Risk and Vulnerabilities

Research indicates that online risks are not extremely different than the ones young people have long faced offline. Research points out that young people who are most at risk offline continue to be most at risk online.

Young people are also often proficient of using online technologies.

“Harnessing, expanding and promoting their skills and understandings of online technologies may hold the key for overcoming the issues of concern.”

In this chapter, we discuss current risks young people face online. Please remember that we don’t offer direct support and the site is not continuously monitored for messages. If you need an ambulance, call 999. If you or someone around you is in distress or need immediate help, click here to find a list of services you can talk to.

1. Understanding risks

Most reviews suggest that in order to mitigate the risks which young people encounter, we need to change our approach to cyber safety. We need to focus on the way young people actually understand risk and Internet use, as opposed to the way adults often perceive that they do. For example, even violent games can have creative, social and emotional benefits.

As emphasised in research, policy focuses primarily on the negatives on online technologies and social media. This frames digital citizenships as online risk-management. But ‘expanding young people’s digital citizenship opens up the potential to maximise the wide range of substantive benefits associated with online communicative practices’

Vulnerability is “a circumstance young people may experience or are exposed to, as opposed to a concept that they in themselves are. By suggesting they are vulnerable in and of themselves, young people’s individual identities and uniqueness are diminished, and they are homogenised into a definition which does not recognise their individuality as anything other than vulnerable.”

This framework recognises that young people facing vulnerability are at risk from poor mental health, and they might use technology to emphasise their identity, reduce isolation and structural barriers, and access peer support and treatment.

The evidence base on how young people who experience vulnerability use the Internet is still sparse. The need for further research recognises the complexity in young people’s lives, including the way in which they use technology.

2. Distorted view

What’s posted online is not necessarily a representation of what happens offline.

“A fifth of young people admit their online profile bears little resemblance to reality… young adults, aged between 18 and 24, say they frequently lie about their relationships, promotions at work and holidays.”

The video below shows this recent phenomenon in social media which studies have shown can contribute to increased pressure and distorted view of the world.

3. Sleep and attention

In studies and mindfulness practices, it has been recommended that individuals take an hour ‘screen-free’ before going to bed. Spending more time on an electronic device can have an impact on sleep. Late night technology is considered to have a play when it comes to poor sleep. But there’s also a need to focus on the use of technology – for example, general use of music can aid better sleeping patterns.

You can read more about the impact of digital technologies on human wellbeing here.

4. Sexting

Wondering what that is?

Sexting = sex + texting. It is the act of sharing personal naked photos or videos electronically. That includes selfies and videos. It is said to be a growing trend amongst young people and some also feel under pressure to send naked images.

Why does it happen?

Sexting begins when young people who know each other, are in a relationship or have each other’s numbers want to begin a sexual exploration virtually. They feel like they can trust each other. In research, it has been pointed out that young people are aware of the risks involved when sending naked selfies although sexual arousal might have led to disregarding this risk at the time.

There are different reasons why young people share nude photos. It doesn’t necessarily mean that the young person is having sex.

Why it’s risky?

Once a young person sends it, it’s out of their control what happens next. If using Snapchat and the photo disappears up to 10seconds, there’s still the chance of someone taking a screenshot of it. If it’s via Whatsapp or other apps, it can be saved straight onto your device.

Sexting can leave young people at risk of bullying and blackmail (Stonewall).

It’s worth to remember:

“Teenagers are still teenagers. They take risks. But we need to be more prepared about it so when they need us, we can offer help.”

It makes sense to practice safe sex, so does safe sexting. Have a look at some of the Young Scot tips on safe sexting.

5. Revenge porn

Wondering what that is?

Revenge porn is when private sexual images/videos are shared online without the consent of the person who’s on them. Mostly, people do it to hurt an ex partner. But this content can also be hacked and shared by strangers.

Revenge porn happens mainly with the intention to shame and/or embarrass the person on images/videos. These can also be linked to the person’s online account – giving it a name and personal information so that it causes maximum harm to the victim.

What’s the law? 

While sexting is usually something individuals want to do, revenge porn is done against a person’s consent. Since 2014, it is illegal to publish private sexual images of another person without their consent.

Stonewall reports:

“…creating and sending sexually explicit images under the age of 18 is against the law and can have deeply upsetting and damaging consequences.”

Channel 4 recently released a documentary on Revenge Porn, watch it here.

Want to read more about what the law is? Click here to read more.

6. Gossip and online bullying

Bullying is a combination of what someone did and the impact it had.  This behaviour can make people feel frightened and left out and it happens face to face and online.

Most bullying still takes place face to face and sometimes people experience bullying face to face and online at the same time.

In a 2014 Respectme survey, 92% of young people bullied online knew the person bullying them.  Anonymity is not as prevalent a factor as some may think for online bullying.

The most common behaviour experienced face to face were name calling, rumours and hurtful comments, these were the same for online bullying.  Online is where  bullying is happening.

We need to address this the same way we address all types of bullying no matter where they happen.  We deal with behaviour, what someone did and the impact this had.

Online bullying can be more public and visible than face to face bullying and this can increase risks and the reach of gossip and rumours – we need to ensure we talk about this in the context of respectful relationships and equality, like we would do for any face to face concerns.

If you’d like to read more about online bullying, respect me cyber bullying

 

 

7. Privacy

We all need to understand privacy settings and how we share identifiable information. Anything online is always at risk of becoming public – now or in the future – with devastating consequences. Private Messaging can also be challenging and young people need to be confident to manage and escalate. Online group dynamics can be tricky without non-verbal communication: arguments are frequent and require ‘netiquette’ skills.

Staksrud reported that digital competence doesn’t reduce the likelihood that children would be upset by online risks. They did however find that children with public profiles experienced more risks than those who followed guidelines about privacy settings.

The Information Commissioner’s Office has created infographics and lesson plans for teaching young people about internet safety and encourage thinking about online activities. Check these out here: https://ico.org.uk/for-organisations/resources-for-schools/infographic/

Read more about setting safety and privacy settings for social media apps here: http://parentinfo.org/article/setting-safety-and-privacy-settings-for-social-media-apps

Watch the video below when Police Scotland films the reactions of Scottish teenagers to the ‘news’ of their private posts going public:

8. Gambling

According to GamCare, as many as 2% of young people may be struggling with problem gambling. GamCare says it received about 3,000 calls for help from 18 to 24-year-olds in 2013-14. But the NatCen for Social Research says 83,000 16 to 24-year-olds in England and Scotland, most of them male, were classed as problem gamblers in 2013.

The availability of online gambling and access to private devices may lead to greater access to gambling for young people, particularly older young people. Problem gambling may well be part of the picture in young men who present with distress and has been associated with suicide and depression/anxiety.

9. Access to inappropriate content

The Internet is vast; you can find anything on here within a few clicks. At any point, any one of us can come across to a post or website that we might find upsetting. And this has probably happened to you already?

Inappropriate content can mean different things for different people but what we mean here is content which is inappropriate for individuals for their age. This can include pornographic images/videos, hate speech, pro-eating disorders sites, etc.

Some communities can support ‘anti-recovery’ strategies and promote suicide or eating disorders. It is important to understand why a young person uses these tools and what they are getting from them. It may also be a challenge as young people may simultaneously use both positive tools and less helpful resources, potentially on the same social media site, such as Tumblr. Young people told us directly that they are able to take steps to address risks but need adult help.

It’s always good to talk about what we might see online that makes us feel uncomfortable. You can always start a chat with a young person that could include:

  • What made them feel uncomfortable and why?
  • Linking these things in situations taking place offline
  • Reassuring they can always talk about what makes them feel uncomfortable
  • Showing them how to hide, restrict, block or report websites, apps and users. Net Aware can help you out.

10. Read and watch more on this topic

A list of organisations and websites helping young people stay safe online

BBC Learning: Caught in the web: the webcam risks video

CEOP: Matt thought he knew video

Essena O’Neill: Why I REALLY am quitting social media video

Stonewall Staying safe online guideRead online

Ayemind: perspectives on risks and vulnerabilities. Head over to our blog.

Palfrey et al (2008) Enhancing Child Safety & Online Technologies: Final Report of the Internet Safety Technical Task Force. Harvard University

Collin et al (2011) The benefits of social networking service. Read online

SPIRTO Self produced images risk taking online. Read online

Staksrud et al (2013) In their own words: what bothers children online? with the EU Kids Online NetworkRead online

Collin et al (2011) The benefits of social networking services. Read online

The Telegraph: one man proves how it is to fake a perfect life on Facebook. Read news here.

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