Remarkable comments from the head of Russia’s online censorship body, the Rozcomnadzor, have emerged in which he says that children aged under 10 shouldn’t use the internet.
The man in question is Alexander Zharov and the comments were made in a question and answer session with AIF.ru (in Russian). He answered questions during the session on a range of issues and one topic which resonated in particular, was online safety for children.
Authoritarian regimes will often use public protection as an excuse to block access to a range of resources they don’t want citizens to access, and often they will make convincing and persuasive arguments that a lot of people will agree with.
As we have reported before, recent surveys have indicated that Russian citizens are inclined to support the online censorship that is forced upon them by Vladimir Putin’s regime. But the comments from Alexander Zharov are likely to shake even that trust.
“I believe that a child under 10-years-old should not go online. To use [the Internet] actively they need to start even later than that,” he was quoted as saying.
Now it is true that parents need to take some responsibility for the children’s online activity, and take steps to ensure that they are not going online to access inappropriate content or falling victim to online grooming or cyber-bullying.
But the idea that they should be stopped from accessing the internet altogether is one which ignores the huge amount of learning and development they can be exposed to through parentally managed access to the internet.
Cartoons not good
But Zharov wasn’t finished there. He went on to say “some parents are proud of the fact that their three-year-old kid can deftly control a tablet and use it to watch cartoons. It is nothing good, in my opinion. A small child will begin to consider the virtual world part of the real world, and it changes their perception of reality.”
Some parents certainly do have misgivings about exposing their children to too much entertainment via their iPads or tablet computers. But there is again a lot of developmental benefits to be gained if they are watching appropriate content.
The decision about whether or not children should be allowed to watch cartoons on a tablet computer is one that should be made by parents, not by a state censorship body.
But as has been proved in the UK where the government is currently looking to introduce age verification on all pornography sites in the name of child protection, when couched in the right terms, censorship can be made very appealing to many. This is especially true when child pretection is used as the façade.
Stopping children under 10 from accessing the internet is also hugely impractical. It would also require a huge shift in behaviour. As the website TorrentFreak has pointed out in their coverage of the comments, figures estimate that around 80% of children aged under 11 access the internet via a tablet, 74% via a games console and 57% via a smartphone.
Meanwhile, they also quote a study by eMarketeer which found that 88.6% of internet-active children aged under 4 will watch digital video online
What this shows is that children make up a significant part of the online demographic, so any ban would likely have economic implications too.
At this stage, Zharov and the Rozcomnadzor have not made any formal proposals to ban children under 10 from accessing the internet, but in Putin’s Russia, anything is possible.
What is clear is that any such proposals would have a negative effect on child education and development, as well as create huge practical problems for parents of children already active online.
It would also be massively unpopular with the children themselves, which is something Zharov, who has a five-year-old son of his own, should be acutely aware of.