Technology, Digital Natives and How to Connect Them Safely.

Reading through Diana’s post yesterday I noticed that many of my previously considered topics were present in her ideas: cyberbullying, the role of parents in controlling Digital Natives’ access to the Internet, the ideal extent of this control, the abuses it might reach, etc. Although I’m in Brazil and Diana is in North America, we as Digital Natives ultimately experience similar issues concerning safety in the online sphere.

With a simple google search, one can find multitudes of sites which list parents’ concerns regarding their young Digital Natives and Internet safety. Here in Brazil, I found websites regarding how to make computers safer for youth, how many parents are becoming virtual spies of their own children, and legislation which suggests various types of Internet monitoring..

These concerns are sometimes supported by frightening stories that exemplify negative use of the Internet. I myself have such a story:

In Brazil, Orkut is “the” networking website. While initially, users were only granted access through an invite, Orkut later changed its policy to admit anyone who wanted to join. Ultimately, the site picked up in popularity and users began using its tools to connect to other people, and publish photographs and personal information, including about family members. Unlike Facebook, Orkut initially did not have privacy tools to block users from accessing such personal information.

Around this time, we began to hear news stories about people who received false calls which ended up being money scams. The calls were meant to fake kidnappings and force parents to make money transactions in order to release a hypothetically kidnapped relative. Parents, mine included, started ordering their children to erase all pictures and personal information from the Internet, and Google almost shut down Orkut in Brazil due to crimes that were happening through the website.

All that naturally brings us to a discussion about how Internet safety policies are often built upon fears of occurrences such as the one described above. While we think of ways to improve the Internet safety for Digital Natives, we often simultaneously forfeit other rights, such as privacy.

According to Born Digital, “the introduction of the Internet as a mass medium, and one that is particularly alluring to young people, has given rise” to a generalized fear of what is being done on this mean of communication. “Our challenge is to parse out which of these fears are worth worrying about, and then to figure out how to deal with them. At the same time, we need to resist the temptation to reach for simplistic, politically expedient solutions that will do more harm than good.”

One important topic lately discussed in Brazil that exemplifies a “politically expedient solution” is a law project on cybercrimes created by Senator Azeredo that has been voted to be approved. The “Digital Crimes Bill”, which aims to punish 13 new cybercrimes has gained mass opposition from the online community which claims that it is not only an invasion of privacy but impedes on the right to free speech. Such an initiative attempts to justify a trade-off of privacy for safety, as Palfrey and Gasser note in Born Digital.

Digital Natives’ safety has undoubtedly raised some concerns, especially among parents: What are these youths being exposed to on the Internet? With whom are they chatting? How do we prevent Digital Natives from accessing harmful content? Most importantly, to what extent are we willing to give up our privacy for safety?

– André Valle