Good Digital Parenting
Blog | Oct. 9, 2014

Teaching Respect for Other People’s Content in the Internet Age

Executive Director, Digital Citizens Alliance

Let’s face it: kids these days are incredibly tech-savvy – they spend an average of seven-and-a-half hours per day consuming some form of media, much of it online. But just because children are voracious content consumers doesn’t mean they’re always able to tell good content from bad content – and it doesn’t guarantee they understand how to use content they find on the Internet appropriately.

As we enter National Cyber Security Awareness Month, it is the perfect time for all of us to discuss this issue with children, parents, and educations – what more can we do to keep content safe and what are the stakes if we don’t.

Online Piracy and Content Abuse

With kids spending so much time interacting with online content, they are more likely to be exposed to stolen content in the form of pirated movies, music, and games that are offered up to unsuspecting youth as “free” downloads.

The sites that offer these so-called free downloads are usually only able to do so because they have stolen or misappropriated the content in the first place. The online criminals behind these sites then rake in millions by placing legitimate advertisements to make their sites appear more reputable. You can learn more about that in the Digital Citizens Alliance’s study, Good Money Gone Bad.

The Risks of Engaging with Stolen Content

To start, downloading pirated music, movies, or TV shows is illegal. You wouldn’t allow your kids to walk into a Best Buy, slip a DVD in their coat, and walk out without paying – so why should it be any different when the content in question is online?

While it may be illegal, it is also far too common. A new Digital Citizens Alliance poll shows that 62 percent said they didn’t always check or weren’t sure if movies, music, games, or books they downloaded were legally authorized. Previous Digital Citizens Alliance research has shown this is a widely used delivery mechanism for malware.

Aside from the moral implications, downloading stolen content can also expose children and their families to a wide array of online crimes. The criminals behind these sites often use the “free” content they are offering as a Trojan Horse to lure unwitting victims. Once downloaded, you, your child, and your family could be exposed to anything from malware that targets your computer to identity theft.

That “free” download is probably looking a little more costly now, isn’t it?

Showing and Teaching Content Respect

Content respect isn’t just limited to not downloading stolen music, movies, or TV shows; it also means teaching kids how to appropriately use the content they find online. Nowhere is this more important than in the context of their education.

Kids today are used to finding whatever they need to complete an assignment online. The information they find on the Internet is so ubiquitous, that it’s easy for them to think of the content they find online as up for grabs. That’s where another form of content abuse comes into play – online plagiarism.

When we talk about online plagiarism, it’s also important to understand that it’s not just other people’s writing that is being misused and abused. Kids aren’t just writing reports these days; they’re creating multimedia presentations, videos, infographics, and more. Using someone else’s creations without properly crediting their work – whether it is someone’s writing, art, music, or even just their ideas – is plagiarism, plain and simple.

What We Can and Should Do

Content abuse is an action that can embolden perpetrators to go onto bigger, bolder, and more insidious activities. We can’t put our heads in the sand. Just because we haven’t cracked down on it yet doesn’t mean we should ignore it forever. In fact, there is no better time than now to do something about it.

As responsible adults, it’s up to us to ensure children understand the difference between referencing someone else’s content with proper attribution and outright stealing or plagiarizing that content. It’s a thin, but very important line. Unchecked, stealing others work creates a culture of content abuse. When young people see there is no penalty for stealing movies and other content, they can get into committing other, more high-risk online crimes. 

Teaching kids the difference between good and bad content – as well as how to appropriately use the content they find online – should be a goal for all parents and responsible adults. Learn what we’re doing at the Digital Citizens Alliance to make the Internet a safer, more respectful place for everybody.

Cover image courtesy of Flickr.