In September 2016, I was giving a talk at the Annenberg School of Communication (University of Southern California) and discussing my new project. During the Q&A, a member of the audience asked me why I was using the term ‘citizen’ and ‘citizenship’ in referring to children’s digital traces, especially if we consider the fact that the term is predominantly used to indicate specific material entitlements (e.g. right to work and reside in a specific country, to vote etc.). In addition to that she mentioned that even when we think about the concept of ‘digital citizenship’ we are talking about the right of citizens to participate in society and engage with social issues through digital technologies, and hence she couldn’t see how I could use the term with reference to children’s digital data.
The way I see it, is that children’s digital traces have everything to do with the notion of citizenship, and digital citizenship. In fact, if citizenship is about material rights and the right to participate to society, it is also about the accumulation and processing of individual’s data and the profiling of individuals in order to make sure that those rights are met. Influenced by these beliefs, hence, the Child | Data | Citizen project focuses on the following area of investigations:
Digital Citizenship and the Future – Part of the interviews focus on the idea of public data, and how parents manage the data that is publicly available of their children. We also discuss whether they believe that this data could impact on their life in the future. One mother in Los Angeles mentioned that what she was most afraid of was that all the digital data would automatically be linked to one’s social security number (as it happens to a certain extent in China through the credit score system that ties digital data with the social security number). Another mother, married to a university professor was particularly concerned about the uses and misuses of children’s educational data and how it might impact on them in the future.
Public Data and Reputation – Unsurprisingly parents are particularly concerned about social media data and how that data could affect the public life of their children in the future. As mentioned elsewhere on this website, many parents commented on the fact that it has happened to them on a number of occasions to search the social media profiles of future employees. Their direct experience of these processes of profiling leads them to be particularly concerned of how their children will manage their online reputation. One mother in Los Angeles for instance told me “When my daughter grows up I want to make sure that she knows that opening her computer is like opening her front door”.