“Hi honey. How’s your new game?’
‘It’s okay. My character fell out with their parents and couldn’t get any money so I killed myself.”
“… You can do that?”
“Let me look at that.”
Do you remember when the Internet seemed like a good thing? I’m sure, at some point over the last 30 years, that we thought it was going to be a good thing. I remember joining Twitter and thinking ‘this could change everything.’ Well, I guess it did.
Over the last few days I have, along with the rest of the world, watched in absolute horror events in New Zealand, where a radicalised white terrorist killed nearly fifty innocent people based on nothing more than their religion because they’d poisoned themselves on the hate swirling around seemingly every cesspit of the internet. Like most people, I had to speedily shut down horrifically graphic footage of these unspeakable acts because people were sharing them online with a glee bordering on the psychopathic. The internet I used to love has turned into a pretty scary place, and it’s taking the real world right along with it.
At the same time, my kids are dipping their toes into this internet-drenched world like fawns venturing into the woods on the first day of hunting season. Both are obsessed with YouTube, a platform that’s essentially the wild west of content, where algorithms designed to keep people watching seem almost custom made to draw people down really dark paths, and where your best efforts at curating your child’s viewing could have them watching a character by a man who also makes videos of a more scatalogical bent. The Momo challenge scares may have been bullshit, but as the excellent recent episode of Reply All stated, it convinced so many parents because it’s not a million miles away from the truth.
But YouTube isn’t a thing of pure and incontrovertible evil, either. My boy loves Minecraft, and watching videos of people doing things on Minecraft have taught him more than I ever could. He’s now some kind of Minecraft Ninja. My daughter likes to watch some pretty mindless stuff on there, but it’s harmless, and watching mindless shit is kind of what kids do. I don’t want to deprive my kids of a life online, because that’s going to be pretty harmful in the long run (and means they won’t have a clue what all their friends are talking about) but I don’t want them stumbling across some dark wormhole into hatred and evil, either.
This weekend my wife and I decided to cut back their YouTube access, just for a bit. ‘Sure,’ my daughter said, ‘can I have this game instead?’ We checked it out, did all the checks you’re supposed to do as a parent, and yet still had the discussion listed above (and I shit you not) within an hour of her installing it. Now, I’ve played the game, and it’s harmless enough, if you like that sort of thing. But, you know, still…
It’s a dark world out there at the moment, and protecting our kids from the darkest corners of it while trying to prepare them to be able to face it might just be the hardest thing in the world.