Young people in the United States are targets of cross-platform digital abuse from peers, strangers, offline acquaintances, and even relatives, with threats ranging from harassment and sexual violence to financial fraud, according to a new collaborative study and call to action from Cornell and Google researchers.
With the help of first-hand accounts from 36 young people ages 10 to 17 and 65 parents, teachers, social workers, and other youth advocates, researchers have identified the need for more resources to educate young people and parents about digital abuse. They advocate for better communication and coordination among adult stakeholders in implementing sound protection practices.
The study also calls for Human Computer Interaction (HCI) scientists to study and develop better tools to protect youth online, as nearly half of American teens suffer from some form of digital abuse, according to Pew Research.
“We really need to take a hard look at the kinds of things that young people go through online, because these experiences are no longer just child problems,” said Diana Freed, a doctoral student in information science and lead author of the book. Understanding Youth Digital Safety Experiences in the United States,” which will be presented at the CHI Association for Computing Machinery’s Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems in Hamburg, Germany this month. “Young people are confronted with what are typically thought of as adult issues, such as financial fraud and sexual violence.”
Young people in the study reported being bullied online by peers, intimate partners, acquaintances, and strangers. Harassment can include sending toxic comments or creating fake social media accounts without their permission, but it can also escalate into more serious forms of digital abuse — like receiving intimate photos they didn’t ask for — or escalate into threats in the physical world.
One young man in the study said, “Once the nudes are sent, you’re done. And it will spread.” “I’ve seen videos go from state to state in literally five minutes.”
“She told me she needed money for her baby,” said another, detailing a financial scam. “I gave my bank card and also the code for internet banking. When I stopped, she started harassing and threatening me.”
Just as today’s youth live and move seamlessly between the offline and online worlds, threats often follow them from one platform to another. ’09, Professor of Communication in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and Director of the Cornell Social Media Lab.
“The ease of breaching the barriers between digital platforms and the online and physical worlds underscores how easily threats can be escalated by crossing social contexts and amplifying damage,” she said.
Researchers have found that while children navigate complex and sometimes risky digital lives, for parents and educators alike, there are few formal options for supports and resources to educate themselves and children about the potential harms online.
“Whether it’s teachers or parents, they don’t understand exactly what social media apps young people are using, let alone how to address the problems,” Farid said.
In many cases, parents’ knowledge of the platforms their children frequent was limited to information gleaned from quick web searches or conversations with friends; She added that she is a far cry from strict sourcing.
“Some parents might tell us, ‘Playing online is very safe, but a certain social media app isn’t.’ But is there an open conversation on the gaming platform? Can anyone join in? Do you know who your kids are communicating with?” Freed said. “Well-meaning parents can have a very difficult time understanding what questions to ask their children to improve safety.”
Among their recommendations, the researchers call for better educational resources, such as more robust digital safety education programs in schools, and more accessible and actionable resources, such as Common Sense Education’s digital citizenship curriculum for educators and the Social Media Test Drive, a Cornell-led project that Bazarova has done. Co-founder and directer. Other recommendations include engaging youth in the design of apps and platforms and improving processes for reporting digital abuse on apps and online platforms frequently used by young people.
“We might assume, because they are digital natives, that kids will just know how to protect themselves online,” Farid said. “This leaves a lot to do with young people, families and schools.”
the quote: Limited Resources Leave Youth Vulnerable to Digital Abuse, Researchers Warn (2023, April 18), Retrieved April 18, 2023 from https://phys.org/news/2023-04-limited-resources-youth-vulnerable-digital.html
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