Janice Taylor has made safeguarding access to the Internet for children a central focus of her personal and business life.
As founder of Mazu, a Kelowna-based social media platform for youth, Taylor has earned an invitation to participate in Talkroot, a global conference on children’s rights in an online world taking place Jan. 25 to 27 in Copenhagen, Denmark.
Taylor will join more than 60 other designers, psychologists, neuroscientists, health care specialists, educators and children’s rights experts from across the globe at the event.
“It is an honour for me to be invited to participate in this conference. It is dealing with issues that are plaguing our society today and bringing people together to seek solutions,” Taylor said.
She said youth are the modern guinea pigs of the Internet experiment today, being marketed as social media users and content purchasers in a digital world that often their parents either don’t understand or are apathetic about.
Taylor said considering what youth are exposed to online, and the sole protective step is a consent box that parents tick off, has begun to raise alarms that she says should have started ringing a decade ago.
She said Europe is already starting to impose access limitations on social media—France for example has banned all cellphone use in schools—but North America’s love affair with Silicon Valley has delayed similar regulations.
The evolution of technology has spawned very powerful corporations, Taylor noted, who up to now have misdirected our attention away from their business self-interests, which is now beginning to reflect harmful repercussions.
Taylor says our collective fascination and the addictive mentality to be social media connected has led to complacency among consumers and subjected companies like Facebook, Google and Amazon to less scrutiny at a regulatory level.
“The attorney general of Washington, D.C. has just filed a lawsuit against Facebook which I think is just the beginning of the legal fallout that is going to happen,” Taylor said.
The lawsuit accuses Facebook of privacy violations regarding protection of consumer data.
Taylor said those privacy issues are the result of the tech giants discovering how to monetize the web, by selling access to their users to business and political marketing interests, an issue brought to the forefront by the Russian hacking into the 2016 U.S. election via Facebook.
“We have to look at what children digest and feed into their brains in the same way we don’t want to feed our children poisonous food products that will make them sick. A child become a product in one of two ways for these Internet companies,” Taylor said.
“Either the parent ticks that box and the child becomes a consumer to be directly marketed to, or they don’t and that child becomes part of a data group that these companies use to sell access to. Collecting data and selling it is the only way Silicon Valley can make money.
“Neither our parents or our youth are armed appropriately to deal with our children becoming part of an endless business experiment in the digital world.”
Taylor said the negative health impact on youth from an addiction to social media is beginning to reflect some disturbing trends.
She said youth between the ages of 12 and 14 spend an average of nine hours a day online. As a result, she says only six per cent of their leisure time is spent on exercise related activities while the level of reported mental health markers such as depression, suicide and anxiety has shown a 50 per cent increase over the last decade across North America.
“Kids today spend so much of their time locked in isolation in the digital world they become far more exposed to issues such as loneliness, melancholy and depression.”
Taylor said her Internet start-up is bucking the current business model, providing both an ad-free positive content outlet for youth to learn from and convincing parents ultimately to pay for access to Mazu.
“I have been on this journey now for nine years waiting for the world to wake up to the repercussions of what is happening in the digital world.”
Mazu is behind the Love A Million public awareness pledge to bring over a million children out of vulnerable digital spaces into a safe place built to protect, nurture and educate the next generation.
Leanne Basran, wife of Kelowna mayor Colin Basran, has signed on as a public ambassador for the campaign.
“After personally experiencing some of the dreadful things posted online in the last civic election campaign, she agreed to join us. She feels enough already and we need to do something about this.”