THE BLOG

Digital Is the Future in the Wake of Strong Decision Made by the UK

21/12/2015 10:27 GMT | Updated 17/12/2016 10:12 GMT

The proposed change to EU law to ban teenagers aged 16 and under from using social media sites and email without parental permission has been thrown out after pressure and concerns from tech firms, internet providers and wider society with over 1,800 people signing a petition set up by The Diana Award Youth Board. Individual countries will now be able to apply their own laws on the age of consent, and luckily for us the UK will be opting out. The proposed law was sheer madness - as we move into an increasingly digitalised world, hindering young people's interaction with the digital world would have been disastrous both financially, socially and morally.

While we are unsure of how EU countries will vote on their own social media age limits I really hope Europe wakes up to the huge possibilities offered by the digital space; we are already in danger of sleepwalking into complete irrelevance by leaving a huge creative skills gap in our younger generation and stunting our economic growth by failing to embrace the technology. Laws like this and the stigma they add to our post-millennial generation will only act as a catalyst to this process, allowing countries like China and India, who have significantly larger populations and no restrictions around young people exploiting their digital skillsets, exceeding far beyond us.

Limiting internet use will also negatively affect young people's social lives; we live in an era where social media makes up the fabric of social interaction. That which is optional for an older generation is as natural and as necessary as a telephone for today's youth, and offers opportunities for creativity and expression that it is simply wrong to curtail.

Worryingly, the proposed rule would also propagate class divide in a space that currently is inherently democratic. At present, anyone - irrespective of class, education or age - can excel in the digital space, and it has the potential to shift social interaction and do away with class stratification. However, proposed laws will lead to teenagers from more affluent families still encouraged to use the internet in an informed way, with those from less privileged backgrounds left to their own devices or actively discouraged. If a percentage of today's youth are not equipped with the skills to prosper in the digital age, a social chasm will appear and our future workforce will be debilitated, only representing a fraction of its potential.

The overwhelming irony is that many companies will just disregard the regulations and will grow in the process. Creating obstacles to sites that teenagers (already eminently more tech savvy than the average adult) use as second nature will incentivise hacking, lying and cheating cultures - certainly not the way to safeguard a generation.

Although we must protect young people, we should also empower them to make informed choices, not limit their independence. We need to focus on digital rights, not risk, and help young people navigate the complex issues around using the internet. We need to help teenagers to understand what tech can achieve and what their rights are - we can't just outlaw things that we don't fully understand.

To see that a bill like this was being pushed through with no consultation is frankly criminal. What happened to debate, discussion, and democracy? If this hastily thought through bill had passed, it would have created a raft of predictably awful and unpredictably terrible consequences for a world whose socio-economic capacities lie in the digital space. So while we should celebrate the fact that the UK has chosen to maintain current laws, we must also ensure that policy makers understand the importance of a digitally confident youth. Let's not strip young people of their potential - the future is digital, and it's in their hands.