This week (on the 8th February), we celebrated Safer Internet Day - a day to celebrate all the great work done across different sectors to make the internet a safer place for everyone. this year, the organisers focused especially on young people's role in making the internet a safer place. Although the day is especially focussed on making the internet safer for children and young people, it is also about inspiring a national conversation about using technology responsibly, respectfully, critically and creatively.
We all know how difficult the internet can be with trolls, scams and phishing being everyday issues. While we can avoid the worst of the scams and phishing by being careful about what we respond to online and what we simply delete from our inboxes, the bigger problem seems to be other people and how we respond to other people. Social media is supposed to be about connection, community and collaboration. But often it is a place where people are hurt by prejudice, hate and undermining comments.
In a research report run by Censuswide in November 2021 for SID 2022, 70% of young people said that working as a team in an online game would make them happy or proud. But at the same time seeing people being mean or cheating in a game would make over 70% of people feel sad/shocked/angry. Being involved in or experiencing a scam would make 70% of people feel bad about that situation. But losing to someone in a game only made 46% of people have negative feelings.
Online engagement is at times problematic with 68% of young people experiencing offensive or mean comments form others, and 54% of parents saying their children had alerted them to relationship breakdown through online engagement.
This year, SID focussed on encouraging young people to foster supportive relationships and respectful communities online and at the same time protect themselves and others within online spaces. Sometimes, the kind of negative activity we've talked about above leads to people simply ignoring the problem and moving onto another activity. Sometimes, young people act on the problem by BLOCKing and REPORTing the person being mean. Only about 20% would go on to talk to their parents about the issue.
Here's some top tips...
But it's not just young people in gaming where there is a problem. We see a larger shift to radicalisation and problematic behaviour right at the centre of public life.
Some of the problem with Online Safety is also about the rise of radicalism and extreme behaviours. So, we saw the response of a small group of individuals to Keir Starmer and David Lammy on the streets of London last week. This wasn't online safety, this was on the street safety that was needed. But the people who were attacking the leader of the opposition were conspiracy theorists who raised a whole number of issues around anti-vaxxing, Julian Assange, the New World Order, and the incorrect allegation made by the Prime Minister in the HOC about a serial sex offender.
Such people don't carry the weight of the general population. Like the Ottawa truckers, they are unpopulists. The are protestors who think they are expressing what everyone else thinks is right but in fact the majority of the population is horrified by their actions. So, anti-vax opinion in the UK is about 3% of the general population. But you'd think it was much higher from anti-vax statements. The problem is that unpopulists become so frustrated at the lack of support for what they think are populist protests that they are much more likely to become aggressive and dangerous.
We see the same kind of thing happening on the internet. While most people see the internet as a place of collaboration, support and encouragement, there are quite a few unpopulists who want to have their say and hit out at anyone they can. Perhaps the best response to such people is to mute them or unfollow them or block them. Sometimes, although we'd find that more problematic in offline social relationships, that's the safest thing to do. We don't need to have the hassle.
Let's get some more advice from some of the young people who took part in the research: