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Children online - consumers or citizens?

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In the E-Society project entitled UK Children Go Online (, we are combining qualitative and quantitative methods to explore the involvement of 9-19 year olds in today’s heavily mediated consumer culture, focusing on the opportunities and risks that the internet represents for young people. The enthusiasm with which this age group regards the internet (‘we are the internet generation’, they proclaim proudly), suggests a striking coincidence of interests between young people themselves and the rapidly growing industry which markets to them, developing dedicated online content and services, albeit a coincidence that arouses considerable ambivalence among critical commentators. It is suggested that young people’s involvement with online consumer culture, including the ways in which this mediates offline consumer/youth culture, can be usefully framed in terms of media literacy, a framework currently of considerable policy relevance given the duty of the communications regulator, OFCOM, to promote media literacy. This paper draws on the qualitative findings obtained thus far to identify the varieties of literacy evidenced by young people, including their considerable fluency in using new forms of media to create a seamless, ‘always on’, peer-oriented environment, their less-than-critical awareness of some of the commercial imperatives and strategies that lie behind the provision of these media, and the difficulties of identifying as yet ‘unmet needs’ for this population.

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