Youth On Twitter
By far the question I have been asked the most this month is “How do you feel about kids under 18 using Twitter?” (This is second only to “How do you feel about porn stars using Twitter?”, by the way.) I think what people are truly asking with the subtext of that question is “Do I censor my use because I know there are under age Twitter users listening to me?” and “Do I think there should be rules about Twitter use because of under age Twitter users?”
Before answering the contextual questions, perhaps I should outline that I see Twitter as a tool for communication and connection from one to many. I don’t see it being just for business, just for pleasure or limited to one group’s view of how it should be used. Twitter is most effective because it has no rules – it is a la carte, a point I hammer home everywhere I can. With rules, Twitter would no longer work as effectively or uniquely as it does now.
To that end, I don’t see limiting the way people can communicate and connect using Twitter to be beneficial to anyone, including the kids using it to connect with a world bigger than their home or classroom. There is power in connection and ideas, and that may scare some, but it would be wrong to take that away from the many to give a false sense of protection for the few. To that end, let me answer the question and the subcontext as best I can.
At the risk of opening a can of worms, I’ll share my thoughts. I don’t care. I don’t care at all if people under 18 are using Twitter, or that they might see me talk about a difficult topic like IVF vs adoption or argue politics or religion or tell an adult joke here or there, or link to a site a parent might not approve of. True, I do those things rarely anyway, but even so, when I do it doesn’t occur to me to censor it. The reason is simple: I am not their parent, and I should not be expected to parent the children of others – and neither should anyone else on Twitter.
Harsh? Perhaps. I feel the same way about lyrics in songs that young people might hear (I grew up in the age of Tipper Gore’ campaign against free speech in music and the beginning of the Nanny State labeling everything under the sun), or movie ratings, or violent games, or books, or anything else. It is not the service’s responsibility to parent children online, it is the parents’ or guardians’ responsibility.
Do I think that parents and guardians should be educating themselves about online tools in this Web 2.0 world and carefully monitoring the internet use of the children in their care? Absolutely. I have helped several friends with kids get on various networks and learn about slang and how to interact and watch and protect without limiting or stifling. It’s a learning curve for some, but it can be done, and it is not Twitter’s (or the Twitter community’s) place to do it.
Are there unsavory people on Twitter or other social networks that might do a child (or a grown up) harm? Of course there are! Teach your children how to protect themselves from predators. This is a new frontier but the “don’t take candy from strangers” rule still needs to be taught – just in a different medium. Meanwhile, with apologies to @chris24 @arix and other smart teens with lots to share with us from a perspective of growing up digital and that ten year old @gloson who’s parents let him Tweet and blog and who has been prominently featured in the news – I’m not going to censor myself on the off chance your parents aren’t watching. I will however, be happy to sound a loud Twitter alarm if I see something going down in the public stream that may cause someone harm – no matter how young or old they are. Why wouldn’t I? It’s the same thing I’d do if I saw something happening in real life, after all.
(By the way, if you look at the tweet streams of these kids everyone is so worried about, the first thing you notice is how much they know and what knowledge they share. Impressive generation coming up, I think.)