Almost synchronously with the release of Born Digital in the U.S., the Swiss conservative party CVP has made headlines with a position paper that outlines actions to proactively deal with the problems associated with online aggression in Switzerland. The strategy proposed by the conservative party focuses on youth and addresses Internet violence (including cyberbullying) in general and violent games in particular. Among the measures suggested in the position paper are:
- Introduction of a nation-wide, harmonized rating and classification system for movies, games and MMS services, analogous to the Dutch NICAM model;
- Amendment of the Swiss Penal Code, sec. 135, in order to ban the sale and making available of games with violent or (other) adult content to children and teenagers;
- Incorporation of a federal Media Competence Center for electronic media that would administer the classification system, run information and prevention campaigns to educate parents, teachers, etc., and study online addiction, among other things;
- Commission and release of a study on cyberbullying by the Swiss Federal Council;
- Formalized collaboration among the Swiss cantons in order to protect youth from violent content;
- Mandatory inclusion of media literacy classes into the curriculum at public schools (including sessions on the effects of extensive use of media);
- Information campaign to educate parents and teachers;
- Conversations between teachers and parents in cases of under-performance of school children due to excessive media usage.
We’ve discussed several of these strategies in Born Digital, chapter 9. The summary paragraph of our analysis reads as follows:
The best regulators of violence in our society, whether online or not, are parents and teachers, because they are the people closest to Digital Natives themselves. Parents and teachers have the most time with kids—and, ideally, their trust. As in other contexts, parents and teachers need to start by understanding what their Digital Natives are up to. From there, it’s important to set limits, especially for young children, on gaming and exposure to violent activities. Parents and educators can and should work overtime to channel the interest of Digital Natives in interactive media into positive directions. But companies need to step up, too, and to exercise restraint in terms of what they offer kids. And despite the hard free-speech questions implicated by these kinds of interventions, the government needs to be involved, too. As we’ve emphasized throughout the book, the answer isn’t to shut down the technologies or reactively to blame video games for every tragedy, but rather to teach our kids how to navigate the complex, fluid environments in which they are growing up. That’s easier said than done, but we don’t have much choice but to take this problem head on. The stakes could not be higher
With regard to the role of governments – also in the current debate about the Swiss party’s position paper the most controversial issue –, we write:
Governments can play a role through educational efforts, whether via schools or at the level of general public awareness. Governments can also help to foster collaborative efforts by public and private parties to work to reduce unwanted exposure by young kids to extreme violence. The Safer Internet Plus program, sponsored by the European Commission, is one such initiative that combines a series of helpful educational and leadership functions by governments. If all else fails, governments should restrict the production and dissemination of certain types of violent content in combination with instituting mandatory, government-based ratings of these materials. The production and distribution of extreme types of violent content—including, for instance, so-called snuff movies, in which people are filmed being killed—can and should be banned by law. Similar restrictions on access to such materials, based on age ratings, are in place in Germany, the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia, among other places. These types of controls must be very narrowly tailored to pass constitutional muster in the United States, appropriately enough, given the force and breadth of First Amendment protections. We already have most of the legal tools needed to mitigate the effects of this problem, but rarely are these tools use effectively across the relevant platforms that mediate kids’ exposure.
Interestingly, the position paper presented by the Swiss CVP (disclosure: of which I am not a member) is getting pretty close to what we have envisioned in Born Digital. Obviously though, devil is in detail, and the proposal by the CVP has to be analyzed in much greater detail over the weeks and months to come. In any event, CVP certainly deserves credit for starting a public conversation about violence in the digital society and for making a strong case that we all share responsibility.