Young people demand a kinder world on and offline
For Safer Internet Day 2023, we worked with leading sexual health and wellbeing charity Brook as part of our brand new research report. In our research report, we included quotes from young people which were collated by Brook as part of their focus groups with young people.
In this blog, Lisa Hallgarten, Head of Policy and Public Affairs at Brook, looks at what they have learnt from young people this year.
Young people demand a kinder world on and offline
We are over the moon that the theme for this year’s Safer Internet Day is all about listening to young people. We were glad to see parliamentarians in last week’s debate on the Online Safety Bill arguing for ‘an advocacy body for children to continually advise on emerging harms.’
Brook’s research over recent years showcases young people’s intelligent and nuanced insights when it comes to the good and bad aspects of life online. In Digital Romance (2017) they taught us to stop thinking of the online world as separate from ‘real’ life. They challenged our often negative perceptions of the risks and benefits of conducting platonic and romantic relationships in a digital-first world.
Digital Intimacies(2021) focussed on LGBT+ young people and further demonstrated compelling perspectives about both the pleasure and frustrations of life online. These are echoed in the UK Safer Internet Centre research for Safer Internet Day 2023 that found 65% of parents and 69% of young people recognise all the positive opportunities of the internet as well as having concerns about scams, fake news, threatening material and upsetting content.
In anticipation of the Online Safety Bill in 2022, Brook conducted qualitative research about what young people want from tech companies and regulators. We weren’t surprised by their concerns about issues like the security of their data, anonymity, reporting, the lack of responsiveness of tech companies and the inconsistent application of their rules.
Brook provides evidence-based, sex-positive educational content via our social media accounts and, along with others in our field, have been baffled and even infuriated by apparent banning of high-quality sexual health advice, while damaging content such as misinformation and explicit sexual imagery are platformed, unhindered.
An emerging theme in our research was young people’s strong sense of individual responsibility for making the internet a better place. They were upset by homophobia, bullying, racism and other forms of discrimination. The need for more kindness came up repeatedly.
The internet can feel like a distorted version of life, allowing for behaviours that we wouldn’t tolerate face-to-face: in which people can rehearse different, often hostile, ways to communicate, or share images or ideas they might not stand by in real life – protected through anonymity or physical distance.
Young people in our study reminded us that alongside faceless corporations and criminal actors, it is real people who are making decisions to engender rage, exploit vulnerability, disseminate violent imagery, and spread misinformation.
Click-hungry algorithms can deliberately expose people to harmful material. Baroness Kidron OBE describes it as ‘ranking, nudging, promoting and amplifying anything to keep our attention, whatever the societal cost’. This includes unfettered misogyny and increasingly extreme forms of pornography, as reported in the new research from the Children’s Commissioner.
At Brook, we see RSHE increasingly being asked to solve some of these most pressing issues of our day including sexual violence, online safety, radicalisation, incel culture and more.
The RSHE classroom is a great place to have these discussions. With the right training, time and resource RSHE teachers can address consent and good quality communication in interpersonal relationships; convey the benefits of kindness, compassion, and inclusion; and encourage young people’s curiosity and the critical thinking they need to take a detached and thoughtful look at the world around them. But lessons do not take place in a bubble.
On this Safer Internet Day we support those trying to shape complex legislation to make the internet a safer place. We call for regulators and tech companies to listen to how passionately young people feel about making the internet a creative, safe, fun, connecting, informative space.
We also call for society to be safer and kinder as it becomes more connected. We must challenge the business models that sit behind some of the most harmful aspects on life online, and model positive values.
Cooperation, collaboration and compassion must underpin our communities and our communication if young people are to thrive amidst the multiple challenges they face, and we must empower them to make the most of the exciting opportunities the internet provides.
Brook is the UK’s leading sexual health charity with a focus on young people. We deliver a unique blend of innovative clinical services, education and wellbeing programmes.