Raffi returns to Kelowna with a message about cyber bullying

Raffi Cavoukian writes about the perils of social media, though he is a user and a SM fan. - Contributed
Raffi Cavoukian writes about the perils of social media, though he is a user and a SM fan.
— image credit: Contributed

There's no song and dance in Raffi's stance on the Internet; regulation and identification need to be part of the online world in his view.

The famed children's performer can boast 30 million fans as a troubadour, but if there's one area where he really wants people to listen to his words, it's in print.

His new book, Lightweb Darkweb: Three Reasons To Reform Social Media Be4 It Re-Forms Us, is an analysis of the problems dealing with social media have generated for parents and kids.

"The main thing is we want young users of the Internet to be safe," says the self-professed tech enthusiast.

Sadly, the incident which precipitated this foray into advocacy was a horror story from his own backyard that caught the world's attention. Watching the story of Port Coquitlam teenager Amanda Todd's death unfold from his Salt Spring Island home, he couldn't help but voice concerns.

Todd was a troubled 15-year-old girl who committed suicide after suffering years of torment online thanks to a sexual predator, and subsequently, her classmates. She filmed a silent suicide note, holding up cards to the camera describing her pain, which went viral when she posted it to YouTube.

In the ensuing media frenzy, Raffi Cavoukian—his last name for those who know him solely by his stage name Raffi—joined forces with Vancouver community advocate Sandy Garassino to co-write an open letter to Facebook's chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg. They implored her to be a leader in the social media industry and bring about systemic changes to keep young users safe.

Facebook never responded to the letter, but Carol Todd, Amanda's mother, signed it. This is where the book begins.

"Social media is supposed to be fun for people. It's not supposed to have this very vulnerable downside to it," Cavoukian explained in a telephone interview from his home this week.

His book lays out a plan of attack.

Lightweb Darkweb suggests social media providers need to make the first move and institute changes to protect young users.  In its pages it encourages parents to regulate kids' screen time by taking measures to restrict when and where technology is used—just as many other sources have done.

However it also takes these relatively common suggestions one step further, saying society needs to put regulations in place to make the Internet and social media more sustainable.

Cavoukian wants to reduce the social, ecological and health hazards currently associated with the medium by bringing about policy change.

Social media corporations generate huge profits off refusing to establish transparent, accountable means for people to connect, he points out. Yet, in his view, it is possible to put an end to the data mining practices that see photographs posted to private accounts reused in advertising, and to the streams of nasty anonymous comments that often follow news stories. It is just going to take thorough regulation.

"The onus is on the billion dollar corporations to make sure that privacy is the default setting and to talk about some kind of I.D. verification for users," said Cavoukian. "…We're all responsible for our actions—or should be."

The lesson sounds ripped from the pages of a how-to-write-great-songs-for-kids manual with a treat others as you would wish to be treated yourself kind of logic.

Raffi earns his living off Baby Beluga. While he's written a memoir and edited an anthology, Child Honouring: How to Turn This World Around, his mainstay vocation still involves a Bananaphone.

Beluga graduates, as he calls his fans born in the '70s and '80s, now bring their children out to concerts where he gets to watch a bunch of big kids experience his music all over again with their children.

He's hoping the book proves a catalyst for the kind of change needed to keep those little ones safely. For those who wish to see him in concert, Raffi plays the Kelowna Community Theatre this Saturday, Jan. 18 at 2 p.m.

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