Because every time we fall into the legend of online challenges (and what are the real problems of minors online)

Because every time we fall into the legend of online challenges (and what are the real problems of minors online)

Although finding no evidence, the "challenges" on social networks are accused of being a risk for minors who surf the net. The problems, however, are other

(Photo: Mario Tama / Getty Images) To bring the relationship between minors and the network back to the center of the debate was the death of a ten-year-old girl in Palermo. Linked - but the hypothesis so far does not find any confirmation - to a "challenge" seen on TikTok which would consist in self-inflicting suffocation (called "blackout challenge"), although on the popular social network there are no traces of this kind of video. The Guarantor for the protection of personal data immediately moved to verify the rules of access to platforms for minors. A proceeding against TikTok had already been started in December, contesting defaults that are not respectful of privacy, lack of transparency in the information given to users, a ban on enrollment for the little ones that can easily be circumvented. And a file was then also opened on Facebook and Instagram. All social networks promise to clarify.

Beloved from the age group up to early adolescence, TikTok is the phenomenon of these years. Short videos of one minute at most: at first only dances and mimed songs, then, as the format has been explored, a collection of contents, from cooking to teaching. Responding to the problems that such an explosion poses is not easy. Ethics, parental responsibility, education, the reasons for the economy, and, of course, individual experiences are intertwined. And the pandemic has accelerated the processes already underway in the field of network security, some estimate to be around five years. New groups of users of all ages have been recruited while lockdown, distance learning and teleworking have increased, for everyone, the number of hours spent in front of the screen, as well as the diffusion of devices. We have tried to put the events of these days in order.

The phenomenon of “challenges”

Let's start with the “challenges” on the net, ending up in the dock. “I would avoid looking for causal links where there probably aren't any” warns Federico Boni, professor of Sociology of cultural and communicative processes at the University of Milan. "The Blue Whale phenomenon of a few years ago has been dismantled by more in-depth analysis" underlines the teacher, who looks to the past: "Something similar happened in the Eighties and Nineties with the demonization of video games, which, according to detractors, would have led minors to violence. It is a pity that crimes have actually decreased steadily in recent years ”. But there is a precedent further back in time: "In the 1940s it was even comics that ended up in the crosshairs".

For some it is a problem of laws. Of course, the rules have failed to keep pace with technological evolution. Moreover, in a parceled, fragmented web, drawing conclusions is not easy and the risk of generalizations leads the legislator to be cautious. But even invoking the courts is of little use.

"The crime that many voices are asked to challenge is that of instigating suicide, contemplated in article 580 of the criminal code. But it is a rule inspired by another, applied, for example in the case of favoring euthanasia. Personally, I've never seen it applied to online challenges, "observes Marisa Marraffino, a lawyer expert in computer crimes. "On the role of parents, another issue that is being discussed these days, a sentence already exists, and it is clear: it requires the installation of a parental control (a filter, ed) on the cell phones of adolescent or pre-adolescent children", she adds. . The jurisprudence has intervened where the legislator has not arrived. Also because calibrating an adequate text may prove impossible, she points out Marraffino: “Who tells us that the boy doesn't use his parents' cell phone or computer to connect? ".

On the same line Giuseppe Vaciago, legal advisor of Chi odia pays (Cop), a startup that deals with the fight against hate on the net:" The crime of instigation occurs when there is malice, that is the conscience and will to determine the suicide of others. Negligent instigation is not punished. Do we really think that there is this will on the part of the platform, the parents or whoever posted the alleged challenge? If so, and if it were proven, we would be faced with a crime. Otherwise, the problem can only be solved through clear regulation of the use of these tools ". At stake is a founding concept of the web: freedom. "Are we approaching the use of an identity document to access the Internet? Personally I hope not. But, if so, it would at least be a concrete answer to an emerging problem. Otherwise, if there are no laws on the subject, in my opinion we cannot talk about crimes ", he concludes.

The role of the family

But the question can be delegated to parliaments? Can state or parastatal entities undo a knot that dwells in the daily life of every family? Insists on this question Giuseppe Pozzi, psychotherapist, student of Franco Fornari, during a forty-year career he has worked with difficult cases, severe forms of autism and psychosis. "I think the issue of challenges on TiktTok and other social networks is linked to a sort of 'at least someone takes care of me' - the psychotherapist reasons -. There is a big difference between being recognized and feeling loved. And, contrary to popular belief, children need recognition rather than love. "

Even the simplest challenges can represent joining a community, albeit a surrogate and virtual one. "The encounter with the other continues to be fundamental for the boys, but today it is increasingly evanescent. As in the classes of thirty children, where it is impossible for the teacher to establish a relationship with everyone. Dialogue makes it possible to sublimate, in Freudian terms, the death drive. Violence against oneself or against the other does not make much difference. This is why the child lets himself be seduced by the challenge: because, at least in that, he finds a heartbeat of vitality, a being ", says the expert.

The role of the press

And then there is the role of the press and the search for a prêt à porter explanation can lead university-trained experts to circular, self-indulgent reasoning and to overlook relevant variables. But does the press really play a role in the phenomena of emulation?

Some studies exist in this regard. Around 1978, when the Vienna subway was built, there was a sudden increase in the number of suicides in the city: people chose to take their own lives by jumping under the new train. The daily newspaper coverage and the dramatic tones used to describe the phenomenon prompted a group of researchers to wonder if media attention could be one more factor in the decision to end it all. After a few years, some guidelines for the media were published in 1987: among others, avoid talking about suicides in the title, do not give details, try not to propose this type of news with excessive frequency and prominence. The result was comforting: the victims dropped, and since then the figure has remained constant.

The task of the platforms

If the role of the press in the coverage is delicate of these issues, so is that of platforms on content moderation: automatic filters and policies are not always sufficient and the role of the moderator is not simple. Some, after months of censoring films, have accused post-traumatic stress syndromes.

After the case of Palermo, TikTok has released an official note: "We are facing a tragic event and we address our most sincere condolences and thoughts of closeness to the family and friends of this child. The security of the TikTok community is our top priority. For this reason, we do not allow any content that encourages, promotes or enhances behavior that may be harmful. We use various tools to identify and remove any content that may violate our policies. While our security department has found no evidence of any content that may have encouraged such an occurrence, we continue to monitor the platform closely as part of our ongoing commitment to keep our community safe. "

La track of the deadly "challenge" is not confirmed, as it has been in the case of phenomena such as Blue Whale or Jonathan Galindo, of which no traces have ever been found, even though they have been pumped into the media, although the company has made itself available to investigate investigations. And he has adopted more stringent measures since January to protect minors, although now the Privacy Guarantor wants to be clear about age control during registration.

The mechanism is still far from perfect. “I myself tried to report a video that seemed dangerous to me on TikTok” says Marraffino: “The social network promptly responded to the complaint, but the formula used left me with the doubt that only me was prevented from viewing it. In short, that the content has remained online ". On the protection of minors online, Europe could lead the way, as has already happened with the GDPR for privacy. "I believe we need an international convention on issues related to a safer network - concludes Marraffino -, from cyberbullying to access for minors to the management of dangerous material".

Towards a more responsible community

But perhaps, in the cocktail of the many remedies proposed to heal the Net, there is a need for a broad-spectrum antibiotic capable of efficacy that goes beyond the codes. To go back to the roots of the word "community" understood as a group that builds itself around shared rules.

Matteo Flora, digital expert, founder of The Fool agency and partner of the 42 Law Firm law firm is convinced of this. . "We are looking for an external solution to the problem, but the danger comes from normalization, the fact that we accept that everything happens in front of us without reacting". What do you mean? "I think a little girl with ten profiles and hundreds of followers on her online journey met some adult, or an older boy, who realized that her little girl was not old enough to be there. Why didn't they report it? It reminds me of what happens with unauthorized parking attendants: tolerated, because after all they are thought to offer a useful service. Similarly, I ask myself: is it normal to see elementary school pupils dancing in the videos on mobile phones? There is no stigma about this, and perhaps it would help ".

A widespread control, an active membership, would make it possible to intercept cases of blatant violations that escape moderation. And it could be the key to communication campaigns aimed at young people. “But above all, aimed at parents”, says the technologist Stefano Quintarelli, one of the fathers of Spid. Who makes a proposal on the digital agenda: use the digital identity system to ascertain the age of users, through an authentication token provided turned to the app, which would allow access only in the presence of legal requirements. A proposal that has opened a heated debate among experts.

A secular vision

A broad examination is used above all to clear the field of mystifications. And from illusions. As in all human things, perfection does not exist. The Net will never be an Eden. But rules in step with the times, family relationships, a sense of community and, of course, technological tools can help make the web a better place without losing freedom along the way: ideal, which is basically its reason for being. br>

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