Since the advent of widespread access to the internet and mobile phones, there has been growing concern over hurtful online behaviour among children and young people. But the definition, scope and measurement of this behaviour vary which can be problematic; this is especially the case for ‘cyberbullying’. The resulting confusion is exacerbated by mass media that generally promote alarming statistics without inquiring into definitions or measures used.
As a result, it is difficult to know what practical and policy priorities and interventions are appropriate to address such online hurtful behaviour among peers. Global Kids Online examines children’s online risks and opportunities using a research framework and toolkit developed to generate new evidence to inform policy and practice.
We measure a wide set of hurtful behaviours that children encounter online. Our approach:
- Recognises the connections between online and offline experiences. We look at the extent to which children engage in or experience hurtful behaviour, whether online or face-to-face, to see if the use of digital technology might facilitate such hurtful exchanges.
- Acknowledges children’s voices and that their perceptions of problematic experiences may differ from adults. While definitions vary, children certainly recognise the notion of hurtful, nasty or upsetting behaviour. By asking children about their online experiences, we include them in evidence-informed policy.
- Avoids the assumption that all online risks are inherently harmful. Instead, we ask children separately about their encounters with online risk and then whether they found this harmful as a result (e.g. being bothered or upset, feeling uncomfortable or scared by something they saw online).
The findings are based on surveys conducted by our research partners between October 2015 and October 2016 in Argentina, Brazil, Bulgaria, Chile, Montenegro, the Philippines, Serbia and South Africa, some using nationally representative samples and some pilot studies. Key highlights include:
- Children find a wide range of online experiences upsetting. Between 14 and 36% of internet users aged 9–17 experienced something upsetting online in the past year.
- Between 12 and 36% of 9- to 17-year-old internet users experienced hurtful peer behaviour in the past year, with the exception of Argentina, where figures (for teenagers) are much higher. Most of the hurtful behaviour occurred offline, not online.
- Only a few 9- to 17-year-old internet-using children (between 1 and 11%, depending on age and country) experienced hurtful behaviour online in the past year; most of this occurred just once or twice.
We argue that policy and practice aiming to reduce online hurtful behaviour should address the full range of problems that children are concerned about, rather than just focusing on any single problem (e.g. cyberbullying). In widening the lens to consider the range of problematic experiences that upset children, it is important to consult children in the process. It is also important not to protect children online at the cost of their rights to online provision and participation.
Post author: Mariya Stoilova