Dear internet police (excuse me while I spit my cereal on the floor) please can you filter our newsfeeds? It's 6.47am and I've just opened my phone and I'm faced with fellatio while feasting on my Fruit 'n' Nut. The national media has a story on a girl 'pleasuring' 20 lads for a dare in Magaluf. It's not necessarily the act itself that I'm entirely shocked by (which in itself is a little sad) - it's the actual footage that's in my face (excuse the pun) that I'm concerned with. An at-the-scene clip shot shoddily on a phone that has spread like wildfire through social media and it's now on my device for breakfast viewing but without my consent or choice to press play.
What happened to good ol' networking with friends? Now it's all shared content - our feeds are littered with graphic imagery and film footage from banter/lad/lass/bible/confessional/buzz 'and the rest' sites. The more shocking the content, the more viral it gets. It's not all offensive, some of it even funny - but most of it - I just don't particularly want to see: a maggot coming out of someone's ear, a spot being squeezed or an unusual nipple on a nobbly pair of norks.
The sites that are the most popular are sadly the ones that have the most outrageous footage, offensive material and misogynist attitudes. Again finding its way into my feed was a photo posted of a pretty girl standing with five guys all about aged 19 or 20, innocent enough, but then it was captioned 'Gang-bang lad' and completely changed its context. At the time of looking, it had over 85,000 shares and comments and the number was going up in thousands by the minute. When I went to look at the comments (thinking I would see people debating over it) sadly people were just tagging in their friends. One lad, who looked no older than 14, wrote 'pussy destroyer' and no-one seemed to bat an eyelid. Would it be OK if he said that in front of his parents or in school assembly? If you give something a label of 'banter', it seems, it becomes socially acceptable and normal. And this was the very mild stuff...
It appears comments like this and trolling is not regulated at all. Twitter's chief executive even recently admitted they "suck at dealing with abuse and trolls" (The Verge). Then there are the confessional sites with their social media feeds where people behave so extreme online. They wouldn't dream of doing it in person. At first these sites and people's comments shock me but then it just makes me a little sad. I don't want mine or anyone else's children growing up to see all this and think it's normal to have these attitudes.
So if adults are seeing all this content, what about innocent eyes? Forget your top-shelf magazines, the 9pm TV Watershed, parental advisory labels, film and game ratings - these regulations seem so irrelevant right now. We place so much importance on these offline so why don't we care about them online? Why aren't we controlling what is out there? There has been media coverage about children seeing porn but that's just the icing on the cake (apparently, in one month alone 44,000 children aged between 6-11 years old visited a site access to hardcore and extreme pornographic materials - ATVOD). Social media is churning out content faster than you can type in the word 'filter' and there is no governing body to regulate it.
I find it a bit bonkers that we have such crazy laws that span over centuries yet when it comes to social media and the internet - which has the most influence over young people and future generations - it is literally free-for-all.
So what can be done? Parents of tweens, take note! With a lot of research you can do something to filter devices, email accounts, YouTube, iTunes and of course on computers and filters in the home itself. There are fantastic resources out there: CEOP, ThinkuKnow, NCSPCC, Net Aware and The Parent Zone to name a few.
But unfortunately when you let your child have Instagram/Snapchat/Twitter/ or a phone with free WIFI with access to any apps, there is simply no censorship, whatsoever.
94% of 12-15s are communicating on social media (Ofcom Communications Market Report) and the age of mobile use is only getting younger: apparently a 6 year old has the same level of understanding of digital communications as a 45 year old. Want your 6 year old to stumble across Penelope the porn-star poking around in her panties on Pinterest?
In 2014, Facebook changed its settings (again you say?) to auto-play videos as a default so now our viewing choices have been taken away hence the viral video that got presented to me at breakfast. Along with 'story bumping' (Google it) where Facebook choose what information they think you should see; the technobods at Silican Valley also played about with content to influence users' emotions. Social media sites claim to just be a tool but they are now effectively manipulating what news is reaching us with their social algorithms.
If social media has the power to filter what we can see, then why not filter things we don't want to see? There needs to be a big global change in internet law, a partnership between governments, providers and the most powerful Silican Valley engineers. It is spiraling out of control and parents have no idea. The irony is not lost in what I'm about to say next - share this if you agree...