Understanding consent in a digital world

The UK Safer Internet Centre published a report ‘Our Internet, Our Choice: Understanding consent in a digital world’ on Safer Internet Day 2019. This research surveyed 2004 young people aged 8-17 years old and revealed that children and young people create, share and view content on a daily, if not hourly basis and that these activities are integral to how they ask, give and receive permission or consent online.

Specifically, the focus was on how young people understand and practice consent online.

The survey found that the top 5 things this age group share online are their own:

  • photos and videos [71%]
  • photos which include other people [68%]
  • thoughts and ideas [67%]
  • stories e.g Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook [60%]

The results found that whilst ‘13-17s are reporting much higher levels of sharing content, it is interesting to note the significant numbers of 8-12s who are also doing so, particularly on services that have age limits of 13+.’

What drives the sharing of content is the need to feel connected with others, both similar and different, being part of a larger community and the opportunities to learn, with 70% of young people saying that they understand what’s happening in the world because of being online. Others are inspired to take action about something they feel strongly about as well as the support afforded them in challenging times.

The many positive opportunities and experiences young people have online are often conflicted with the challenges they face in navigating consent, which is complex.

84% of young people believe that everyone has a responsibility to be respectful to others, but there appears to be some confusion as to how and when they seek consent due to a ‘lack of clear guidelines, and the many different ways they use the internet and social media’ to share content. The study also found that together with confusion, conflict may arise among the under 18s about expected behaviour online with divided opinions about whether permission should be sought.

As stated by Will Gardner, Director of the UK Safer Internet Centre, ‘They are also at the forefront of having to navigate the intricacies of when to ask permission before sharing, how to say no and how to respond to others when their consent is breached.’

According to the research, 81% of 8-17s say they know when and how to ask permission to post something about someone else, but 52% say someone they know shared a photo or video of them without asking first. Of this group, 44% of them felt angry and 44% felt anxious and not in control. Adding to the complexity is the lack of understanding of the impact sharing content without permission can have. Motivations vary from ‘others will enjoy it’ to ‘it will embarrass or hurt someone’, publicly.

Encouragingly, the results found that the majority of young people want to do the right thing when it comes to online consent with 64% saying that if a friend asked them to remove some content with them in it, ‘they would always do it.’

This report highlights the gap between young people’s attitudes and practice in seeking consent. What we must strive for is to educate them about the ‘practical application of asking and giving consent in an informed, empowered and meaningful way.’

Family Discussion Opportunities

Are there any problems with using social media to share content? What are they? Think of one and answer these questions:

  • How does it happen?

  • Why does it happen?

  • What can be done about it?

  • How can you show respect and responsibility when posting content online that includes someone else?

  • In what ways can you seek permission to share content about someone else? Is it important to you when others post content about you?

  • Should parents seek consent from their children if they are posting pictures of them? Why?

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