• Sun
  • Dec 21, 2014
  • Updated: 7:56am
PUBLISHED : Monday, 09 June, 2014, 12:46pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 10 June, 2014, 1:58am

Time to licence children's internet use

Peter Kammerer says a recent attempted murder case should prompt us to consider setting stricter limits on children's online access


Peter Kammerer is a long-time columnist and commentator for the SCMP. He has received recognition for his writing at the Hong Kong news Awards, the annual Human Rights Press Awards and from the Society of Publishing in Asia. Before moving to Hong Kong in 1988, he worked on newspapers in his native Australia.  

Parents who take a laissez-faire approach to their children's online and social media activities need to check out a story that broke a few days ago. A 12-year-old girl in a US town near Milwaukee was stabbed 19 times by two classmates trying to impress a fictional website character named Slender Man. She was lured into woods and knifed in the arms, legs and torso, then left for dead. Some of her major organs were pierced, but she was able to crawl to a road for help; miraculously, she survived.

The alleged attackers, also 12, have been charged as adults with attempted homicide and face 60-year jail terms. They told police they had been planning the assault for months and that the website Creepypasta, a collection of short stories about death and horror, was their inspiration. One girl believed Slender Man was real and wanted to live with him. The way to his heart, she believed, was to kill.

Schools block websites, but it's questionable whether Creepypasta would have been on any such list. The material on it is nothing unusual by internet standards. That's the problem, of course - there are so many outlets for children to get information, meet strangers, share ideas, swap pictures and be influenced that it's impossible to know just how safe their activities are at any time. Monitoring software can only do so much and even what seems innocuous can be unsavoury - the My Little Pony animated cartoon has a legion of girl fans, but a growing number of men who call themselves "Bronies" also fantasise sexually about the characters.

Filters are of no use with mobile phones and other hand-held devices, either. Taking and sharing nude pictures was never easier. Sexting can be done at any place and time. WhatsApp and other free applications make finding, communicating with and meeting new people straightforward.

Then there are those interactive online games that give a world of access. I've heard my sons playing them, the language from teammates in near and far-off places ripe with praise, insults and swearing. There's no better way of finding out just how nerdy or outgoing your child is; put your ear to the closed bedroom door and listen. It may seem voyeuristic, but if you want to catch up with the latest slang, cool words or just filth, this is where it can be best found.

Computers can be put in central locations in homes so they can be frequently checked. Times for use can be kept to a minimum so that temptation to go to forbidden online places can be minimised. Filtering software has a significant role to play. But all those protections are meaningless when kids are not at home or school.

Facebook, which bans children under 13 from the social network, plans a system that allows parents to authorise and supervise accounts. It is a start, but that's only one small part of the internet. Putting tight restrictions on children who go online would also help. But let's take it a step further - to make the internet a really safe place, it should be treated like driving. All users should be required to obtain a licence that is awarded by completing tests and assessments. That would improve policing and reduce risks, but also curb all those hateful and stupid tweets and postings to comment sections.

Peter Kammerer is a senior writer at the Post


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Mr Kammerer sounds all very sensible and reasonable until the last two sentences.

Yes, children should be shielded from erotic, violent and other disturbing (at a young age) material. Filters, supervision, logs etc can all help. That applies to the internet, but just as well to television, video games, cinemas, libraries, commercials and so on. Agreed.

But then he jumps from protecting the young to the Thought Police State where internet usage is licensed to those who pass a test and then (I suppose) can only be online after logging in with their stored, tracked and monitored credentials.

Now thankfully, this is completely impossible to implement, not in the last place because the world wide web is what it is, and well, because it is world wide.

But it is also highly objectionable from a number of other angles. So because a tiny minority abuses the internet (without much detriment to others, unlike unsafe driving) to post vitriolic comments or conduct illegal activity, the whole of society must begin taking tests and their internet usage extensively patrolled?

And what else are we going to subject to licensing and patrolling? Remember the James Bulger murder, inspired by a film? Following Mr Kammer's logic, the watching of films should also be restricted to those who have obtained their Movie License after passing a Cinema Test.

And what about books? Imagine Fifty Shades of Grey falling into the wrong hands... And video games. 1984 here we come?
Don't worry about it Peter, the kids are probably just playing online games. As your paper so helpfully points out, your kids likely aren't losers (****www.scmp.com/news/world/article/1528230/video-gamers-not-losers-study-finds), so there's a silver lining if you just care to look for it.
So a senior writer thinks that because of this one case in Timbuktu all internet use by children should be censored? Should we restrict use of cars and planes because of one accident in each?
I really don't understand why Mr Kammerer, as a journalist, can suggest something that hampers free flow of information so that much. Though his cause is good to protect children, a license on internet access is a joke.
The fact that the author has only the haziest understanding of what a Brony is really doesn't fill me with confidence about the quality of his background research. I'm a Brony, and believe me I have no sexual interest in the characters whatsoever. It simply means someone (*not* just male) who's older than the target audience but likes the show. Yes, there is NSFW fan art out there. There is for Disney. There is for Pokémon. There is for every cartoon ever made. But it's quite wrong to suggest that being a Brony *equates* to being into that stuff. We don't mind being called odd, but please don't brand us all as perverts.


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