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All it takes is a screenshot...

Safer Internet Day 2019

Tuesday 5th February 2019 was safer internet day, which this year placed a focus around consent in the online context. I was curious to know what advice would be given in an online world that doesn’t ask for permission in the first place. Celebrities often have their photos and videos reposted on numerous fan pages, even if the celebrity themselves has deleted it. What is to stop that being any different for young people and their photos? All it takes is a screenshot…

52% of young people said they’d had a photo of them shared by someone they knew without being asked first. This can occur easily with things like group photos and photo bombs, but these young people could have just as easily had a photo they sent privately to a friend shared to the masses.

Always online

I consider myself lucky to be part of the ‘MSN generation’, and can truly understand why social media causes so many problems for the emotional health and wellbeing of young people. I would come home and hope that my mum wasn’t on the phone so I could use the dial up internet to jump on MSN and speak to my friends online. However, when the time came, you would log off and disconnect from the outside world and that would be it for the day.

Being part of this generation, I was a teenager just as the early social media platforms were becoming popular, but not used nearly to the extent it is today. Yet I am still old enough to have lived the majority of my childhood without social media. Nowadays, even from a young age, we are constantly online. Apps like WhatsApp, Instagram and Snapchat allow a sea of messages, pictures and other online content to reach us 24/7.

What’s happening now?

On Saturday 16th February I spoke on a panel discussing the impact of Social Media on young people’s mental health at the ‘Let’s Shatter the Taboo’ event at the Ritzy in Brixton. The popular questions came from parents in the audience, particularly around how parents can monitor what their children are accessing. In truth – I believe parents no longer have full control over the content that reaches their children. Even if there were some way to filter everything on a young person’s phone today, there’s nothing stopping them from seeing it on a friend’s phone tomorrow.

Suggestions such as demanding that social media sites block particular content were also popular. But indecent content gets put up, reported and removed constantly. There are simply not enough hands to moderate all the content that is posted online. The internet being like a bucket full of holes is the perfect analogy– even if you patch one hole, the water will find another hole to pour from. Social media is no different. How can you even begin to legislate something that has infinite channels?

I recently heard about an app that allows young people to share photos anonymously in a large group chat setting. A girl had a nude photo of her shared on this site and not before long it was circulating her school. Rather than tell her parents, she suffered the bullying in silence. This is particularly problematic as 72% of young people said they would feel disconnected from the world if they couldn’t be online. This leads them to withhold negative interactions with social media, fearing the repercussions such as having their phones taken away or being banned from social media by their parents. This would only solve the problem for a short while – it is essential to address the root of the problem.

Time for a curriculum change?

Young people need to be educated not only on the dangers of social media, as it is frequently taught, but also the importance of their own self-worth and resilience whilst using it. It’s similar to any other young rebellion – alcohol, drugs; the more you tell young people how dangerous something is the more appealing it becomes. Young people should feel empowered to make their own decisions around social media. This then helps them to decide what content they share, as well as what content they choose for their timelines. However this will not come on its own.

We see the younger generations as ‘tech savvy’, as these days a lot of children are device competent before they even learn to speak. In spite of this, we can’t expect young people to instinctively know how to use social media responsibly when they are fed exactly the same content that we as adults see. Only their curiosity is instinctive, hence the importance of encouraging this curiosity in a healthy and transparent way.

Mind over Matter

In a previous delivery of the third workshop in the Mind over Matter series, I discussed the impact of social media on self-esteem with a group of 10 young people aged 16-22. I believe it is important to provide young people with the platform to discuss the issues that directly impact their day to day lives. Social media was instantly the hot topic on the table.

A common theme that arose was that likes and followers become addictive which I explained was the normal reaction, as it releases endorphins in a similar way to any other enjoyable activity. We then discussed the impact of the constant need for external validation, leaving the young people understanding the importance of knowing and being comfortable with their own identity. More importantly, at the centre of the discussion was ensuring that they do not electronically share content with others that they would not want to become public – especially for the sake of ‘likes’.

The introduction of the internet has launched us miles ahead in terms of technology, but at the cost of the quality of some of our human interactions. Whilst it has provided us with infinite connectivity, it means that a new lesson must be taught to young people, with equal importance as Maths, English and Health Education – maintaining your resilience and wellbeing whilst staying safe on the internet.


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