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.
The 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.
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.