Examination of Witnesses (Questions 360-379)|
1 APRIL 2008
Q360 Chairman: Also the existing
system regarding video game classification, would you like statutorily
enforced classifications below 18 so it would be illegal to sell
a 15-rated game to a 12-year-old?
Dr Byron: And down to 12. My recommendation
is to take the statutory legislation down to the age of 12. Do
you want to know why?
Q361 Chairman: Yes.
Dr Byron: The reason why is that
in looking at the content I looked very carefully at how game
content changes over the different ages and at 12 you begin to
get more realistic violence and some sexual innuendo. Listening
to the voice of the parents, which was very important in shaping
the review, and also looking at the research done by the other
organisations around this, and also looking at the Ofcom research
which looked at the voice of parents generally in terms of the
Internet and the on-line space, for me it was very clear that
when it gets to content at that level, people are more concerned
to really understand not just content but context. How is this
violence being played out here? Is it part of a news-type game,
is it something that has a historical basis to it, or is it just
violence? For me it felt very important that in line with DVDs
and films, the statutory classification should be from 12 and
then 15 and 18.
Q362 Alan Keen: From the law enforcement
point of view, Jim Gamble, when he came he was absolutely firm
that if it is illegal in real life it should be illegal on-line
in every sense of that. Would you like to expand on that and say
whether you agree with that?
Dr Byron: I think that is something
that needs to be discussed. I think there are very clear examples
already for example child abuse images. I think that the on-line
space can change things and can make things more difficult, more
risky. I think again for me you may say it is sitting on the fence;
I would say it is being a social scientist, but you need to take
a proportionate view of things, and I think to say that everything
that is illegal off line is therefore illegal on-line may be the
case but we need to set a very clear strategy and we need to do
it now. This needs to be one of the first priorities of the Council
to go through that point-by-point and to be very clear so that
we then take appropriate enforcement because in terms of resourcing
as well, we want to make sure that we resource enforcement to
act in the appropriate way, and so therefore we need to be very
clear about what our priorities are.
Q363 Alan Keen: Where does your opinion
fall, taking a very simple thing, you said there is not enough
research on this really to make proper judgments, but a child
of 12 who continually plays a game where people are shot and blood
runs out and their arms and legs are chopped off; do you think
that is harmful or would it have no effect on the vast majority
of kids and it would just be the odd few who would be affected
by other things in real life? Is that how you see it?
Dr Byron: The game that you have
described would not be rated for a 12-year-old, it would be rated
for possibly a 15-year-old and probably an 18-year-old.
Q364 Alan Keen: A 15-year-old then?
Dr Byron: The reason I have made
very clear recommendations about the statutory end of the classification
system at 12, 15 and 18 is because I believe that that kind of
content would be inappropriate for people under the age that it
is rated for.
Q365 Alan Keen: Is there not a danger
of a 15-year-old playing games which are extremely violent, and
the press in their headline way of reporting stuff say that is
dreadful, that child is going to become so used to it that he
will do it in real life because he thinks shooting people or using
violence is quite acceptable. What are your views on that? I know
it is over-simplistic.
Dr Byron: In terms of the risk,
I spent a long time in my report going through the research evidence
for video games and there are two camps. There are those who look
at games in terms of laboratory-based experiments which show short-term
effects of playing violent games on the people playing them, although
there are questions around playing games in a laboratory as part
of an experiment and whether that is equivalent to playing in
real life. There are questions around the measures of aggression
after the experiment as to whether they are actually adequate
in terms of hypothesising that that is aggression. Certainly there
are huge concerns that one cannot extrapolate from a laboratory
to real life and generalise from short-term effects and make statements
about long-term effects. For me it is more an active participant
approach in terms of the research, which would include research
that was more ethnographic rather than laboratory-based, so therefore
we are looking at qualitative and quantitative research that really
evaluates the child, the individual who is accessing the technology
or playing the game, rather than just looking at the game itself.
I knew this before I came to the review because I have worked
with vulnerable children for most of my career, but there are
some children who have an underlying predisposition towards violent
behaviour, either directed towards themselves or others. Those
children may be influenced by a variety of factors in their lives,
factors that existed before the advent of video games, but video
games themselves may be part of a constellation of factors that
would then impact on that child's behaviour to the point that
they may do something tragic either to themselves or others. If
we continue down the road of trying to isolate single causal factors
when we try and understand very complex questions such as child
brutality, I think we really lose the perspective and we lose
the ability to make holistic and important interventions in terms
of managing risk for vulnerable children.
Q366 Alan Keen: What would you like
us to put in this report about further research that the Government
should make sure is carried out? What would you like us to say?
Are you satisfied that research is going to be on-going?
Dr Byron: I hope it is going to
be on-going. As you know, I made the recommendation as part of
my UK Council. When I had two Secretaries of State and the Prime
Minister saying yes, I kind of presumed they were saying yes to
everything, which included the research part of it. Maybe I will
come back and see! I have very clearly stated that currently,
as the research stands, the research in itself is not adequate
to base policy around, but it is very important for us to think
about it in terms of making proportionate decisions and responses
to the probability of risk. Based on your previous question, I
think definitely research around vulnerable children and young
people, identifying who those children and young people are and
thinking about appropriate ways of managing their vulnerabilities
and supporting them is very important, research around the areas
of illegality, John, what you were talking about earlier in terms
of the avatars and so on is very important. Research helps calm
the anxieties that polarise the debate and so it needs to be prioritised
around the objectives that are set out by the UK Council for Child
Internet Safety at their first summit in a year and a half's time.
Q367 Adam Price: You set out in the
report the different approaches being taken by the companies that
host content to minimise access to harmful content, everything
from software that scans content for key words, through to YouTube's
approach which is to allow users to flag potential
Dr Byron: Notice and takedown?
Q368 Adam Price: Yes indeed, and
then finally to companies like AOL who proactively employ their
own moderators to identify harmful content which they then take
down themselves. Do you think that all these approaches are equally
valid in different contexts or is there a gold standard and should
more of the major companies be adopting that kind of proactive
approach to identifying harmful material that is out there on
Dr Byron: That is a good question.
In an ideal world, a combination of all of those things would
be a perfect solution. There are some really great social networking
sites for younger children, Club Penguin is an example of that,
and there moderation is really, really important. When you have
very young children it is important that there are human moderators
who are actually present in that on-line space with the child,
for obvious reasons that I do not need to spell out. Also talking
to the BBC and looking at how they moderate their CBeebies website,
I think it is a brilliant standard of moderation. Certainly when
you get with older kids and there is chat there need to be very
clear buttons where abuse can be reported or concerns can be reported
and very clear strategies around how that is managed. Certainly
parental filter will filter content wherever your child goes on-line,
so if your child is going on to YouTube but they are eight and
you have very clear parental filters in place, then that will
filter the content that your child experiences there. For me it
is about setting it out in the way that you have just set it outand
thank you for reading my report in such detail. I do not know
if you know but I wrote a report for children as well so children
got the more sane version of it, to be honest, we cut out all
the stuff we had to wade through before we got to what we had
to say. For me it is about being really clear about the options,
making sure, for example, with parental filters and also with
filters on gaming consoles that they are easy to set up, they
are clearly understandable and so on, and putting them in front
of parents. I have recommended that when people take up a broadband
connection with a new ISP they are offered bundles of filters
as part of the package and that for all new computers it is there
on the bundle with all the other bits of bundled stuff that you
get in terms of virus protector and so on when you buy your PC.
It is a combination of all those things that I think will help
children be safe and take risks appropriate for their age and
stage of development.
Q369 Adam Price: On the argument
against companies which host internet content acting themselves
as proactive gatekeepers, we have heard again this morning from
Google that it is like asking a telephone company to screen the
content of calls. Do you think that is a fair analogy against
the idea of them having a team of people themselves actively reviewing
the content to see if there is anything there which could potentially
Dr Byron: I have written a bit
about the e-Commerce Directive in this report. I do not know if
it would be helpful to talk about it here. It took me an awful
long time to understand it. I hope you understand it when you
read what I had written. For me the e-Commerce Directive is a
very interesting point here because I think it is something that
companies may use in these discussions. In terms of understanding
how it works, there are two ways of understanding it. In terms
of the ISP as far as the e-Commerce Directive goes, they are literally
the pipes that the content gets piped down, so the e-Commerce
Directive would talk about their role as having a mere conduit
nature, so they are merely the conduit for content, and as a conduit
there is no expectation of them to be opening the packages of
content as it goes down the pipe and making a decision about whether
that is appropriate or not for delivery. I suppose in the same
way as we do not expect the Royal Mail to open every letter and
decide, that is the "mere conduit" argument. As far
as the content hosts go, the issues around liability, which is
once they step into an area where they start to make decisions
about what is appropriate or inappropriate (and again I am talking
about the subjective bit, I am not talking about the illegal bit
where it is pretty clear, I am talking about we make a decision
that we do not like this so it is going) they then set themselves
up in terms of liability that if you did this bit, why did you
not do this bit and why did you not do this bit? So the notice
and takedown is a way that that can be managed as well. I think
that businesses take risks also as part of being businesses and
sometimes businesses might want to stick their head above the
parapet and say, "Yes, there is the e-Commerce Directive
but, do you know what, we do not like this, so we are proactively
going to take that down." That is me speaking entirely personally.
I think businesses take risks as part of business. As far as the
e-Commerce Directive stands at the moment that is how these things
have come about. Notice and takedown in itself can be an effective
system and certainly when it is built into a reputational management
system so your community police force actually has people within
it who the community understands as being reliable informants
of where content breaks policies of acceptable use, that is very
useful because their flags when they say they do not like something
will be escalated up the system and will be looked at first, and
a number of companies do that in a very reliable way. These are
issues the Council really needs to think about, so if we do have
a system which is notice and takedown then all the questions that
you asked earlier need to be answered in terms of time, there
needs to be transparency, there needs to be accountability, and
it needs to be evaluated.
Q370 Paul Farrelly: In terms of the
e-Commerce Directive in the area of libel there is bite because
companies can be sued irrespective of whether they are a pipeline
or not if they do not go through certain steps of giving notice
and then take down. The question for this Committee is whether
the criminal law or an almost mandatory approach adopted through
your Council should give bite in terms of liability for stuff
that is hosted or posted on the Internet, so what would your recommendation
be? You have said the issues need to be looked at but what would
your recommendation be?
Dr Byron: You are going to tell
me that I am sitting on the fence again here, Mr Farrelly
Q371 Paul Farrelly: No I am not.
Dr Byron: Oh yes you are! My recommendation
would be this: the e-Commerce Directive as it stands works but
it works in a way that I think industry should be encouraged not
to hide behind it. They should be able to think proactively about
their own liability in relation to content. I think these are
complex and difficult conversations. I am not recommending that
the e-Commerce Directive be changed in itself but it might be
as these conversations continue that that needs to be thought
about. I will be honest with you in terms of the breadth of the
remit of review, this is not something that I have thought about
in any depth and I could not give you a specific recommendation
at this stage.
Q372 Paul Farrelly: I would not want
to discourage witnesses coming to committees like this, whether
by accusing them of fence-sitting or more serious things.
Dr Byron: You are terrifying,
Adam Price: Speak to his wife!
Q373 Paul Farrelly: Speak to my children!
Now I have lost my whole train of thought. We have just heard
a pretty hands-off liberal model from Google. I can Google and
get almost any fact I want by using Google but were you surprised
that the previous witness could not actually answer the simple
question of how many people might be involved in Google and YouTube
in taking down flagged materials? Was that a surprise to you?
Dr Byron: I am not going to make
specific comments about other witnesses or what they have said
to you because that is outside my remit and I am here to answer
questions about the review, so I say that to you with respect,
Mr Farrelly. I think that we need to be careful that we do not
become so polarised in the debate again that we lose the focus.
I think there are difficulties. These are very new technologies.
Who knew two years ago that social networking was even going to
be a phenomenon? I am not defending mistakes that are made. I
am not condemning them either. I am saying I think we need to
move our thinking on in a way that is collaborate and proactive
and fundamentally focuses on the needs of children and young people.
Q374 Paul Farrelly: Generalising
from that specific instance, so we are not naming and shaming
any particular organisation, is that sort of model a bit too hands-off
Dr Byron: The notice and takedown
Q375 Paul Farrelly: Not having anything
proactive and having staff so overloaded that they miss gang rape
videos, in the general case?
Dr Byron: There will be ways of
looking at things proactively in terms of scans, in terms of flesh
tones, as was being said earlier by the last witness, in terms
of things like pornographic content. The difficulty with that
and the way that as I understand the technology is advancing is
that when you are looking at flesh tones, you might be looking
for flesh tones in terms of seeing sexual content but you may
get 15 million pictures of people in their bikinis on the beach,
so the technology is advancing in terms of being very strategic
in terms of pictures but also in terms of text. You made the pointand
can I call you John because I sort of know youyou were
talking about tagging and you were talking about sophisticated
research around names. I think these are all things that need
to be thought about, but it needs to be pushed up the agenda for
companies so these technologies are technologies that they are
really investing in because child safety is a priority because
we say it should be.
Q376 Rosemary McKenna: Just very
quickly on a couple of specific issues, you reject an expansion
of network level blocking such as that used by major ISPs to block
access to sites identified by the Internet Watch Foundation, but
the Internet Watch Foundation say that it is working effectively.
Why do you not want it to be developed?
Dr Byron: Maybe I need to be a
bit clearer. I do not reject it in terms of illegal content, as
we have been talking about earlier. If content is identified as
being illegal and it is found to be illegal, then we need to think
about how we tell the ISPs about that so they can take it down,
but I reject the notion that ISPs should be looking for that content.
We need to define as we have with child abuse images what is illegal
and then notify them. Generally I am not recommending in terms
of harmful and inappropriate material, which again is a subjective
decision, that the networks make that decision and then block
it at that level.
Q377 Rosemary McKenna: You also recommend
that parental control software on new computers should not be
automatically on there but should be an option for the parents?
Dr Byron: I think it should be
there and I think it should be in front of people and I think
it should be there when you switch on. What I am saying is it
should not be set at the highest level by default. The reason
for that is I thought about this really, really carefully because
obviously if you are very concerned about child safety, it would
be an obvious recommendation to say put the filtering software
on and have it set at the highest level, but in the focus groups
and very much in the call for evidence, what parents were saying
is that they were finding filtering software so restrictive that
if it was set at the highest level they just switched it off,
partly because families have lots of children of different ages,
and once it is switched off they have not actually engaged with
anything other than the thought of switching it off. For me it
is there, it is in front of you as you switch on or your ISP provides
it to you when you change to a new connection, and you are talked
through setting it up. I talked about this notion of the "tipping
point" which is what the social psychologist Malcolm Gladwell
talked about, which is if you put it in front of people and you
enable them to engage with it enough because they have to go through
the process to set it up, you have moved them from a stage of
precontemplation, which is not even thinking about the issue,
to a state of contemplation and to a state of action so you have
changed people's behaviour while also providing the tools to enable
them to keep their children safe.
Rosemary McKenna: Thank you very much
for a very, very commonsense approach to a very complex issue
and it is very helpful to the Committee to have heard you this
morning as well as having read the report.
Q378 Chairman: I am afraid Mr Farrelly
wishes to test your patience one last time!
Dr Byron: Make it a nice one.
Q379 Paul Farrelly: This is a very
easy, nice question. I want to congratulate you on the report.
I do not think I have ever seen a report that has been so broadly
welcomed, apart from one rogue editorial in the Guardian
that I read, and I have never seen a Government immediately come
out and say, "We are going to implement all the recommendations."
If they treated political manifestos like that, we would be in
a different world. Flicking through this report, I have not seen
a figure in here and good intentions wither on the vine unless
they are matched by money, so what figure do you have in mind
that your Council would cost to be effective?
Dr Byron: Can you help me answer
this question really? I absolutely would not know. I have not
thought about money. I am not a person who prepares budgets. I
am a psychologist; I am not an accountant. What do you think,
Mr Farrelly, should be the figure that I should be suggesting