Supporting Students Who Have Found Unwanted Online Fame

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Fame is something that a lot of children and young people may see themselves wanting.Through social media, television, gaming and music, students can spend a large portion of their time seeing influential people achieve considerable followings. The idea of fame can be incredibly enticing; there may be the prospect of earning large amounts of money or ideas of gaining desired attention or respect. As we know though, fame is not just reserved for those who work hard and hold considerable talent or skill. Nowadays, anyone can get famous for whatever reason.

With so much uncertainty as to who or what may find online fame, it opens up questions around how children and young people respond to their new-found platform and what schools can do to support them, especially when the fame is not wanted.

What is Online Fame?     

Online fame relates to someone who has gathered a large following or response to content that has been seen online, with or without intention. A lot of the time, online celebrities have built respectable followings through talent or notable skill which can influence or impress audiences to a large degree. Sometimes though, online fame can be found for harmful reasons and can be completely un-wanted (e.g. becoming a meme). These instances often relate to someone’s actions or behaviour towards others, which instead, can gather a negative response and can potentially lead to various types of online harm.

I Got Famous Overnight

Online fame can occur at any time and at any given place. We’ve all heard of people who have trended or been in the spotlight for something that seems rather small or unsubstantial. The speed and connective power of the internet can open the fame door on anyone without notice. What’s most surprising though, is just how quickly someone can find themselves experiencing the effects of online fame without even realising why.

One minute, they could be casually positing a status update or a video to a rather small audience and the next thing they know, their followers skyrocket and their likes, shares, comments or retweets are through the roof.

While online fame is often perceived as something to be desired, not everyone wants it. Fame can bring a lot of pleasure and benefit to many individuals, but with it can also come negative implications such as feeling overwhelmed or panicked by a new type of exposure they didn’t expect or prepare for. For children and young people especially, it can be a lot to deal with.

I Don’t Want to Be Famous

When a young person finds unwanted online fame, there are a lot of things to consider. The road forward may be unclear and the individual may not know what they want to do or how to respond to it as of yet. It is important to support a young person in your care and know how to appropriately respond if the situation is harmful. When a young person has found unwanted fame, make sure you consider the following: (click on the buttons for more info)

Is it a result of something good that is gathering a positive reception online or is it something harmful that is creating a negative backlash? No matter what has caused the sudden popularity, establish whether it is the fame itself or what is being seen by others that is causing the concern.

Is what is being seen harmful and does it put the child in any kind of danger? Establish the reception towards what is being said online and take note of whether personal details such as addresses or contact numbers have been compromised. If you feel the child is in danger, you may need to involve the police. If you are unsure you can always call the Professionals Online Safety Helpline

People can get famous through their own creation of content or through other people catching them off guard. Establish whether the post or piece of content was intentionally posted by them and whether it has an element of being in their control. If fame has come about through someone else, then other considerations around reporting may need to come into play (more on this later)

Establish what added pressures they may be experiencing. Is it constant pinging on their phone, messages from people they don’t know or other users talking about them online? Talk to them about what is happening and get a better picture of what they are going through.

Open a dialogue about what they are concerned about. Is it hurtful comments online, is it their parents finding out, is it the expected pressure to respond to lots of people or is it just because they’ve got famous for the wrong reason. Whatever it may be, as soon as you establish what is worrying them, you can start to see where you can help. 

What Can Teachers Do?

If a child has come to you with this issue, there will be a few things to consider to ensure they are protected and you have done what you can to support them through this time. Some of these include: (Click on boxes to read more) 

If a child has come to you for support, then they may feel as though you might be the only one who can help them. Their new found fame could be causing all sorts of emotions such as embarrassment, guilt or shame mixed in with worries about what friends or parents may think. It’s important you don’t judge and understand that they need your help at this time.

Ensure that whatever is being talked about is appropriately handled and escalated where necessary as part of your duty of care. You cannot make promises about keeping things secret if it involves a harmful situation with a child. Although it may cause them to worry about taking the matter further, reassure them that what you’re doing is there to help them throughout the situation. Escalation can be towards your designated safeguard lead or support from the Professionals Online Safety Helpline.

If notifications are coming in thick and fast, creating some space and setting up some boundaries can give the young person some distance from what is going on. Show them how to set up privacy settings or filters to prevent different types of unwanted content online as well as encourage them to take appropriate breaks from their device without constantly monitoring how their fame is progressing.

Just because a young person has found fame, does not mean they have a new found responsibility to cater to everyone else. Make it clear that there is no expectation on them to do anything with their platform. If they don’t want to reply or make any comment, then that is absolutely fine. If they feel their post is doing more harm than good, then it is their decision around what to do with it. Show them that they are in control of what they do, no one else can pressure them to take advantage of their exposure.

Ongoing Support

The thing about online fame is, it can often come and go if interest drops off quickly. It is important to check in with the individual to see how they are coping. If harmful content is being seen online, then make sure you know where to go to report it. This includes reporting people who are being offensive and those who have posted other types of harmful content including the post itself that might be getting a lot of exposure. If the content in question involves intimate images of anyone under 18, then ensure to report to the IWF. If the content is legal but harmful, then go to Report Harmful Content.

Make sure as well to reiterate where support routes are for them outside of their family and school. These can include:

  • Childline:  Offering support to children under the age of 19. Call: 0800 1111.
  • The Mix: Support for anyone under the age of 25. Contact them on: 0808 808 4994.
  • YoungMinds provides free 24/7 text support to young people in the UK who are facing mental health difficulties. Text YM to 85258

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