South and West Midland Region of NCW held a Seminar in Cheltenham to discuss the many issues surrounding Social Media and its effect on young people. We were particularly pleased to welcome four NCYW girls taking time out of their exam revision. Two excellent speakers covered very different aspects of Social Media use.
Pippa Smith, a co-Founder of SaferMedia made us aware of the very varied material available on Social Media, and of the damaging nature for young people that can arise from irresponsible use and the viewing of unsuitable material. Pippa described in some detail the problems. Children are immature, lack judgement and do not understand the consequences of their actions; Social Media should give greater consideration to this. Chatrooms and Twitter are easily accessible and are dangerous places to be. 12 -17 year olds have become targets for the porn industry; girls see images of women portrayed as sex objects which lead to emotional and body image problems. Boys become desensitised and have unrealistic expectations of girls. Other problems include bullying, incitement to violence, and trolls.
Ian Maxted, Safer Cyber Coordinator, Gloucestershire, is the first officer of his kind in the country. 90% of all data on Social Media has been created in the last two years. The majority of cybercrime is fraud and sexual blackmail in the 50-69 year old age group. The police do a good deal of education work with young people. There is information available for parents more need to be engaged. Grooming, sexual exploitation, radicalisation and bullying are too easy on Social Media. It is anonymous and under-reported; 72% who do report say it has a profound effect on their well-being. Groomers and trolls must be taught to understand what they are doing is wrong and why. Prosecutions are few because the police do not have the evidence, and when they do so, it is difficult to know what charges to lay before the courts. The police also meet young people and help them understand the consequences of their activities. Police forces have good websites. People must be encouraged to use them.
The four NCYW girls talked of their experiences. They are aware of the pressure on young people to act in certain ways, and the growing anxiety of young women. There are a number of worrying blogs about mental illness; pro-anorexia; “body image”; “thinspiration”, but there are some good blogs too. They understand that rumours, slurs and misinformation can be spread far too quickly and that young people need a healthy relationship with social media.
In the afternoon the benefits and difficulties of Social Media use were discussed. Although it empowers us and improves our daily lives it also causes problems when used unwisely.
Better filter systems together with stronger verification systems for under 18s are required. Opt in should be the default rather than Opt out to adult websites. More education about Internet Safety is required for all, but particularly for children and their parents.