Young People, Internet Use and Well Being; A Report Series What Causes Upset Online

Report Prepared by Prof Andy Phippen for SWGfL

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Exec Summary

Subsequent reports will conduct further analysis of this large dataset and will each be released with a specific focus, such as gender, age differences, and what harmful content means to young people.

Key findings from this analysis centre on what “upset” means for children and young people going online and challenges our strategies to protect them from this upset. While prohibitive strategies might work with specific content types, and this has been the focus of much policy effort (for example prevention from access to pornography), in reality what causes upset is broad, and prohibition from some kinds of content we are told cause upset would significantly impact children’s rights to access relevant educational material and information that will help their development.

What causes upset online is broad and variable depending upon both gender and age of respondents. In general, upset is most commonlycaused by:

  1. Abusive comments from peers and others they interact with online
  2. Stories in the news and media that can be upsetting (for example, terrorist incidents, child suffering, and natural disasters)
  3. Animal abuse –videos that show animal cruelty, images of harm to animals, upsetting stories related to animals, etc.
  4. Upsetting content, such as shocking videos produced by YouTubers, content showing people being hurt, acts of self-harm, etc.

Younger children are more likely to be affectedby things such as:

  1. Swearing
  2. Abuse from peers

Older children are more likely to be affected by content such as:

  1. News and media
  2. Animal abuse
  3. The behaviour of peers

What is clear from these findings is that we need to develop critical thinking and digital literacy that goes beyond whether content is “good” or “bad” and explore how it makes people feel and how we might counteract how upset is caused. We need to move beyond “online safety” to better understand how we develop resilience in young people so they can deal with what they see and do online, rather than hoping they avoid it completely.