Algorithmic Rights and Protections for Children
28 May 2019
Challenges and Risks in Designing Algorithms and Platforms for Children
Online developers can either choose to design their algorithms for the benefit of themselves or the wellness of the youth users. Focusing on algorithms that formulate advertisements and recommendation, they prioritize creating persuasive content to influence the user to click on them rather than censorship. This exposes the underage and youth to inappropriate information that ultimately creates an unfriendly environment for them. If we talk about social media, censorship algorithms only work to a certain extent on creating a safe environment for children/teens, as if it too cautious it dulls down the environment of adult users and renders the platform to be lackluster. Being that the age restriction for using Instagram or similar forms of social media is only 13 years old, without proper censorship algorithms children could be exposed to extensive forms of cyberbullying and harassment. The decisions made by these algorithms impact the tender youth, yet if they prioritize them over the adult users then not only will be ignoring the majority of users but also ruining the online atmosphere for them.
Guillaume Chaslot, a former software engineer at YouTube, explains how the sites machine learning algorithm recommends videos to people. There are three different types of recommended videos, trending topics, user data based interest, and gender appealing choices. Say a user is using a parent’s YouTube account because they are too young to create their own, the lack of age restriction exposes the child to the recommended videos. He/she’s on an adult account so the content won’t be restricted, enabling the child to interact with the uncensored videos. Chaslot says that a certain percentage of the content in the recommended section had foul language, sexuality, racism, controversial topics, etc. The reason being, it appeals to adult, creating more clicks and views, benefiting the company. However, features that create safety for children on the platform such as allowing other users to report video, not only results in up rage against companies like YouTube because of users abusing the privilege but also lack of inappropriate content will bore adult users and reduce the number of users. In fact, in an interview on Good Morning America with various teachers and parents, some of the inappropriate content that contains anger and rage is funny to all ages. It results in addiction to watching these types of videos and imitating their improper behavior. Now if we move over to advertisements it gets worse. When you go on a website and you allow it to access cookies, not only does the website have access to your history on the website, but the advertisements have the ability to display and advertise any item from the search history of the wifi. A child could be using his device and an advertisement pops up to display something an adult had searched earlier on their personal device. The danger this has on our developing youth can potentially scar them. However, the online advertising industry is worth billions and provides sustainable jobs for tens of thousands of people. Seeing that recommendation and censorship algorithms can’t work together to create a child-friendly environment that will entertain adults, and that adults make up the majority of online users, shows us that these developers focus on the majority of the market, adults. When you make more money, companies use it to justify their actions instead of focusing on a net-benefit for the people. Online advertisement companies promote this gorilla marketing campaign, as they absorb all your personal data and return it in the form of advertisements. This result in children being overwhelmed or being exposed to information that may not be “clean”. The recent surge in social actions taken over media platforms has resulted not only in deaths of children but also in threats to kill people. Nearly 26% of all social media users under the age of 18 have experienced some degree of cyberbullying. Moreover, rates of suicide due to social media had increased by 9%. The lack of censorship to provide a friendly environment to the user results in harmful action. As said before, trying to create an environment in which adults find enjoyable yet is safe for kids is nearly impossible. The qualities and characteristics needed to achieve the standard of each are polar. Developers for the companies take the risk of jeopardizing an innocent child's mind, to create an advanced platform to enhance social aspects of life around the world.
Algorithmists today are creating the closest we can get to an adult environment equilibrium platform.
"Online Inappropriate Content." Internet Matter, internetmatters.org, 2018, www.internetmatters.org/issues/inappropriate-content/learn-about-it/.
Popken, Ben. "As Algorithms Take Over, YouTube's Recommendations Highlight a Human Problem." NBC News, NBC, 19 Apr. 2018, www.nbcnews.com/tech/social-media/algorithms-take-over-youtube-s-recommendations-highlight-human-problem-n867596.
Shewan, Dan. "The Comprehensive Guide to Online Advertising Costs." Word Stream, 23 May 2019, www.wordstream.com/blog/ws/2017/07/05/online-advertising-costs.
Temko, Sandra. "What Parents Should Know about Inappropriate Content on YouTube." Good Morning America, 8 May 2018.
Wamsley, Laurel. "Is YouTube's Algorithm Endangering Kids?" National Public Radio, NPR, 27 Nov. 2017, www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2017/11/27/566769570/youtube-faces-increased-criticism-that-its-unsafe-for-kids.
Mikail Jaffer is a 15-year-old, 9th grader that attends Moravian Academy. He has a passion for engineering, from working with universities to create innovative graphene tech, or being invited by CubeSat developers to help implement prediction and analyzation software into there nano-satellites, he is always up for the challenge. He is young and has grown up in the era of online development and technological advancements, having first-hand experience in the world of social media and exposure to algorithmic produced content.