A digital Bill of Rights (updated)

 Have you ever taken a moment to consider what you share online? 

What about all those photographs of your children? Have you even asked your child if they are happy with you sending their digital likeness into the ether, at a time when an ever-greater number of tools are being launched, and used, with minimal thought for their longer term impact.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child was written a long time before we had any reason to worry about online presence - after all the the UNCRC came into action in 1992, a year before CERN placed its World Wide Web technology in the public domain and gave birth to the phenomenon of online communication.

Yet the UNCRC has incredible relevance for our children, especially given omnipresent online access and these new AI tools:

  • Article 3 - The best interests of the child must be a top priority in all decisions and actions that affect children.
  • Article 8 - Every child has the right to an identity. Governments must respect and protect that right, and prevent the child’s name, nationality or family relationships from being changed unlawfully. 
  • Article 16 - Every child has the right to privacy. The law should protect the child’s private, family and home life, including protecting children from unlawful attacks that harm their reputation.

Consider this recent video from Deutsche Telekom:

One possible solution: A digital Bill of Rights

Philosophy is best not when it tells you what to do, but when it is used to help democratic publics better understand the urgent challenges we face, so that we can make better decisions about what to do, together.
~ Seth Lazar, Tanner Lecture (Stanford HAI, Jan 13, 2023)

In his lecture introduction, Seth goes on to say, "Political philosophy, ultimately, is about how to live together. It depends on properly understanding our social relations. But it is yet to adequately address social changes induced by computing, intensified by AI."

The idea, that we are living in a reality which is no longer aligned with our social contract, is one with which many find they are increasingly ill-at-ease. Great science-fiction has grown from the fear of technological developments which outstrip our ability to control them. But the growth of AI is not the existential threat that we have been led to believe by films and books. The leaders of Big Tech companies are far more likely to be the cause of untold damage (c.f. Instagram's impact on Mental Health, YouTube's algorithmic promotion of extremism, Twitter's polarisation of political views, and all social media's increasing mining for our attention to generate greater revenues)

This demands discourse within our classrooms

Our young people need opportunities to discuss the issues if they are to better understand the impact of these tools, and this Forbes article is a wonderful provocation with which to engage students in the creation of a Digital Bill of Rights, most likely within Social Subjects/RME contexts.

An opportunity which might involve:

  • an examination of the successes and failures of the US Bill of Rights (c.f. The Fugitive Slave laws (1793, 1850)),
  • looking at the current lack of protection students (and all users) have from Big Tech
  • exploration of a new (digital) social contract
  • raising awareness of ethical considerations
  • reworking the sentiment of the Port Huron Statement (1962) in an "Agenda for a Digital Generation"

If anyone is interested in collaborating to create a resource which could be shared with schools, I'm keen to hash out ideas, so please get in touch.


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