Children’s Global Media Summit 2017 – What does the future of media hold for Generation U?
Mobile devices, social media, and online games have become a firm part of the everyday lives of the post-millennium generation in the global North, known as “Generation U”. According to a recent Ofcom report, four in ten UK children aged 5-15 years own a smartphone, and these children typically surpass their parents’ technological knowledge at the age of six, as Tony Hall, BBC Director-General, noted in his address to the Children’s Global Media Summit (CGMS) 2017.
These developments in children’s relationships with the media present adults with pressing questions: What kind of online content can and should children engage with? How do children develop the skills necessary to keep themselves safe online? And whose responsibility is it to ensure that the online world benefits children and does not put them at risk?
Children’s Global Media Summit
These issues formed the main focus of the 8th Children’s Global Media Summit (CGMS) 2017, held in wintery Manchester between 5th and 7th December 2017. Previously known as the World Summit on Media for Children, CGMS takes place every three years in cities around the world with the aim of providing a platform for key players in the creation, exhibition, and regulation of media content aimed at children.
Together with children’s content creators, policy makers, advocacy organisations, and academics from across the world, we attended a packed programme of keynote speeches, panel discussions, and research presentations, held under the Summit’s overarching theme “Generation U”: The Future of Media for an Unlimited Generation”.
Old debates, new challenges
The Summit’s programme focused strongly on children’s engagement with the online world, with the debates generally oscillating between those who highlighted the opportunities digital media can offer for children and those expressing alarm over the potential dangers. The first approach was articulated most strongly by techno-optimist Dave Coplin’s keynote speech, which identified digital literacy skills as the key to children’s education and learning.
Other summit participants advocated more caution, pointing to examples of cyber-bullying and children’s ability to access age-inappropriate online content with ease. Even the Duke of Cambridge Prince William highlighted in his address to the Summit the dangers posed by digital media for children’s mental health, and the lack of parental guidelines for monitoring children’s use of mobile devices. As David Kleeman of Dubit observes, to an extent, the Summit reiterated a history of “moral panics” – a term coined by Stanley Cohen’s discussion of youth subcultures 45 years ago – over the potential effects of new media technologies on the young generation.
The discussions that constituted CGMS also revolved around potential future pathways towards a media environment that benefits and safeguards children and young people. It was promising that throughout the Summit, representatives of Internet moguls, including Facebook and YouTube, publicly emphasised their commitment to enforce the monitoring of online content and the age of their users. YouTube’s Head of Family and Learning Malik Ducard, for example, announced the company’s recruitment of 10,000 additional employees in 2018 to scan videos for depictions inappropriate for children.
However, the Summit also illuminated the fact that corporate self-regulation does not always materialise in practice. During one panel discussion, an expert in cyber safety confronted Facebook’s representative with a stream of nudity pictures on the platform minutes after he had emphasised the platform’s strict no-nudity policy.
Other panel discussions addressed the necessity to establish comprehensive governmental policies to safeguard children online. During an illuminating panel entitled “Thriving Online”, for example, Professor Sonia Livingstone of the London School of Economics noted that just at as adults always had “offline strategies” in place for children’s protection in place, such as road safety, online safety regulations too are needed to ensure children access online content that is relevant and beneficial to them.
However, it could also be argued that issues such as cyber bullying and online abuse need to be treated as part of wider social issues and not as technological problems only. For example, in the short film Imagining Aberdeen, made by young members of the Children’s Parliament, one boy states: “What I will say to adults about mobile phones is: spend less time on your phones and play with your kids!” Parents’ modelling of responsible engagement with the online and the offline world, perhaps by putting aside their own smartphones to engage with their children and communities, will play an equally important role in ensuring that children can engage responsibly with today’s digital media landscape.
While it still seems a long way to go until comprehensive guidelines and policies for children’s engagements with the online world are in place, for corporations, governments, teachers, and parents, CGMS 2017 did provided a vital impetus for this process.
Read this review as a feature blog published by Public Media Alliance here.