Cybersecurity – protecting young people from online hatred 

The recent events in which racism has come to the fore have caused significant distress for many adults, in part because this is triggered memories of previous exposure to racism across the lifespan, including during childhood and adolescence.

It has been equally concerning for parents, as young people (Generation Z i.e. those currently aged 5-25 years old) have been exposed to images of violence or racist comments towards ethnic minorities in an age when many of them engaged on a daily basis with the outside world via social media.

For millennials (those born between 1980 and 1994) and older generations, exposure to racist bullying was typically limited to television and then one’s immediate environment e.g. school, the playground, home and the immediate neighbourhood. Home offered a security blanket for many victims of such bullying.

Whereas bullying was therefore previously confined to those environments, social media permits 24/7 access to images, posts and threads and now can extend into the bedroom, provided a young person has access to a smartphone.

The use of anonymous profiles on social media platforms increases the likelihood of hateful comments being posted without the person posting them having concern for the consequences.  This comes on top of existing concerns about the impact of social media on the psychological wellbeing and self-esteem of young people.

There is, therefore, a need to provide appropriate support to young people. It is unrealistic to expect that they will completely switch off their devices indefinitely or turn away from these platforms, but in the same way that adults need to regulate the amount of exposure they have to negative images at this sensitive time, it would be good to engage in conversations with teenagers about how they can do the same and spend time engaged in other activities.

There is also a need to create spaces – within our homes and communities – for young people to speak openly about any hurts caused by the images.

We must not forget how resilient young people are. It is positive to see how bold many young people are being in taking an active stance against racism, in a way that the previous generation perhaps did not.

Dr Chi-Chi Obuaya, 28/07/2020
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