Changes: Baroness Kidron
The audio version of this episode is available here.
Annie [00:00:04] Hello and welcome to Changes. Hello folks. It is Annie Macmanus here with a big lergie, all blocked up on day seven of convalescence at home. So I apologise for my sickly voice. I hope that I can convey my genuine excitement for you to hear this week's episode because there's a lot of people on Changes that I've been impressed by, inspired by, moved by. But there's no one on changes so far that upon finishing interviewing them, I have said to my producer Louise, I literally want to drop everything and go and work for them right now. *Laughs* that is the case for Beeban Kidron, otherwise known as Baroness Beeban Kidron. I'm still bowled over by her, to be honest. She is the woman who gave a voice to the voiceless, in this case children against the shadowy forces behind the Internet. She singlehandedly took on big tech and won. Beeban Kidron was a hugely successful film director before changing the course of her career to dedicate her life to children's rights online. That was ten years ago when she made that change. Now she's a member of the House of Lords, where she is a cross-bench peer was elected by an independent panel. Beeban pushed for the introduction of the world's first age appropriate design code into law, requiring online services to put the best interests of the child first when designing products likely to be used by kids. Think Instagram, think YouTube, think you know, Snapchat. This is what she's talking about when she says products. As a director, Beeban's film credits include the three time BAFTA-winning, Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit as well as To Wong Foo, Thanks For Everything! Julie Newmar, a drag queen road movie starring Wesley Snipes and Patrick Swayze, and Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason. No Biggie. As a director of documentaries, she covered a range of topics including, the Greenham Common Women's Peace Camp during the anti-nuclear protests, the New York City sex industry and teenagers and their relationship to the Internet. Now for the latter documentary, which was called In Real Life, Beeban spent hundreds of hours with children, discovering how the internet affects their lives, looking at porn, bullying, privacy, everything they did. And it was this experience that encouraged Beeban to change her life from filmmaker to lawmaker. Beeban also runs her own charity called 5Rights Foundation, where she continues to fight for change in the digital world for children and young people. I am in awe of Beeban Kidron, and I think you will be too. It's also a first for Changes, as we welcome our first ever member of the House of Lords to the podcast. Prepare to be very impressed by Baroness Beeban Kidron... Can we kick off, if you don't mind Beeban, by you telling us about the age appropriate design code. It came into full effect September last year, so it's kind of been a year in full effect. For those who don't know what it is, what is it exactly please?
Beeban [00:03:19] So, when a piece of legislation came to the Lords in 2018, the Data Protection Act, I had the idea of introducing an amendment that would create a data protection code for users under the age of 18. And it was the first time anywhere in the world that we had a standalone code that would protect children. And particularly it did three things. First of all, it set the age of adulthood at 18 rather than 13, which was sort of operating everywhere on the net. Secondly, it said that the responsibility was on the company or product to design suitably for children. And then thirdly, it set out 15 different criteria that they had to meet. And I think the best way of explaining how important it was is to say in the summer before it became law, Google suddenly magically took all the 18+ apps out of play store if you were registered as a child. That safe search was automatic. That tik tok and Instagram stopped strangers being able to direct message kids under 18, that YouTube checked the age of children who self-declared that they were over 13 and hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of design changes in order to meet the code. And, you know, in the years since we've seen one compliance action by the data regulator against Tik Tok for taking children's data. There's a load more in the works that I happen to know about, but perhaps most excitingly, Ireland have copied the code. We're in talks in Finland, in Argentina and Indonesia. And brilliantly, the governor of California, Gavin Newsom, signed the California code into law earlier this summer. So very shortly we're not going to be the only place that does it, we're going to be one of a number of countries. And obviously, my ambition is to have a global code so that all children, you know, get the same protection.
Annie [00:05:30] I mean, I think a lot of people listening who have kids or who have children in their lives probably never thought or really looked into the detail of what is considered a child or what was considered a child on the internet. You're saying the age of 13, being considered an adult by all the major tech companies. So, can you bring us through pre this code coming into the UK, how children were being treated and what thought these tech companies were giving to children, being children.
Beeban [00:05:59] Yeah, exactly.
Annie [00:06:00] Before you.
Beeban [00:06:01] Well, I think the first thing to say is that the age of 13 is a sort of an arbitrary age that was to do with a piece of US law brought in by people concerned about the commercialisation of childhood to say, you know, up until 13 you have to have parental consent and up to 13 you have to have, you know, certain rules about how you advertise to them and so on, so on. You know., but that was in a world which is unrecognisable now. The research was based in the previous century, and the law was brought in around 2000. So, you know, many of the services that kids are using or are accessing kids, literally didn't didn't exist. And so you're thinking about something rather analogue for a rather 3D world, right? But they then picked it up and went, okay, we've got this duty to do things under 13, and actually they did that duty very poorly, right. But then they go, tell us you're over 13 and we'll treat you just like everyone else. And I think it's worth stopping and saying that actually the utopian vision that the digital world would treat all users equally sounds good until you think that it means that you're treating your child as if they're an adult. And I literally think that at the point of invention, they imagined everyone in the world as themselves. White, men, educated, you know, in the academia or military system. That's where it came up. That's how it emerged. And they thought everyone could take care of themselves, yeah. And to a degree they were right. And I think we have to acknowledge that. However, they have been so slow to the party of their responsibility to children because it was also not the intention of the founders that it would be this incredibly toxic commercial, sort of anti democratic place. On the contrary, they thought it would be no gatekeepers, you know, etc., etc.. By the point where sort of everything is ranked, everything is recommended, everything is algorithmically targeted. Everything, you know. And then we're in a different world order and kids need, I would argue, protections, but also rights to participate on the basis that they are children. And so at the beginning of my sort of intervention in all of this, I actually campaigned and thankfully was able to chair a group that updated the convention on the rights of a child, to say it formally applied to digital environment. I was appalled that they were not considering children. They were not considering children's established rights. They were not considering their own legislation that sets childhood at 18, and they were not taking care of their customers who were under 18. So, the answer to your question is they were doing the minimum, badly.
Annie [00:09:08] But it's just mad that, you know- you were appalled, I think everybody will be appalled when they really think about this. And it's just, how does a company become so influential, so powerful and not be held to in any way regulate their customers and protect their customers from the dangers of their product? Like, it blows my mind that it's only now, like it's only now that this is happening.
Beeban [00:09:37] Yeah. And listen, I mean, blows your mind, blew my mind ten years ago when I got into this. And actually when I got into this, you know, everyone drank the Kool-Aid. I mean, I think to give a little forgiveness to us all, you know, they spent millions, tens of millions of lobbying money, sort of creating this idea of their exceptionality, this idea. Think about the language of it all, Twitter, Google. It's all so fun, it's all so light and all the colours are sort of primary. And their argument is that they are neutral and exceptional and we don't want to interfere with that neutrality and that exceptionality. The absolute reality is they're profit driven companies. They're not exceptional. They're products and services. And my whole sort of political life, if you like, is dedicated to making sure that we all see them as consumer facing products that need to have product safety at the core. And that we're not fighting this battle about first amendment or freedom of speech. We're actually fighting the battle that they are putting things into the hands of children that are not fit for purpose. And so when you think about a company and you go, if your end game is advertising revenue, is it okay as a unintended consequence of getting advertising revenue, to have 15 clicks between the search for trampolining and the delivery of self-harm to a ten year old who you haven't checked the age of? And you kind of go, no, no, no, no, no. You know, and I remember years ago going to successive ministers and saying, do you think it's okay that a stranger can actually contact a child and then ask them to come into a private space that is unsupervised? And everyone goes, of course that's not right, is that legal? And you go, well that's what they're doing. And at the time at which I was making that case, 75% of the social media companies had that functionality. And so I always try and explain to people that so long as we see them as consumer products and so long as we see this as a safety by design issue or a product safety issue, then you don't have to swing at particular companies. You have to look at the features of those companies and go, hmm, if you're live streaming, who's watching? Yeah. If you're livestreaming, should you be able to offer financial rewards or virtual rewards to a child for doing something? Probably not. You know, if you're live streaming, is it good to be able to drag a kid into a private space? No, I don't think so. These things are about features and design. The best way to think about it is we're not allowed to ship a car with no brakes, no airbag, no rear-view mirror. You know, actually, on the contrary, we say the brakes have to stop at 30 miles an hour, within 30 hours. You know, we have quite detailed requirements. And this is like having a kid at the wheel on the top of the hill with no brakes and no airbag.
[00:12:57] *Short musical interlude*
Annie [00:13:06] Let's talk about the way you look at the world, because you came from this from such a unique place, I suppose, I can't imagine there's that many people in the House of Lords who are hugely successful film directors and documentary makers. Can we talk about the first change question, please Beeban? Which is, the change that was most impactful to you in your childhood, please.
Beeban [00:13:26] The biggest thing for me was I was actually born with a cleft palate, and that meant I had some operations when I was a baby. But it also meant that when I was ten I had problems with my vocal cords. I spoke *deep voice* very much like this even as a ten year old, and they did an operation, but they were concerned because I was so little and still growing and they first tried stopping me speaking for nine months in the hope that the operation would be easier. You know, I had a little horn like Harpo Marx and a little notebook tied to my waist, and I would write things down. But I also wasn't allowed to run because it would irritate my thing. So there was loads of things I couldn't do. And a family friend gave me a camera. And that time was a very difficult time for me. I do remember it because I actually swapped school from primary to secondary, and so I arrived at secondary this weirdo with a Harpo Marx.
Annie [00:14:26] Being able to talk or run.
Beeban [00:14:28] Without being able to do those things. And then, you know, my teachers thought they were being good by asking me to come to the front of the class and write things on the board. And I was terribly exposed and actually I didn't find out until I was 43, I think, that I'm actually dyslexic. So, you know, everything about it was a nightmare, you know, absolute nightmare. But then I had been given this camera and I started taking photographs and I took photographs throughout my childhood. And in fact, I took photographs in Lisbon when Lisbon- when the revolution came and I had pictures of the peasants coming in to Lisbon, you know, with the city on fire and, you know, and them all on the back of the trucks and some of those got published. And, then I went to work at Roundhouse when I was a teenager, you know, just as a- ticket tearing, you know, like a job for a teenager. But I used to go backstage and I took pictures of the actors backstage and then I was sort of quite active in, you know, certain sorts of issues like Reclaim the Night and I ended up having my pictures published at a very early age. And one day I got a call from an American woman who asked me to come and see her and show me her pictures. I went to see her in her flat in Mayfair, showed her my pictures, and at the end of it she said, would you like to come and work for me? And I went, well I can't. I'm going to be 14 tomorrow *Annie laughs*. That woman turned out to be the legendary photographer, Eve Arnold, famous for taking pictures of Marilyn Monroe, Malcolm X and every president since the war until she died. I mean, absolutely incredible legend woman. And she laughed like a drain. She couldn't believe it. And on my 16th birthday, she rang and she said, what about now? And I left school to go and work for her.
Annie [00:16:27] Wow. What kind of influence was Eve Arnold on you then?
Beeban [00:16:31] Everything.
Annie [00:16:32] Throughout your life.
Beeban [00:16:32] Everything.
Annie [00:16:33] How so?
Beeban [00:16:33] She taught me what work is. It's never done until you've done everything you can think of. I got my work ethic from her. I still pack my bag when I'm travelling the way that she taught me, and one of my jobs was to pack her bag. Then you always have to take something that you can wear to a palace and always have shoes you can run in and never have more than you can carry. And you know, all these rules that she had and it has seen me through some really difficult moments *Annie laughs*. But also she taught me some very profound things about what it was to observe, the right everyone has to a voice, about what it is to be a woman when people aren't expecting you to be a woman, about colour and form, kind of everything she taught me.
Annie [00:17:23] Yeah, and then you went into filmmaking and have had a hugely successful, colourful career making documentaries, making films all over the world. What is your kind of bottom line when it comes to why you want to tell stories on film?
Beeban [00:17:37] For me, it was always about explaining something, giving voice to something. And so, you know, my first Hollywood film was actually about two people falling in love across a divide. But the two people were in their sixties, and it was about both the divide and also love at an age when romance is not considered. And it was Shirley MacLaine and Marcello Mastroianni. It was fantastic. What an incredible experience. You know, I did a film where Patrick Swayze and Wesley Snipes played drag queens. I mean, that was so transgressive. But if you think about the moment at which I made that film, all the films that featured gay people had them dying at the end because we were just sort of in the wave of the AIDS epidemic in our community. And so this was a sort of a lust for life movie, you know, of great joy, great theatricality, and again, over the divide, you know, Nebraska drag queens, it was quite radical at the time. You know, Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit, I mean, that was really saying what it was like to grow up unseen in a family, in a community that did not recognise who you were. And although it's very much sort of revered as being a coming of age story and a coming out story, and in fact, over the 30 years people have written to me and also to Jeanette Winterson, who is the author and whose experience it reveals or shows or depends on, and they say- apart from all the people who are able to sit in front of it and tell their parents or tell their families that this was actually them too, there was a whole other wave of people who said, you know, I am actually not gay but that is how I felt. I felt that I was not seen, yeah. So in between all of those kinds of things, I always made documentaries because it was sort of like, you know, there's the fantasy, here's the real life, there's the fantasy, here's the real life. In 2012, you know, when a smartphone became the price point at which an adult would give it to a child and I saw all those kids, you know, just looking at the screen and I thought, ooh, that's interesting. And before you knew it, there I was. I was making a film. And that was the film in which I realised that we were in the middle of a generational injustice of such high order, and nobody was, nobody had noticed, as it were. And that was why I couldn't let it alone. I didn't mean to give up my film career to be a child's rights activist with a particular beef about *laughs* about the digital world, you know, and indeed that has turned out to be the case. And I'm very happy, very proud. And I think that even some of the skills I learned as a filmmaker are very relevant to this new world of politics.
Annie [00:20:42] Well completely, you're giving them a voice where they have none. You're just doing the same job but, you know, just kind of transferring those skills, I suppose. Do you miss the creative side?
Beeban [00:20:53] What I would say, and I mean this really, really seriously, is that actually law, policy, working with children, trying to solve the problems of life is very creative And that actually it should be seen as creative. And I think that, you know, if I have had a little bit more impact than most people thought I would, and if I've had a little bit more success at getting things over that line that other people thought were impossible, then the thing I put it down to is that I look for the end game and what 'good' looks like and do everything in my power to get to that place. And that's a bit like when you start a movie, you know it's going to open in December at the Leicester Square Odeon and you've got to do everything in your power to get it to that place *Annie laughs*. So I don't actually believe for myself that there is an option of not delivering because-
Annie [00:21:58] Yeah, you have to!
Beeban [00:22:00] It didn't work like that for my 30 years that I was a filmmaker. But also, I think imagining where you want to be rather than triangulating from where we are is a very powerful thing for a policymaker. There was a division amongst what I consider fellow travellers, and some of them were doing the art of the possible, and I and my team of 5Rights were doing the art of what was necessary.
Annie [00:22:25] 5Rights being your charity, children's rights online charity.
Beeban [00:22:28] Yeah, exactly. And, what was interesting was we took on the impossible and won. They took on the possible and lost. And at the end of it, everyone in our world, you know, said, you know, how did you know, why did you know? Etc., etc.. And I said, because ultimately, you know, you have to get everybody else on this journey to believe that it really matters. And if you just do the art of the possible, in the end, you don't persuade people that it's going to make the difference. And so actually, it's easier for them to hide from their responsibility.
[00:23:10] *Short musical interlude*
Annie [00:23:20] Let's talk about then that change that you made from being a movie maker to a lawmaker and this documentary that you made, which is called In Real Life, I think it came out in 2013. Is that right? Yep. You say at the start of that, and I presume it's you because I recognise your voice. "I always have and always will believe that the internet can be the instrument in which we deliver the full promise of human creativity. But perhaps it's time we ask ourselves, have we outsourced our children to the Internet? And if yes, where are they and who owns them?". One of the most shocking things about watching this was just being aware that nearly ten years has passed since that's come out and the huge evolution in terms of our consumption and technology since then. But when you made that and when you did the research and when you kind of spent so much time in teenagers lives, what did you learn about what the Internet was doing and how it was changing our children and how they lived?
Beeban [00:24:18] I think it's funny because I haven't actually heard that for, you know, eight or ten years. So that's quite something to hear that that was my concern, because I think we did at outsource our kids and it is very problematic. I think that what I learnt was that first of all we weren't looking hard enough but when we were looking we were looking too much traditionally at the end. So we were looking at maybe, you know, pornography or child sexual abuse or unpleasant things at the end. What we weren't looking at was the machine. And from my hundreds and hundreds of hours that I spent with young people in their bedrooms, and if they were gaming, I was gaming. If they were going to meet ups, I was. Falling in love, watching pornography, whatever they did, I did with them. What I learnt was that actually, you know, the twin drivers of what was the 2012 or the version 2.0 Internet, yeah, are growth and attention. Those were the twin drivers. So you keep someone there as long as possible. You do everything there to keep them as long as possible. Whilst depriving children of other experiences, you know, other forces. So the forces therefore within were overly powerful. Whereas, you know, if you go from family to school to friends to your hobby to entertainment, then there are multiple forces. And sometimes those get out of kilter, but not always. Generally they balance each other out. And in this case, this drive for attention meant that it was the major force. And then you go to the second thing, which is they are designed to spread, i.e. to expose you. So the children are then exposed, you know, and if you think about, you do a Tik Tok, oh it's so popular, 500 million people and then if they can direct message you and say, hey you're cute, will you do the splits for me? I'll give you a flower, you know, etc. But the actual exposure. So if you look, cut to now and think body dysmorphia, depression, social compassion.
Annie [00:26:41] Anxiety.
Beeban [00:26:42] Anxiety. Why? Overexposed. Overexposed.
Annie [00:26:47] I share. Therefore I am.
Beeban [00:26:48] Yeah, I share therefore I am. You don't know who you are. You don't have that sort of instinctive thing. And you're talking about a development period that is very, very fast. It sets you up for your entire life. And I think that you don't have any privacy within which you kind of go, ooh, that was my boundary. Oh, I don't like that boundary. I think I'll go do-. It's both crude and subtle. It's subtle about how it changes people. It confirms certain things. And also the algorithms as we've gone on in this journey are smarter and smarter and smarter about saying, oh, you're someone who's anxious about your weight, I'll give you a bit more about your weight. Oh, you're someone who likes self-harm, I'll give you more self-harm. And it drives kids into the most negative version of themselves. That is what I learnt. It is the machine and people still to my despair, yeah, think of it as being the child and what they are doing or what some other person is doing to them. But actually the biggest crisis is that we've got something that is really just trying to sell advertising, going hey what about this? Hey, a bit more of this. Hey, a bit more of this.
Annie [00:28:04] All the time, yeah.
Beeban [00:28:05] And it drives them into corners that they really shouldn't just be residing in full time.
Annie [00:28:10] There's so much to learn with this documentary which is still available, and you can go and download it and get it. But the human parts of it are so kind of gut wrenching. The two examples I'll talk about, one is this girl who- and this is BlackBerry days, right. So this is BlackBerry days. This isn't even smartphone days. And she's got her BlackBerry and she is addicted to sending messages, receiving messages, status updates, telling the world where she is, talking to lots of people at the time. She admits freely that she doesn't really care who they are. She just likes the act of talking to people. And then she gets used by boys who nick her phone and kind of lure her into this woods and she goes after them because she cannot live without her phone. And she knows that. And she admits it. Consciously knows, if it wasn't my phone, I would have walked away but I needed my phone. And she goes and she gets, you know, she gets taken advantage of sexually. And this is just her reality. Then there's another one, which it opens with boys watching porn, two boys, and they're bringing you through all the different options of porn that they can watch. And it's so shocking because even though we've all seen porn as adults, seeing young guys, it's not a conversation you see. What, 15 year old boys discussing porn freely and openly, why they like it, what they do, what they consume, how they consume, when they consume, every day before they shower they take the iPad into the bathroom. And then you see them go out. You see how the porn is effecting kind of insidiously, how they look at women, how they look at romantic relationships. And then again, they're really astute, these teenagers, because they are aware of what this is doing to them. But the addictive tendencies of the actual machine that you're talking about means that they are helpless to it. The autoplay thing, when you watch a video on YouTube and then it automatically goes into the next video. You stopped that.
Beeban [00:30:02] I tried for ages to stop that and it was one of the things that happened in the wake of the code, and I'm really pleased and proud of it. But, you know, listen, I am the first person to say we're not done yet. We have a long way to go. But I think it's interesting what you're saying. And, you know, I used to have to stand up and say these things in public and there were girls going into doctors with eye infections. Why? Because the guys thought that coming in the face was a thing from porn, right. You got girls going in with anal tears. Why? Because that is normalised. Yeah. And you got the boys kind of suffering, a lot of them erectile dysfunction in real life because they don't know how to really do it. And it looks like it's all so easy and then different and so on, or whatever. So here's the good news. Those two kids in that movie, they saw it in the cinema. They came for the discussion and the Q and A and so on, and they participated in that. One of them went to film school and got a first. I'm very proud to say. The other one actually said to me that he was going to give up porn and he was going to dedicate the next two years of his life to having a proper relationship because seeing it externally was really valuable to them. And the reason that I say that is it absolutely speaks to my point that trapping children into a single experience, yeah, is not to give them the cacophony of choices that helps each human being to freely develop as a human being. I'm not saying there's one way of being a human being. There are many ways of being a human being. But the way that it is set up to be so dopamine affective.
Annie [00:31:57] Yes. Yes.
Beeban [00:32:00] So attachment- You know, and we all feel it. I mean, we all feel it. I've got my phone here right next to me and if there was a flashing thing I'd probably look over there. You know, I had to turn it on its back so that we could talk, you know? It's so normalised, but around these very specific negative things. And I am going to just say one other thing which is, in the courtroom of Molly Russell's inquest, who is the young girl who has committed suicide.
Annie [00:32:27] I was going to ask you about her.
Beeban [00:32:27] Yeah. And the landmark decision that coroner Walker came to, that social media was in part to blame. One of the things that everybody who was perhaps less expert gasped at in the courtroom was that they showed the first six months of her activity on one platform. And yes, she went for some slightly depressing things, but she also went for shopping and some music and some fashion and some this and some that, you know. And then the last six months was just down the plughole of extreme self-harm suggestions she kills herself. Absolute nihilistic, there is no one there. And false friends. False friends. People who are not trying to- I don't mean individual. I'm not talking about actual friends. I'm talking about influencers who sort of were pretending that they were a place of succour but were actually valorising suicide and so on. You know, and it was like a place of such dark- that was the algorithm. Right. That wasn't Molly.
Annie [00:33:35] It was indisputably the algorithm.
Beeban [00:33:38] It was the algorithm. It was like cutting out the other stuff and sending her into this place and giving more and more choices. And I, I remember when I first met Ian Russell, you know, three or four years ago now, and he said to me the thing that broke his heart the most, you know, was seeing her still being recommended sad sites by email three days after she died.
Annie [00:34:04] Ohh.
Beeban [00:34:04] Yeah. You know, you could not make up the irresponsibility of that. I know a lot of bereaved families. You know, the Russells have been tremendous in their fight to get access to the data, to get a decision that was transparent and to absolutely establish the cause of Molly's death. And my hat off to them. But I have to say, they are not the only bereaved family. There are dozens of bereaved families and even before a child takes their own life, there are hundreds, thousands of children who are having a very negative experience who are somewhere on that very long line between a bad day in the office, as it were. Bad day at school, bad day in yourself, you know, and taking your own life. And that being reinforced by being totally involved in this world. And so, again, I just want to say it's the machine. It's the machine. We don't want to count the end game of how many kids we lose. We want to actually build it all the way up to the front and say, hang on a minute, how can we have an environment that's less toxic, less addictive, less singular, so that actually children have the right to grow up in the world in multiple environments, with multiple sorts of interventions and ways of seeing the world. And that is really key to all of this. Don't blame the children. Don't blame the parents. Don't blame the teachers. Go to the machine and say hang on a minute.
Annie [00:35:37] Blame the machine.
Beeban [00:35:39] Not fit.
[00:35:40] *Short musical interlude*
Annie [00:35:48] You have like again, a really unique perspective of said machine in that you have been to those places, you have interacted with them, you have forced change within their walls. How hard was that to do?
Beeban [00:36:03] You know, it's very hard. I mean, it's very hard.
Annie [00:36:07] Did they resist you initially? *Laughs* I wish you could see, I wish you could see the facial expression there.
Beeban [00:36:16] What is important for me to say to you and for you to say to your community, is not how tough it was for me, but that it was possible. It is possible, they are accountable. Society has rules. We have culture. We have a consensus about how we treat kids. And these guys are not allowed to be exceptional. Yeah. And if they have a go at me publicly, privately, whispering campaigns, whatever, I know that we will win this fight. And I also want to say, although I felt very lonely in my fight ten years ago, I am no longer lonely. And there are many people in this fight. Yeah. I think that even the tech companies now say to me that they know it's inevitable that they will be regulated and industries. They're rather less good about coming to the table and making that swift and clever and consistent. And one of my big beefs, and this is something that I am absolutely passionate about, we cannot let the regulation of tech sort of reproduce the incredible horror and inequality of something like the baby milk powder. We do not want kids in the global south, you know, to have none of these protections as we move in where we've got institutional capacity to bring law and bring change. And so a lot of my own attention is on how do we make these global standards.
Annie [00:37:47] And how do you? I mean, it's it seems like overwhelmingly huge. You know, you've done it in the UK but as you said in an interview or something, you said the UK cannot, you know, it can't be responsible for the world's regulatory bodies or whatever, but you are doing it country by country.
Beeban [00:38:04] I said, we cannot police the world, we can influence the world. And that's why I say to you, I mean, the fact that California has the exact same rules. Yeah. Yeah. Do you think that those companies are going to do different in California and Omaha? Different in California and New York. Different in California and-.
Annie [00:38:25] It's too complicated.
Beeban [00:38:27] No, the more we do it, the more it is an inevitable outcome that we get a single bar and I think that it's worth pointing out that the vast majority, I cannot say all, but the vast majority of changes that they have made in relation to code, they've made globally. Yeah. So we are pushing the floor up. What I'm asking is other countries to put the legislation in so that they can actually be a voice in compliance and NGOs like mine can take legal cases, that they can do the research and see that it's working. We are getting there, there is a consensus about what has to happen. There's 196 countries signed up to the convention on the rights of the child. Now, everybody in those countries has the general comment to hold them to account. I'm not saying it's quick enough. I'm not saying it's good enough. I'm just saying it's possible. And so what I want people to take from my journey is it's not that I'm so great. It's that you can make the change you need to make, you just have to push every door. And I often say to my team at FiveRights, do you know what, we're like water. Yeah. You go in through the crack, even when the windows close. That's what you have to be. This is gorrilla warfare. It's not the office of class and being nicey nicey. You've got to make it happen because it must happen. And I think that we have huge support amongst populations in different countries.
Annie [00:40:00] Yeah. Can I ask and you know, I'm not presuming you're qualified to answer this question, but someone who's spent so much time and headspace in this world and who is also a parent, for people who are listening and feel very overwhelmed- if they're, you know, as parents watching their children and kind of feeling like they're losing their children to the Internet, how do we allow our children to hold onto themselves, to not lose the essence of who they are to the Internet? How do we not let them be defined by the internet?
Beeban [00:40:34] Yeah. I will say some things about that because there are some things you can do. But I would start by saying, you know, this is not your fault. This is something that a lot of people experience. And that the forces, particularly amongst sort of, you know, pre-teen teens, early teens, are very, very strong because it's a period where they're already moving away from you towards their friends. And so, you may be muddling up-
Annie [00:40:58] It's peer to peer, yeah.
Beeban [00:40:59] You know, their move towards their friends as being a problem with the Internet. Or you may be missing that they've got a problem with the internet because they're moving towards their friends. So it's a very complex picture. And I really, really do feel that the products are not safe. You know, it's not a fair fight between parents and a phone, basically. Having said that, I think there are some things you can do and I start by saying, put your own phone down. Yeah. So many young people say to me, you know, they're always on at me about the phone, but when I look up, that's what they're doing. Put your own phone down. Have family rules. You know, not at the dinner table. Not while you're watching telly. It's really boring, but it's just the truth. And I think that children, you know, you'll have more authority in the space, A, if you behave as you would want your kids to behave, but you also have more authority in the space if you understand the services. And so, again, a lot of parents go, oh, I just got to understand Tik Tok and then they were on something else. You know, it was Discord. Then it was Discord and then it was this. And I go, don't try and keep up with the services. Try and understand the features. They're repetitive, you know, understand the problem of of live streaming, understand the problem of recommendation, understand the problem of direct messaging. Understand those problems because then you can say to your kids you know what, I'm not comfortable with you using that because they haven't dealt with direct messaging and dadadada, but by all means go ahead here and dadadada. Or, please in our family do not ever do this with direct messaging. Please put private for thing, and then I'm perfectly comfortable. It's much better to go by feature than by thing.
Annie [00:42:47] Right, yeah.
Beeban [00:42:47] And then the other thing is, don't get obsessed by time, get obsessed by the quality of the experience. You know, we have just spent an hour online together. It was a perfectly decent hour. Neither of us have suffered, I hope.
Annie [00:43:02] *Laughing* yes, not at all.
Beeban [00:43:04] But actually, if I had literally spent that same hour going through the five different news apps I have on my phone, which I do, I would have not really got very far in the world.
Annie [00:43:15] You'd be scrambled.
Beeban [00:43:16] I'd be scrambled.
Annie [00:43:16] So it's kind of how do they use the Internet in a meaningful way? How do they find meaning from it that is enriching?
Beeban [00:43:23] Yeah. And I think some of that, I mean depending on the age of your kid, you should do together. So I think it's great if people play games together. I think it's really great if you have competitive Spotify things, you got to keep the family ---, whatever. I mean, I'm not talking about some great romantic view of life, but if some of the technical use is collective, you begin to sort of have a shared experience about which to discuss. If you understand the features rather than the products and if you don't behave badly yourself, you start to have a much better place to have a proper conversation. Then, you know, there is stuff you have to talk about, but you have to talk about that anyway in families don't know, about, you know, what you think is okay versus the others. And I always remember- my kids are adult and my campaign has never been about my own kids because of the age. But I do remember my daughter coming to me as she sort of turned in her early twenties and said, you know what, I'm just going to say it once and I'm never going to say it again. I thought you were too strict and now I realise you were loving and I could not believe that you had such sort of radical ideas about fizzy drinks and about whatever it was, you know, some other thing that I had obviously got in my head. And she said, but I'm really, you know, I'm really grateful to you now because I see that somehow it has given me a position in the world where I'm not being shoved around by commercial things. And it wasn't quite like that. I've sort of misremembered it, but it was a moment where she was saying, actually, I recognise what you were doing was parenting me. Yeah, never doubted my love, always got on with her, but she recognised that was parenting. And I do think that some adults are scared of the internet and don't think they have to parent in that space. And they do, right. They do. But the first three things I said help you parent in that space because you've actually got not a fearful notion. Yeah. Because actually, you know, if you think about it, would you allow a bunch of kids to come round and smoke in your kid's bedroom? Probably not. Sometimes you have to go in and say, hey, you're not doing that in my house. It's tough.
Annie [00:45:46] Same thing. Yeah, same thing. Last question to you, please Beeban. What change would you still like to see in the world around you?
Beeban [00:45:57] You know what, I would like to see sooo many changes.
Annie [00:46:01] *Laughing* I'm just thinking that's a big question for you.
Beeban [00:46:02] It really is. I mean, listen, you know, on the subject that we've been talking about, I actually want a global settlement for children's safety and privacy. And I want to see their right to access the digital world on an equitable basis, you know, that is around their age. And I don't mean this just about content, I mean it about shoving them around and interfering with their development and actually sort of looking for many, many more positive ways of using the same technology. And I think one thing that maybe is sort of optimistic and fun is that, you know, I'm very keen not to just be a naysayer. And so one of the things that I'm involved in is the Digital Futures Commission. It's an applied research thing. And one of the things that we're worried about is that both in real life and online, children have sort of lost places and spaces for free play. As I say, it should be a equitable and accessible place. I don't mean just cutting out the adult stuff. I'm not talking about that. I'm talking about how do they get places where they can freely play without, you know, always being nudged into the most commercial thing. How do they find places where they can find information that isn't then going to be traced back to them, so you go to mental health services and suddenly you're getting, you know, some terrible ad for something else, you know, etcetera, etcetera.
Annie [00:47:25] Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Beeban [00:47:26] So that's the change I want to see. But I do think sustainability as a mantra in how we develop the digital world is a really interesting concept. And I'm even going to go as far as saying the sustainability of childhood, because if you force a child to be adult at 10, 11, 12, 13, it isn't the fact that they put their phone down and they're a child again. That's it. They're an adult, right.
Annie [00:47:57] There's no going back.
Beeban [00:47:57] There's no going back. So, you know, I think that if we can have sustainability and if we can have product safety and if we can have children's rights, you know, and if we can take care of each other and the planet... that's the change I want to see. Small bear, obviously *laughs*.
Annie [00:48:16] Well, all I can say is thank you. Thank you. As a parent of two kids who are just about to go into, you know, phone age. They're already asking. Thank you. Thank you for making my kids safer on the Internet. And thank you for all your work. And I have no doubt that you will achieve that change, because, as you say anything is possible. If anyone can do it, you can *Beebhan laughs*. Thank you Beeban.
Beeban [00:48:38] Pleasure.
Annie [00:48:41] What a woman. Let us know what you thought. I would love to hear from you on this. There's so much to talk about around it, actually. Are you worried about your kids use of the Internet? Are you worried about your own use of the Internet? I mean, I have to say, at the end when she was talking about things that adults do, it's very impossible to not like be struck by what she says. The first, most obvious thing that we all know, we all know this but it's hard to implement, was just to put your own fucking phone down. It's just to put your own phone down. So much to learn from Beebhan and I like her approach as well, which is kind of, you know, she's not pointing blame at anyone. It's not anyone's fault. It's a system that has been allowed to happen. And she's single handedly fighting that system. Just so inspiring to think that you can pivot. You can just make such an extreme change in your career and then be the root cause of such huge influential change with regards to law and how we live our lives. If you want to go watch Beebhan's documentary which we discussed, it's called In Real Life. We will put a link to it in the show notes, as well as a link to the 5Rights Foundation charity that she runs which has got loads of helpful information on it. And also, can I just say, isn't it such a relief to know that people like Baroness Kidron exist in the highest tiers of our government? Like thank God, *laughs* thank God. Okay, please don't forget to rate, review and subscribe to Changes. Please pass this on to anyone who you know who might be interested in it. There'll be lots of conversations I can imagine over Christmas with kids and phones and screens. This is a really handy thing to have going into the Christmas holiday period, I think. Just having it in the back of your head. So yeah, do spread it around, pass it to anyone who you think will find it helpful. We will be back next Monday with a huge end of year special that is going to discuss all the changes that have happened to us and society and culture within 2022, with a guest that has had a huge year herself. I'm excited to bring you that. Changes is produced by Louise Mason through DIN Productions. Thank you so much and take care.