REGULATION OF SOCIAL MEDIA AND CHILD PROTECTION
Posted by Мариян Томов
Nowadays, the use of the Social media and other communication technologies continue to grow considerably and offer all citizens great opportunities for participation, interactivity and creativity. However, risks for children and abuse of these technologies continue to exist and, as a result of the changing technologies and social behaviours, new risks and abuses continue to emerge. The main problem which grows is: How to bring up children, when together with family and school, social media and new audiovisual technologies present them more modern and attractive vision of the world? This vision destroys basic concepts for that what is good or bad, real or illusion, beautiful or ugly, legal or illegal, truth or lie. The Internet provokes us to totally re-examine these values which have the meaning as subjective landmarks for human activities.
On that modern and important topic is my research. I presented my topic – Regulation of Social Media and Child Protection on COST IS0801 International Conference “Regulation of Social Media: Cyberbullying and Media Literacy” in 22th October 2009, in University of National and Word Economy in Sofia, Bulgaria. So, I hope my work and conclusions which I had made to stop your attention because the society is still on the initial stage in the analysis of the benefits and harms of the Internet as a factor during children’s growth.
The protection of children is the main responsibility of the modern state. In order this to be achieved measures should be adopted at European level to protect the physical, mental and moral condition of the children, which might be impaired by their accessing inappropriate content. Moreover, in order to encourage citizens to exploit the opportunities and enjoy the positive benefits offered by the Internet and other communication technologies, measures promoting their safer use are also needed.
Therefore, new technologies raise a new situation which requires new methods and approaches for protecting children. For example – except for being subject to special protection from the negative consequences of Social media, under-ages must be understood as active users and creators of contents. This means that under-ages are law subjects because they express themselves and create information in Internet.
Therefore, the right of freedom of speech and information as fundamental right in democratic community clashes with the right of honor and dignity and with the right of children’s protection for their physical, moral health and benefit.
2. European legislative framework
1.1 In international law, as in Bulgarian, a child shall be any natural person, who has not reached the age of 18.
Convention on the Rights of the Child
1.1 States Parties recognize the important function performed by the mass media and shall ensure that the child has access to information and material from a diversity of national and international sources, especially those aimed at the promotion of his or her social, spiritual and moral well-being and physical and mental health.
There are many International documents about freedom of speech which correspond with Bulgarian Constitution – (Art. 39, Art. 41) and Bulgarian Child Protection Act:
3.1 Recommendation Rec (2006)12 on empowering children in the new information and communications environment;
3.2 Recommendation CM/Rec (2007)11 on promoting freedom of expression and information in the new information and communications environment;
3.3. Recommendation CM/Rec (2007)15 on measures concerning media coverage of election campaigns;
3.4. Recommendation CM/Rec (2008)6 on measures to promote the respect of freedom of expression and information with regard to Internet filters;
3.5. Declaration on protecting the dignity, security and privacy of children on the Internet;
4. Convention on Cybercrime – The Convention is the first international treaty on crimes committed via the Internet and other computer networks, dealing particularly with infringements of copyright, computer-related fraud, child pornography and violations of network security.
Convention on Cybercrime corresponds with Bulgarian Criminal Code – Art. 159.
5. Decision No 1351/2008/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council 
The Program will be implemented through four general action lines:
(1) Ensuring public awareness
(2) Fighting against illegal content and harmful conduct online
(3) Promoting a safer online environment
(4) Establishing a knowledge base
1. In additional to an International legislative framework are Recommendations of Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe which have attitude into to protecting of children from harmful content in Internet:
1.1 Recommendation 1276 (1995) on the Power of the Visual Image
1.2 Recommendation 1165 (1998) about the Right of private life
1.3 Recommendation No R1466 (2000) about Media Education
1.4 Recommendation No R(97) 20 about “Hate Speech”
1.5 Recommendation No R(97) 21 about the Media and the Promotion of Culture of a Tolerance
1.6 Recommendation 2006/952/ЕC about Protection of minors and human dignity in audiovisual and information services
1.7 Recommendation 5/2009 on measures to protect children against harmful content and behaviour and to promote their active participation in the new information and communications environment. This recommendation has two aims – (1) to protect children and (2) to heighten media literacy in digital world.
1.8 Recommendation (2006)12 on empowering children in the new information and communications environment
1.9 Recommendation 1882 (2009) – The promotion of Internet and online media services appropriate for minors
7. Self-regulation Acts
7.1 Recommendation Rec (2001)8 on self-regulation concerning cyber content (self- regulation and user protection against illegal or harmful content on new communications and information services).
7.2 Voluntary Code of self-regulation for mobile-telephone operators. Various European mobile-telephone operators signed the “European Framework for Safer Mobile Use by Younger Teenagers and Children”, in Brussels (Belgium) on February 6th 2007. This year, Bulgarian mobile operators Mtel, Globul and Vivacom accepted Voluntary Code as self-regulation Act.
3.Bulgarian legislative framework
Constitution of the Republic of Bulgaria makes provision some orders about Children protection and freedom of speech and information.
1.1 Art. 14 The family, motherhood and children shall enjoy the protection of the State and society.
1.2 Art. 39. (1) Everyone shall be entitled to express an opinion or to publicize it through words, written or oral, sound or image, or in any other way.
(2) This right shall not be used to the detriment of the rights and reputation of others, or for the incitement of a forcible change of the constitutionally established order, the perpetration of a crime, or the incitement of enmity or violence against anyone.
1.3 In Art. 41 is also written that: (1) Everyone shall be entitled to seek, obtain and disseminate information. This right shall not be exercised to the detriment of the rights and reputation of others, or to the detriment of national security, public order, public health and morality.
1.4 Upper Constitutional principle oppose to another one – for freedom of Art. (Art. 54)
Child Protection Act
2.1 Bulgarian law maker consider a child shall be any natural person, who has not reached the age of 18.
The other important principles of this Act are:
2.2 The children have the right of protection against involvement in activities that are harmful to his or her physical, mental, moral and educational development. These values are described not as principle, but as obligation in Child Protection Act and in Bulgarian Radio and Television Act also.
2.3 The personality of each child must be respected.
Criminal Code of the Republic of Bulgaria
This Code protects personality and the rights of citizens from criminal acts through the entire established legal order in the country. In Criminal Code are indicated which danger social acts are crimes and what penalties must be punished. In some cases, instead punishment could be set measures for social influence and educational methods. National Criminal Code also incriminates acts which are in harm for children. (These acts are normalized in Art. 159)
In additional, there are many National programs devoted to protection of children from harmful content in Social media:
4.1 National program for protecting the child (2009);
4.2 National strategy for protecting the child (2008 – 2018);
4.3 Institutional programs; Non-government programs and others.
4.4 There is a National Program “Child in the Net”. The aims of this campaign are: To heighten children’s awareness about risks of violence over children in Internet; to inform children how to prevent from violence in Internet; to create partnership between different State institutions, non-government organizations, Children organizations and Internet providers as a base for joint action on these problems.
4.5 There are many Social media made especially for children – example is Bulgarian site www.az-deteto.com;
5. Bulgarian authorities protecting children are:
5.1.1 State Agency for Child Protection and Child Protection Policy.
5.1.2 Association “Parents”
5.1.3 UNICEF Bulgaria
5.1.4 There are many non-government organizations as Bulgarian Red Cross, Association “Dametra”, Foundation “Partners – Bulgaria”.
5.1.5 Bulgarian Hotline – Its goal is to establish a national Safer Internet Hotline in Bulgaria that should enable local Internet users to report incidences of harmful and illegal content disseminated over the Internet.
There are different Self-regulation acts and measures:
6.1 Principle for save work with Internet for pupils in school. These rules regularize the main principles in school policy, rights of school direction, pedagogical staff and system administrator as well as rights and duties for pupils and parent’s rights related with the work of their children in school.
6.2 Voluntary Code of self-regulation for mobile-telephone operators.
There are two main aspects described in Voluntary Code:
To protect young people from dangers likely to result in harm to their physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development;
To encourage young people to acquire a proactive sense of their own responsibility.
Another self-regulation measure for protecting children is Internet filters. There are many commercial programs such as Cyber sitter, Safe eyes, Net Nanny which protect children from harmful content. But from other hand, filters could be accepted as a censorship. That’s why Recommendation of the Council of Europe requires some actions before filters to be applied:
7.1 From member states is required to make strategies to define the risk for children of improper content;
7.2 Estimation for different ideas, opinions and community values;
7.3 From business is required to create intelligent filters;
7.4 Discussion – to draw all interested sides and after that, they to make decision;
7.5 Monitoring from civil society to control filters restrictions;
4. Media regulation improvement
Legislative framework guarantees that the content of audio-visual and information services respects the principles of human dignity and do not harm under-ages’ growth. That is why is required, law-maker to be led by the society interests and in due time to protect the freedom of speech, pluralism and independence of Social media creators. Based on this, legislative framework must be flexible enough and at the same time contain clear criteria which must be applied equally to everyone. For these aims is required:
1. The Bulgarian government should create a common law concerning the Internet and new communication and information environment responding to the upper model. This law should protect freedom of expression and human dignity in the information and communication environment by ensuring a coherent level of protection for minors against harmful content and developing children’s media literacy skills. This law should correspond with the Bulgarian and European legislative frameworks.
2. The Bulgarian Government should create a special Council whose responsibilities must be:
2.1 This Council must add clear rules harmonized with the main law (Decrees, Attitudes, Recommendations, inner rules);
2.2 The Council must make monitoring of Social media and Internet environment (regular monitoring of a wide number of Internet sites on a fixed scheme);
2.3 When the Council determines any infractions the creators of an inappropriate content must be punished in accordance with the Common law. On the other hand, to the point of the infraction, the Council could use preventive measure of co-regulation. Enforcing many and consecutive punishments must be extreme measure because that approach would decrease the public trust of the Council and would make tension between the Council and owners and creators of Social media.
2.4 The Council should make general conclusions for its work
2.5 The Council should make regular reports for the society
2.6 The Council and other similar institutions should work for enhancing cooperation, exchange of information and experience in fighting online illegal content and harmful conduct at state and international level.
2.7 The Council should make additional normative documents on a state level – Acts, Attitudes and Recommendations which to define with more precision some disputable definitions. Some of these definitions are: national, politic, ethnic, or religious intolerance; public decency; pornography. If these definitions are not precisely defined this would lead the regulation to non-functionality, inadequacy. We must not forget that development of the individual is a result both of premeditated and unpremeditated influences of different factors: family, school, socio-cultural environment, means of mass information.
3. Self-regulation measures:
3.1 Showing a proper signalization before entering a Social media with an inappropriate content for children. Signalizations such as: “If you are under 18 leave”. It is necessary to pay attention to what extend similar self-regulation approaches are successful. For example, if there is a signalization for children, but parents do not react at it – the effectiveness of this measure would be zero. On the other hand, the psychological adjustment of children would lead to the effect of the “forbidden fruit”.
3.2 Another risk might occur while trying to shape the Bulgarian Internet environment as a save place for children. The internet filters could be accepted as a censorship. The view point depends on individual culture and values of the children. Therefore the self-awareness of the society and media literacy are very important factors in preventing children from inappropriate content.
3.3 Increasing adults’ responsibility – parents must be well informed about risks in Internet and to control the access of their children
3.4 Under-ages are law subjects because they express themselves and create information in Internet. This is the most important reason not only to make prohibitions but also to understand children’s needs, their way of thinking and what will be in their benefit. Regulations and self-regulation frameworks must be constructed on that psychological basis.
3.5 Special Codes and rules should be passed. They must define responsibilities of Social media owners, creators of content, administrators and other professionals.
However, in most cases, “implanting” a foreign legislative model into Bulgarian legislative framework is not a guarantee, that in Bulgaria it is going to work well. From law-makers is required to learn and report the best achievements of nowadays foreign legislations, to make careful estimations of the contents, to be convinced that texts are applicable into the Bulgarian laws. It is necessary to account the level of development and education of the society, media literacy of the citizens, national psychology and other objective and subjective factors which could prevent foreign legislation from being effective, but also to work entirely or partly in harm to children.
Children spend a large part of their free time using Internet. That leads children to social estrangement. Since early age, they are clashing with many risks and negative sensations for which they are not ready.
After analyzing these influences, we can conclude that they destabilize the extant social status and provoke negative changes – disfunctions and/or neutral or unimportant consequences for recipient – afunctions.
These problems are challenges of the new century which we must overcome. To begin with, we must give a new meaning of our value imperative system and pay attention to traditional meaning as love, care, ideology, faith. These virtues are put to the test by the powerful business influence on the mass media.
These tends were described by Prof. N. Postman in 1982 in his book: “The Disappearance of Childhood”. In his opinion, the means of mass communication turn over not only our imagination for traditional childhood, but the model of child’s behaviour – television for example gives visual education which limits child fantasy, there are no taboo themes.
In conclusion one of the most effective educational approaches is visual, interactive. It gives opportunity to children to learn something new through game. On the other hand, cartoons, animation characters which picture the world and makes it more interesting and multi-coloured. Part of the computer games and Social media for children develop not only their fantasy, but also their way of thinking and intellect.
The society is still on the initial stage in the analysis of the benefits and harms of the Internet as a factor during children’s growth. Therefore, careful and wise regulation and self-regulation approaches must be applied in order to ensure their safety and to educate them to be good and responsible parents in the future.
International Telecommunication Union
Decision № 1351/2008/EC
 PhD Bisera Zankova, The proportionality principle and procedures of protecting children in Internet, p.1
 Convention on the Rights of the Child; Adopted and opened for signature, ratification and accession by General Assembly resolution 44/25 of 20 November 1989
 Adopted by the Committee of Ministers on 27 September 2006 at the 974th meeting of the Ministers’ Deputies
 Adopted by the Committee of Ministers on 26 September 2007
 Adopted by the Committee of Ministers on 7 November 2007
 Adopted by the Committee of Ministers on 26 March 2008
 Adopted on 20 February 2008
 Convention on Cybercrime, Budapest, 23 November 2001. on the website of the Council of Europe
 Accepted in 16 December 2008; establishing a multiannual Community programme on protecting children using the Internet and other communication technologies
 Assembly debate on 30 June 1995
 Text adopted by the Standing Committee, acting on behalf of the Assembly, on 16 March 2007
 Assembly debate on 27 June 2000 (19th Sitting)
 Adopted by the Committee of Ministers on 30 October 1997
 Adopted by the Committee of Ministers on 30 October 1997
 Recommendation 2006/952/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 20 December 2006
 Adopted by the Committee of Ministers on 8 July 2009
 Adopted by the Committee of Ministers on 27 September 2006
 by the Assembly on 28 September 2009 (28th Sitting).
 Adopted by the Committee of Ministers on 5 September 2001
 Various European mobile-telephone operators signed the “European Framework for Safer Mobile Use by Younger Teenagers and Children”, in Brussels (Belgium) on February 6th 2007.
 Prom. SG 56/13 Jul 1991, amend. SG 85/26 Sep 2003, SG 18/25 Feb 2005, SG 27/31 Mar 2006, SG 78/26 Sep 2006 – Constitutional Court Judgment No.7/2006 , SG 12/6 Feb 2007
 The Child Protection Act has been adopted in Bulgaria on the May 31 2000.
 Radio and Television Act; Promulgated, State Gazette No. 138/24.11.1998; supplemented SG No. 41/22.05.2007
 Prom. SG. 26/2 Apr 1968, last amend. SG. 43/20 May 2005
 Bulgarian mobile companies Globul, Mtel and Vivacom are accepted this Code in Sofia, August 2009
 Andreev, М. Education in М. Мirchev. “Texts. Invitation for sociology”, p. 124
 Mihailova, К. Dissertation, p. 104
 Postman, N. “The Disappearance of Childhood”