Kids Shouldn’t Use the Internet, Russia’s Site-Blocking Chief Says

Opinion

The head of Rozcomnadzor, the body that oversees website-blocking in Russia, made a shocking statement this week. According to Alexander Zharov, children under ten years of age shouldn't use the Internet, and there's "nothing good" about a three-year-old who uses a tablet to watch cartoons.

Whether we like it or not, there are entities out there that like to try and control what we can and cannot see.

From the MPAA ratings system in the United States to the British Board of Film Censors Classification in the UK, various bodies like to remind us that there are filters in place, ostensibly for our own protection.

Of course, if run properly these kinds of systems can sometimes provide us with useful guidance, which is often welcome. At least they’re relatively subtle when compared to the flat-out Internet censorship provided by the Great Firewall of China, we assure ourselves.

But behind all of this censorship are claims that it’s all done for the greater good, to prevent the undermining of the state, to protect children, or to prevent damage to media companies, for example. Russia takes all of these things fairly seriously, and now blocks thousands of platforms on all kinds of grounds, from extremism to online piracy.

In certain quarters there’s an assumption that those behind such blocking know what they’re doing and can be trusted to do the right thing. This week, however, a few sentences from the boss of Russian telecoms watchdog Rozcomnadzor (which oversees site-blocking) revealed just how far away these people can drift.

In a Q&A session with AIF.ru, Alexander Zharov spoke on a number of issues, including online safety, especially for children. Naturally, kids need to be protected but the Rozcomnadzor chief has some quite radical ideas when it comes to them using the Internet.

“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,” Zharov said.

As that begins to sink in, with parents around the globe destroying their kids’ smartphones, tablets, and games consoles in agreement, Zharov hasn’t finished.

“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.”

To put these ‘banning kids from the Internet’ statements into some kind of perspective, the image below shows figures compiled by UK telecoms regulator OFCOM for its Children and Parents: Media Use and Attitudes Report 2016 (pdf).

As we can see, around 80% of kids up to the age of 11 use tablets to consume media, which in many cases is delivered via the Internet. Throw the online capabilities of smartphones and games consoles into the mix and we have a massively connected group of 3 to 10-year-olds, all of them becoming conversant with the vital online world.

That the head of the body overseeing web-blocking in Russia believes that none of them should have access to the Internet is truly mind-boggling, especially when one considers the value children bring to the table.

According to a study just published by eMarketeer, 88.6% of internet users under four-years-old will watch digital video online in 2017, something which in turn will positively affect consumption volumes overall.

“Buoyed by the growth in younger age categories, overall video numbers are up, in 2017 eMarketer estimates that 43.2 million people, equating to 79.4 per cent of Internet users will be watching online videos,” Advanced Television reports.

But credit where it’s due. Zharov does have some good advice for parents, such as limiting the time kids spend online and keeping an eye out for behavior that might indicate cyber-bullying.

“With older children in my family, we have agreed as follows: when on the web, any unusual situation, you need to discuss it with your parents,” he wisely says.

Fortunately for Zharov, the embarrassing “Daddy, what’s a VPN?” question won’t raise its ugly head for at least another half a decade, if he can keep his youngest child (whose coming five) off the Internet for that long.

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