In the Middle East and North Africa nations, internet connectivity, digitalization, streaming services are making inroads into homes, devices, and even audiences' thought processes. Media from all over the world is available digitally. People are consuming voraciously. Yet, in MENA nations, families, social activists, change makers, public figures, etc are often in a quandary trying to determine what is age-appropriate, or suitable for a particular audience.
Target groupsChange makers, Public figures and influencers, and Public sector officials
Think: porn websites are compelled by law to display warnings about the age (in)appropriateness of their content. In contrast, there's often a hard-to-determine grey area when trying to understand the age/cultural/developmental appropriateness of other digital media like movies, video games, music, ebooks, virtual reality experiences, etc. The Arab nations, incl. this contest's targets, need a system to rate media for appropriateness, in the SPECIFIC CONTEXTS of Arab/provincial cultural norms.
DAN-catalyzed initiative in which professionals w/ expertise (e.g. psychologists, educators, journalists, etc), as well as crowdsourced volunteers, shall review digital media content and rate/tag such content in the specific contexts of local/provincial/national/MENA culture. Funded through a public-private partnership, including grants, government funds, and even grassroots donations. Empowering Arab society to balance its media consumption with the health of impressionable minds, kids, adults.
The problem concerns the culturally-cognizant determination of any media's appropriateness for specific audiences. In the example above, let's assume a movie produced in the USA has been rated a certain way according to the MPAA ratings system. Maybe the movie even won an Oscar. But yet, the movie's appropriateness for, say, an audience of families in urban Tunisia, or in rural Egypt, cannot be determined unless we sample the opinions of representative Tunisian, Egyptian, etc audiences.
Which field and which area?
The media that one consumes tends to affect her/his personal development, worldview, empathy towards other humans, and so much more. People in the MENA nations are consuming both digital and non-digital media (e.g. printed books, newsmagazines, etc), but their consumption patterns are increasingly shifting towards digital and internet-accessed media. This has implications for social justice, religion, dialogue, cultural traditions, education, careers, and even law and order. Progress vs Regress!
Effects of the problem
The traditional structure, customs in families/society, as well as the social graces that characterize interactions between people, have relied on a mix of education, family values indoctrination, interpretations of religious texts' teachings, etc ... all these positive factors might lose their influence (in varying degrees) on impressionable or young minds if such minds are continually exposed to inappropriate media, e.g. to violent video games, or simply too many video games with wrong/selfish overtones, or to age-inappropriate movies, or to movies that solidify the wrong stereotypes, etc.
A possible bad outcome, in the absence of means to rate media appropriateness, is that free speech and free thinking might suffer! Paradoxically, this is true and we see it often... when public officials, religious and social institutions have a knee-jerk reaction to the influx of content and decide to arbitrarily ban many media.
For the right balance, a commonsense ratings approach is key.
Millennial mom Sara, her 8-year old son Hamza, husband and grandpa are about to watch a movie on their smart TV. On her phone, Sara peeks at the ratings. She sees that urban millennials rated it a G (general audience), while urban women rated it PG. Those raters have identified a segment of the movie where women are being deprecated/sexualized. Sara clicks through to a Youtube clip of the scene on her phone, watches it, and decides she would rather use this to educate her son on gender issues...
Additional Slide - 1
(Continued) ... The family proceeds to watch the movie. Sara taps and sets an alert on her phone, which will vibrate 10 seconds before the "inappropriate" part of the movie. At the right time, she mutes the movie sound. With a tap, she loads a user-created subtitle on screen, which uses less crude language and helps keep the continuity of the story. Once the errant scene is past, the subtitle disappears and the normal movie audio resumes. Later, Sara shall be talking to her son about respect...
Additional Slide - 2
(Continued) ...Sara uses the movie as a chance to talk about an important issue (respect for women & men) with her family. She contributes her own rating of the movie through the MediaSense Ratings app on her phone. The app allows users like her to enrich the ratings & reviews with more perspectives, data, to improve the predictions of suitability for this movie. Algorithms factor in user reputation, past voting biases, demographic data etc into votings. It's also partnered with FB, Youtube etc.
Additional Slide - 3
Platforms like FB, YouTube, Netflix, gaming, etc pour $$$ into being "user centric." They even have entire teams of employees who check media for appropriateness, games for excessive violence, etc. Yet, even these giant media companies have lagged at putting standards in place & rating systems for, say, the learning/developmental usefulness of media content, apps, games, etc. Let alone, specific focus on MENA cultures. So, such companies shall progress, too, by partnering with MediaSense!
Additional Slide - 4
Historically, many countries established censor boards, that rated movies, TV shows, etc. But that was before the explosion in globally-accessible digital media content. Today, government censor boards are understaffed, underfunded, and - most importantly - have either lost the trust of the people, or are out of touch with the current expectations of society. Moreover, government-run censor boards only rate for age-appropriateness using government-chosen criteria, and do not rate based on, say, the learning/developmental usefulness of media content, apps, games, etc. That's why we need a coalition of independent experts, educators, psychologists, school teachers, parents and grassroots activists to create a better system of ratings. For each media, say a game, app, movie, song, etc - we'll follow the "one person, one vote" system.
Additional Slide - 5
The app and its communities become a bulwark against potential negative consequences of digital/non-digital media consumption, violence, negativity.
Experts AND a large, representative crowdsource base of users cooperate to review and rate books, ebooks, movies, documentaries, TV shows, video games, music, app games, and websites.
The ratings help parents, teachers and kids make the right choices, on the basis of age-appropriate educational content, positive messages/role models, avoidance of sex/violence/profane language. The educational value of games, apps, ebooks and print books are also reflected in their ratings. For e.g., Sara may use her phone camera to scan the barcode or title page of a printed book, or the digital listing of an ebook or other digital media. The app will connect to its cloud backend and display to Sara the ratings/reviews/comments, with her filtering preferences.
Why DAN would pursue this for target nations/societies? For a better future for them!
Third party materials used