The web inevitably makes available some content which is unsuitable or inappropriate for children to access. Some of this will be illegal, but much more will not, or may be suitable say for over 13s or over 16s only. A traffic light system may therefore
struggle to distinguish between these and runs the risk of imposing the strictest warning on masses of content by default.
A greater concern however, is how the new system will guard against becoming a tool to enable prejudices of
one kind or another to be played out. The system can only operate if it is the crowd's decision which counts - the reason this is even being considered is because there is too much content for a regulator or platform to consider. Relying on the crowd
assumes that a collective consciousness emerges from the great mass of web users and their shared values, rather than a set of subjective reactions. This is a dangerous assumption. As a recent MIT study reported in Science suggests, the wisdom of
the crowd may be a myth, its mentality more akin to that of a mob or herd.
Ministers want parents and teenagers themselves to be able to assign age-ratings (that don't seem to align with ages) to videos and other content which has been uploaded by internet users onto websites.
The government is working with ISPS and internet
censors to test how crowd sourcing such age ratings can work, The Telegraph has learnt.
David Cameron said last month that he lamented the lack of rules on age controls that apply to websites.
The government and industry has
formed a working group, led by the British Board of Film Classification, to develop the new system.
Ministers accept that there is far too much material generated by users on their mobile phones or webcams for conventional censors such as the BBFC
to be able to monitor.
However, a prototype has been designed, under which website users are asked to complete a simple questionnaire on the depiction of behaviour, drugs, horror, language, sex and violence for videos posted online.
BBFC and Nicam, the Dutch media regulator, have designed a scheme which can be linked to online filters and which includes an alert feature allowing users to report content to the authorities.
A senior government source said ministers were
supporting the developments, which would help protect children from potentially damaging and inappropriate material . The source said
On YouTube at the moment people put comments but there is no way of crowd
sourcing, where you can say whether you think this is an appropriate clip for 12 year olds or 14 year olds.
It is a bit strange therefore that the government is supporting a scheme with no obvious differentiation between 12 and 14
year olds. One option being considered would be a traffic light system. A video could be rated as green if it is safe for all, amber if it requires parental guidance and red if it is suitable for adults only.
Green for videos suitable for young
children and red for adults only are pretty straightforward, but the large gulf between doesn't seem to make much sense. Most horror films are 15 rated and would be scary for younger children. How does one have a combined 12 and 15 rating. It could
nether be said to be either a 12 or a 15. If it is vaguely called 'parental guidance', it then does not convey enough information for parents to know whether it is suitable for their 12 year olds.
Italian viewers will soon be able to make use of this international ratings tool. Italian media giant Mediaset will shortly being trialling the
rating tool for users of its 16MM website and television channel.
We will be monitoring the results of this pilot project closely. What we learn from this trial will help us as we work with other platforms to see how they might apply the tool.
Film censors in three countries including UK are to pilot a program in which amateur video-makers can self-classify their postings.
Under the traffic light system, green footage would be suitable for all, amber for 12 year-olds and up, and
red for adults only.
The project, developed by the British Board of Film Classification in collaboration with partners in Italy and the Netherlands, could also allow powerful internet service providers and search engines a new path through the
current controversy about their uncensored content.
Amateur film-makers will be able to rate the films they put online according to national ratings categories, and the whole process could then be further policed by users of the site.
Participating websites would have the option of letting viewers comment on the way that each film has been rated, alerting both users and the relevant national authorities to any serious transgressions.
The idea of offering a do-it-yourself rating
service for user-generated content came out of international discussions with the parallel bodies in charge of film censorship and classification.
David Austin, assistant director of policy and public affairs at the BBFC said:
We already classify some 10,000 videos and films that are submitted to us for release every year and we will be using much the same classification model in the pilot for user-generated content.
The sheer amount
of private video footage uploaded on popular sites such as YouTube means there is no way any board could tackle it. The volume is so great that it became clear the answer was to get those who are making and posting the films to rate them for users
Consultation with the Dutch film regulator led to the idea that an online questionnaire comprising simple questions about the nature of the content could be made to apply across international boundaries. Austin explained the procedure:
We will not be asking people to make value judgments about their films. They just have to answer simple questions about the content, such as 'Does this video contain X, Y or Z, and if so, how long is the scene?'
In Britain the usual six ratings categories for films will be reduced to three:
We felt that six would be too complicated, said Austin, so we have conflated U, which means suitable for all, with PG,
parental guidance, and then the age category 12 with 15, and finally 18, suitable only for adults, with R18, which covers those adult works intended for licensed premises only.
We will represent these three categories with the
traffic light symbols green, amber and red.
The scheme will be voluntary and service providers and search engines will be able to decide how their users want to see the ratings displayed.
At this stage a lot of it depends on
how much the search engines buy into the scheme. We want to help them look after their sites, and if some of the big ones get involved, then they can make the age-rating option available for everything.
The crowdsource monitoring option would
then allow users to judge the chosen rating and to spot abuses of the system. If there is a serious problem, such as an example of hate speech or of child abuse, it can be reported.
The 'conflation' of 12 and 15 seems to be devil in the detail. 12
is very much the new PG and the current guidelines define it as more or less suitable for kids over 8, albeit with parental discretion. All modern family blockbusters fit into this category.
Surely you cannot have currently 15 rated strong
language, horror films, and sex scenes noted as suitable for 12 year olds. So the lack of separate 15 rating means that anything with more than couple of swearwords, or bit violent, or even a bit sexy, has got nowhere to go, except an 18 rating.
So it appears that the ratings scheme only offers 3 choices, suitable for kids under 8, suitable for kids over 8, and adults only. Sounds like the powers that be are working towards a cheap and easy to implement, kids or adults internet censorship scheme.