I came across an interesting blog yesterday. The blog was titled Youth Safety on a Living Internet – Sorry Guys, You Missed It, and it was written by Michael Dermody, an expert in education and a sort of tech-guru. The purpose behind this particular blog post was to highlight the results that came out of the Online Safety and Technology Working Group’s report following their meeting last year. As Dermody points out in his blog, this group was comprised of some of the biggest technological companies around: Microsoft, Yahoo, Facebook, Verizon, etc. Dermody’s thoughts on this report, which you can read here, can be summed up in a single word: disappointment, and rightfully so I might add, given his reasoning. But the portion of this blog that really caught my attention was the two alternate solutions that he proposed these Internet giants take.
The first solution he proposed was a “digital stamp of approval” for online content. The way I understood it was: one organization—in this case, the OSTWG – sets the standards and the requirements to obtain this stamp of approval. “For a website to get this digital stamp of approval, they have to meet a strict set of criteria that defines their content, including restrictions about other sites they link to.” Dermody says that the criteria would need to be clear-cut and easy to understand by website owners and the public as he points out that current digital certificates are “complicated and aren’t well understood by the general public”. Furthermore, the same organization that would set the standards would also work with the federal government to lay out the consequences for websites that “broke the rules”.
Now this is where it gets really interesting, because the digital stamp of approval only has so much power on its own.
Dermody proposed that a company like Microsoft or Google make a web browser that only opens these “approved” sites. This browser would then be installed on school computers, and eventually the trend would be picked up by parents like you and me. As Dermody points out, this would give websites owners an incentive to get their own digital stamp of approval, and as a result, create more safe websites for our kids. “I believe any reputable site that hosts educational content would absolutely go through the process of getting their site approved so their sites could be viewed in school. […] once the giants (Google, Microsoft, etc) lead the way, other organizations are sure to follow.” And I believe so, too.
Dermody didn’t omit the possibility of opposition and failure. In fact, he admits that this idea has been thrown around over the past few years but hasn’t been attempted due to several possible loopholes. Nevertheless, I think it’s a great idea, and one that has huge potential. And as Dermody points out, it can be expanded across multiple platforms such as mobile apps and chat rooms.
The second solution that he proposed was “channeling the [Internet safety education] message through a credible source.” Dermody makes a good point here when he says that the key to teaching online safety standards to teens and tweens is to do it through the very people they look up to, college kids. “We need people who are old enough to be responsible and “get” the bigger picture of our cause but are young enough and hip enough to maintain credibility and an aura of “coolness” among kids.”
I’ve seen the product of this relationship firsthand in Yoursphere. Our Yoursphere Ambassadors have made an “older sibling” connection with our members, and together they’re teaching and learning from each other with the guided, overarching education ‘curriculum’ of Yoursphere’s mantra: “be kind online to others”, “be Internet safety smart”. I believe, and I’m sure Michael Dermody would agree, that this type of education cannot be emulated as successfully by adults. We all know that there is a digital divide between parents and their kids—they were born into this sort of thing. And the way to most effectively reach out to them about Internet safety and proper online behavior would be through the young adults who were around when the Internet became what it is today. Like Dermody points out, this can be achieved in several ways: summer camps, workshops, retreats, and counseling sessions–but these are just the tip of the iceberg. “There are organizations out there that are dabbling in this as PART of their camp or retreat curriculum. Now is the time to stop dabbling and make it mainstream. It is, I believe, the best way to get the message across.”