 2014 10:10pm by Lucy Beckett

Some might say that digital safety has been the elephant in the Showroom this year. This debate wasn’t going to squirm from discussing the darker implications of this subject…


  • Young people have been pushed and shoved out of the public space and online has become their main connection to navigate and explore the boundaries of growing up.
  • COPPA continues to build strong online privacy and protection to keep young online users safe, but there are concerns that it may create a barrier to free expression.
  • Debate surrounds who should be responsible for mediating children’s online usage – the companies, the parents, the educators?

Session Details

BabesWe began the session by watching a film trailer for InRealLife which served as a perfect springboard for the passionate debate that followed.

As David Bowden (Institute of Ideas) explained, the rise of digital media, and more specifically social media, has had a huge positive effect on today’s youth, allowing them to connect and explore in ways that “the real world” has been preventing them from doing. But, Claire Lilley (NSPCC) points out that this exploration also has its dark side – grooming, sexting, children accidentally stumbling on pornography…

So who should be responsible for mediating this? There are third party protection systems such as COPPA, but the regulations they impose can’t possibly take into account the needs and maturity levels of the individual child, and it simply becomes a barrier of free expression to be overcome. Ironically, Simon Milner states, most children’s “…first experience of using a social app is to lie about their age.”

Marc Goodchild (Little Big Partnership) believes the industry should take responsibility. For example, Mind Candy makes it unapologetically clear to users that they’re “watching everything”. Goodchild suggested not all companies behave so responsibly, and used the “ambiguous” YouTube as an example of a company whose algorithms should be put to better use to protect young visitors to their site.

“No, it’s not the job for the media industry” argued Bowden, “it’s the job of the parents” it is their responsibility to negotiate the boundaries. In fact, OFCOM research indicated that about 80% of parents use at least one technique to manage internet usage at home. And yet, there are social pressures related to what the kids are doing online, so it’s not fair to put the burden on parents to lay down these restrictions. The authoritarian should be the industry itself…

Before the passionate debate started to go in circles, a question from the audience suggested that teachers and the education system could take responsibility for equipping children with the means to enter the digital world safely. But the panel wondered if it was practical to lay the responsibility on an already overwhelmed profession? Having done considerable research into this outlet, Catherine McAllister (BBC) agrees it isn’t currently a viable option and teachers “would need additional support”.

Amongst all the debate in this session, one sentiment continued to resurface: It takes a village to raise a child. Perhaps the solution is to collectively mediate children’s internet exploration and assure not only their safety, but that they have freedom to express themselves?

Having listened to all the passionate, qualified and well considered ideas during this session, I’m confident this is something that can be achieved, and hope next year’s CMC can provide us with some tales of success in this matter…

For details of all the speakers, check the Session Guide.

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Lucy Beckett

About the author

Lucy Beckett

CBeebies, Content Producer

Lucy Beckett is a Content Producer at CBeebies. She has 10 years’ experience creating digital content for children, and produced Tiscali TV’s ground breaking VOD channel ‘Scamp’. Having worked on digital content for Cartoon Network, Disney, Chorion, Bookstart and Lego, Lucy now creates website and app content for BBC Childrens,… Read more