Teenagers and children using smartphones while sitting on a wall

Addressing the concerns social media impose on young people

26 June 2023
A new evidence-based campaign promotes online safety for young people
Researchers in Media and Communications launched a co-designed social media campaign in which young people voice their concerns about social media and online games.

In response to a rapidly changing social media and regulatory environment, researchers from the Discipline of Media and Communications have embarked on a research project titled ‘Emerging Online Safety Issues’ to identify the most concerning issues for young people in their use of social media and online games.

Following participatory research into the use of social media in young people, the research team launched the Youth Online Safety campaign to help young people making better decisions when using TikTok, SnapChat, Instagram and other channels. To support the campaign, evidence-based educational materials including peer-to-peer videos and fact sheets were developed.

With a grant by the eSafety Commissioner, the initiative promotes the positive and safe use of digital media by adopting an approach that recognises young people’s right to digital engagement and shared responsibility for online safety. 

Young people, aged 12-17, and their parents were at the forefront of the campaign and actively involved in all research stages. The Chief Investigators Dr Justine Humphry, Dr Olga Boichak, and Dr Jonathon Hutchinson teamed up with Youth Action NSW and Student Edge. Their work was supported by Research Assistants, Dr Mahli-Ann Butt and Nathan Jackson, Youth Action’s Participation Officer, Mabel Truong and Video Editor, Yuxin Yang.

Rolling out a participatory research process

The team conducted seven focus groups, developed a nation-wide survey and hosted co-design workshops for young people as well as their parents or carers in metropolitan and rural areas. The initiative prioritised the voices of young people not only to develop more effective and meaningful resources but also to inform policy and law development to improve online safety.

The survey launched last October verified what the team learnt from the qualitative research and identified the patterns of online safe experiences among 1200 young people and parents or carers.

A peer-to-peer campaign to promote online safety

The team produced six videos highlighting the issues social media platforms impose on young people based on their research. Starting with ‘Dear Snapchat’, the videos will be published in a staggered weekly release on the project's social media accounts TikTokInstagram and LinkedIn.

The videos echo the concerns young people raised in the focus groups and the national survey by addressing online safety, algorithms, social feed content, advertisements, sponsored posts, data privacy, and consent. Digital media experts also provide tips on dealing with platform algorithms, how young people can protect their privacy online, and having a conversation about social media with parents or carers.  

The scripts for the videos were based on a two-day co-creative workshop with young people, influencers, content creators and industry and media production experts. The team enlisted the Australian Theatre for Young People to find young performers and direct the videos.  

Fact sheets for young people explaining data privacy, how to curate algorithms, and how to discuss young people's online safety have also been published. The Youth Online Safety campaign has been created to help all stakeholders make positive and useful decisions around how young people use social media. A comprehensive report on the research conducted to support the Youth Online Safety campaign will be published later this year.  

This project was funded through the eSafety Commissioner’s Online Safety Grants Program.

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