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We will look back in 20 years time and be absolutely horrified by what we allowed our children to be exposed to

We will look back in 20 years time and be absolutely horrified by what we allowed our children to be exposed to.


by Nina Jane Patel

These are the words of the Children Commissioner of England, Rachel de Souza, as interviewed by the Telegraph Nov 2022.

De Souza, who was commissioned by the UK Government last year to review online safety for children, made a series of worrying discoveries during the course of her research. Not only did she find that it is “quite likely” for eight year olds to come across pornography online, she also learned of the “insidious” violent content that teenagers are confronted with.

The children of today (and those over the past 20 years) are exposed to technology and the internet from a very early age. We all accept that the easy and constant access to the digital space allows children and young people to explore their creative side and enables them to socialise, while providing a sense of independence. And we all accept that digital experiences can also become a doorway to formidable danger and significant health and safety risks.

And now we enter the Metaverse.

I recently attended an event with some “big-wigs” in UK online digital safety discussing regulation in the Metaverse. They already sounded defeated — that big tech will lead us to the inevitable, dystopian future we fear. There remains uncertainty over how existing regulation will be applied in practice to the metaverse. The principles-based nature of most existing digital legislation, such as the UK’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), mean there is a lack of clarity over how these will be applied in practice to the metaverse. There are also questions around the capacity of regulators to prioritise nascent metaverse platforms with low user numbers, given the additional need to regulate social media and other tech platforms with billions of users. Global Counsel 2022

“Given what I know now about the use of algorithms,” de Souza carries on to say, “I think parents should be absolutely demanding that these tech companies clear up the space and this insidious use of algorithms to send harmful material to children.”

Algorithms are just the tip of the iceberg in the Metaverse.

I disagree with De Souza’s advice, “buy a non-internet-connected phone, so they can always contact you.” This is a bandaid. A temporary fix.

I believe, effective change will require radical systemic change, paradigm shifts on individual levels that can extend outwards.

First we must acknowledge that you and I grew up with the internet — a space we are now trying to reign in and we were (unknowingly and naively) failed by the adults in our lives as children.

And we must acknowledge that we are now the individuals and mindsets that are designing the future, and the future of the Metaverse.

We, as adults, are accustomed to shrugging off decades of unsuitable, harmful, traumatising, sexual, violent, adult content that we have viewed, shared, and remembered.

So yes, effective change, will require radical systemic change, paradigm shift on individual levels that can extend outwards.

Outwards, and towards specific innovation — technology that is fit for purpose, designed to be of service, designed to support, designed to elevate our lives.

Technology is just a tool. It is an extension of human ability, a crutch, a cane, a wooden spoon, a wrench. We must intentionally and intelligently create technology to serve the needs of children and young people.

It’s not hard.

We just have to prioritise it.

I find myself arguing about this on panels I’m invited to.

Other speakers/panelists declare “Children should learn to deal with the realities of life”.

An insistence that we need to allow children “to see the shit” so they learn how to cope, develop a thick skin or learn how the world works.

I don’t agree. It’s certainly not why we design any tools or technology.

And by the way — children have rights.

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child is the most complete statement of children’s rights produced and is the most widely-ratified international human rights treaty in history. The Convention has 54 articles that cover all aspects of a child’s life and set out the civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights that all children everywhere are entitled to. It also explains how adults and governments must work together to make sure all children can enjoy all their rights.

The Convention must be seen as a whole: all the rights are linked and no right is more important than another.

The right to relax and play (Article 31) and the right to freedom of expression (Article 13) have equal importance as the right to be safe from violence (Article 19) and the right to education (Article 28).

The Convention is also the most widely ratified human rights treaty in the world. All UN member states except for the United States have ratified the Convention. The Convention came into force in the UK in 1992.

In the context of the Metaverse and its vision of convergence of the physical and digital — its cumulative impact on children’s futures; their relationships, education, future careers, their hopes, dreams, aspirations and how they see their life unfolding – consideration of their rights is VITAL & URGENT.

Let’s not repeat another generation of children casually picking up technology that was not designed for them, that is not fit for purpose, that does more damage than good.

The right to relax and play (Article 31)

The right to be safe from violence (Article 19)

The right to education (Article 28)

— — — — — — — -Even in the Metaverse?

How, you may ask.

Get in touch, let’s talk.

Or take action individually, generate some ideas, do something/anything, get involved, get curious, ask questions, take action.

Thanks for reading.

Feel free to disagree with me. I’m happy to engage in intelligent discourse regarding the Metaverse and emerging technology.

Disclosure: As an Embodiment/Movement Psychotherapist, Nina has spent over two decades working at the intersection of mind/body connection, mental health, creativity and technology. As Head of Metaverse Research for Kabuni and a Doctoral Scholarship Recipient, Nina Jane Patel is developing methodologies to understand the psychological and physiological effects of immersion, presence and embodiment in the Metaverse.