Chapter 2 Young people in the online environment
This chapter describes how the online environment impacts on young
people in Australia. This will include entry to that environment, and the roles
of schools and public libraries within it. It lists the various stakeholders
who are able to have an impact on the online engagement of children and young
people less than 18 years of age.
Most young people in Australia have regular access to this environment,
and it plays an important role in their education, social connections and
Consulting with young Australians was a key priority for the Committee. It
developed specific opportunities to capture the views of young Australians – a
group that is otherwise unlikely to make formal submissions to a Parliamentary
inquiry. Consultations included an online survey, a primary school visit and a high
school forum. Interestingly, as a direct result of the survey and its school
visits, the Committee began to receive submissions from young Australians.
Children/young people are ‘the key stakeholders’ in their engagement
with the online environment. Their contribution is ‘absolutely critical’ in the
development of greater safety provisions because adults have as much to learn
from young people as they need to learn.
Apart from the community itself, other important Australian stakeholders
controlling or able to influence engagement in that environment include:
Commonwealth, State and Territory Government agencies,
particularly those with regulatory roles;
schools and teachers;
Internet service providers;
These stakeholders have opportunities to assist young people to learn to
behave appropriately online. Parents/carers, families and the broader community
need to be engaged in regular support to assist young Australians to protect
themselves and be safe online, as well as to develop responsible behaviour. The
Australian Council for Educational Research believed that this will require
community support programs for parents/carers and students in a range of
locations, as well as regular dialogues about suitable strategies for online
protection and responsible behaviour.
All stakeholders, including young people themselves, have important
roles ensuring that cyber-safety in the online environment is a reality rather
than an empty concept. Many participants in this Inquiry emphasised the
importance of the inclusion of young people in discussions about such things as
filtering online content, if only because some of them would be able to find a
way around any technology that was introduced. Supervised computer
access and filtering technology can reduce the risks for young people but, as
children become more ‘tech savvy’, blocking and monitoring strategies are less
Children don’t use online technologies as technologies, they
use them as enablers for social and cultural interaction.
‘Children’ or ‘young people’ are not homogenous groups in terms of their
online capabilities, and an American researcher has divided them into the
Those who are savvy, with the knowledge and skills to make good
decisions about their online behaviour and know when to stop and withdraw;
Those who are naïve
with some skills, needing to be educated and ‘topped up’; and
- Those who are vulnerable, having trouble at school or home, or
both. When teenage angst comes into play and they disengage momentarily, they become
vulnerable if they look for communities online with whom to engage. Young
people with mental health problems, who are the most vulnerable, seek to belong
online but lack the skills to disengage when they encounter inappropriate
Research on social networking by the Australian Communications and Media
Authority (ACMA) clearly indicates that a greater number of young people are
moving to the savvy category by, for example, not disclosing names or passwords
and adopting safer practices.
While Facebook has a minimum joining age of 13 years, concerns were
expressed about the effectiveness of age verification mechanisms, for example, how
such limits can be enforced on nine year old children who are ‘tech-savvy’. The
South Australian Office for Youth noted that its 2010 survey identified quite a
number of children, particularly some only ten and 11 years old, changing their
dates of birth so that they could join Facebook.
The Internet Industry Association pointed out that there are practical
problems with age verification for some under the age of 18 years.
One of the challenges ... is that there are not really
mechanisms in most Western societies to verify whether you are a kid; they are
all geared towards verifying that you are an adult, whether with a driver’s licence
or something else. So we do things like ‘age gating’, so that if you put in the
wrong age once, a cookie on your machine will block you. We also, through
algorithms, try to detect patterns of speech and things that look like you are
not likely to be over 13, and we remove people. We also take complaints from
teachers or other people in the network that you are involved in if you do not
belong there, and we remove people. I think the last statistic I heard is that
Facebook removes 20,000 people a day, or people who are underage.
Berry Street reported that for vulnerable young people:
Probably in line with the behaviour of their ‘mainstream’
peers, over 76% of respondents to date have indicated that they have lied about
their age online and just under 70% have chatted with people they don’t know
face-to-face. We found that 46% had been bullied via mobile phone or the
internet, and 38.5% had bullied others in this way. Hacking and cracking into
the social networking sites of other people also figured relatively highly on
the list of risky behaviours.
Real and virtual worlds
Unlike their parents/carers, most young people use technology ‘holistically’:
communicating, learning, socialising, playing, researching, and doing homework,
so that their online lives blend seamlessly with their offline lives. There are
some young people who do not have a clear demarcation between the online
(virtual) world and the offline (real) world. For them, the two worlds exist
They grew up in the online environment as ‘digital natives’ or ‘online
natives’, rather than as the ‘digital immigrants’ of older generations. For
such young people, the terms ‘online’ and ‘offline’ are differentiated only by
other generations and where they straddle both worlds. Their involvement with
that environment is an essential means to and part of their interactions with
other people. In many cases, it seems that their parents/carers are unable to
assist because they are busy, or not very interested in or knowledgeable about
In some circumstances, young people who are not able or willing to
differentiate between the two worlds can be at even greater risk of harm in the
online environment than their peers who are able to absorb warnings about
safety and risks. Threats to cyber-safety now extend well beyond school gates
to any Wi-Fi connected or home network. These treats can be
significant because of the rapid rate of emerging new technologies.
Therefore, as part of their approach in the online environment young
people need to exercise reasonable care and responsibility online. The key
components of the necessary holistic response to cyber-safety should be based
on ‘education, law enforcement, international cooperation, appropriate products
and parental supervision’. A smart, ethical and socially aware online
experience requires individuals to adopt responsible online behaviour and, to
achieve this, it was suggested that effective education programs are needed.
Entry to the online environment
Until recently, many adults were not familiar with the online
environment. Now, however, 61 percent of mothers aged 45 to 65 have a Facebook
page and Dr Helen McGrath also argued that parents and older adults are ‘a lot
more savvy’ than most people believe. Many still use it in
very functional ways: to pay bills, to search for information or to communicate
with other people, etc. Teachers use it for these and a wider range of
purposes, including as a teaching tool and to build cognitive skills in
However, young people use the online environment in different ways and
for different reasons, depending on their age, particular circumstances and
Pre-school children begin to learn how computers work. Their
online activity may include visiting children’s websites and communicating with
family and friends through email;
- Primary school children feel more confident using other
applications such as chat rooms. Some may search for prohibited material; and
- For high school children, the Internet is a necessity to assist
with research for projects and homework. This age group seeks more freedom and
independence in their use of the Internet, and they increasingly use the online
environment as a social tool. These young people may also want to explore
Research published by ACMA in 2007 indicated that ‘first-use’ of the
Internet is at about five years old, but stated that there was anecdotal
evidence suggesting that many children go online at progressively younger ages.
Just under half of families are regularly involved with the Internet access of
those six to ten years old. Earliest learning about the online environment can
be through recreational activity, such as visiting the website associated with
a favourite TV show. Cyber-safety education
in schools usually does not begin until Year 2.
Professor Karen Vered added that:
Of course, it seems sensible that schools introduce
cybersafety when they introduce computers and online access. Unfortunately, it
is just too late, because children have already developed a set of habits and
practices. They are not necessarily bad ones, but it would be nice if we could
devolve that education to an earlier starting point, bring it into preschools,
bring it into kindies and bring it into leisure environments especially, since
schools also prohibit the type of websites and media engagements in which
children first acquire their skills. At school, you are really not going to be
given time to go play with Club Penguin. School does not have time for that.
The most fortunate children are going to be those who have had those peer
groups and have played with siblings, extended family et cetera and have
enhanced that peer learning.
That the Minister for School Education, Early Childhood and Youth consider the feasibility of assisting preschools and kindergartens to provide cyber-safety educational programs for children as part of their development activities.
The Alannah and Madeline Foundation noted that entry to the general
online environment had changed considerably in the past few years. There are
now approximately 2.2 million Australian children actively engaging online.
Although ages do vary, it was suggested that Year 5 (ten or eleven years old)
is the most common entry point into the social networking environment.
After very young children are introduced to computers, the use of mobile
phones and other wireless devices follows. Once in this environment, there are
many other places where access is available, including schools, public
libraries, homes of friends, etc. Some will be unsupervised.
ACMA’s research Click and Connect: Young Australians’ use of
online social media (2009) found that as children age they spend more time
- Children eight to nine
years old use the Internet for an average of one hour, six minutes every two
- Young people 16 to 17
years old average three hours, 30 minutes on the Internet every day;
- Younger children are
more interested in individual activities online, such as playing games; 83
percent of eight to 11 years old reported online gaming as the most popular use
of the Internet; and
- By comparison, young
people aged 12 to 17 use the Internet mainly for social interaction—81 percent
of 12 to 17 years old nominated social networking services as their main reason
for going online.
This research demonstrated a high level of use of social networking
- Young people, aged 12
to 17, have a very high level of use of social networking services.
Approximately 97 percent of 16 to 17 years old surveyed reported using at least
one of these services, compared to 51 percent of children aged eight to 11
- Fifty four percent of
those 12 to 17 years old claim that ‘chatting to friends from school’ is their
main reason for using social networking services. A survey conducted by the Australian
Bureau of Statistics, Children’s Participation (2009), indicated that
younger children used the phone primarily to contact family rather than
- By comparison, only
17 percent of those 12 to 17 years old claim to use the Internet to ‘make new
The most popular on-line activities for children between the
ages of 5 and 14 years include educational activities (85%), on-line gaming
(69%) and listening or downloading music (47%). Using the Internet for social
interaction were also popular activities: e-mailing (36%), accessing chat rooms
or instant messaging (32%) and utilising social networking sites (22%).
Click and Connect also demonstrated that children and young
people have a high awareness of cyber-safety risks, and identify activities
such as ‘posting personal information’ as high risk behaviour. Despite this,
some young people deliberately engage in risky behaviours, and the tendency to
do this rises with age. Of those aged 16 to 17 years:
- Sixty-one percent
report accepting ‘friend requests’ from people they do not know offline.
- Seventy-eight percent
claim to have personal information, such as a photograph of themselves, on
their social networking profile pages, compared to 48 percent of eight to nine
- Seventeen percent of
those 12 to 17 years old claim that one of their top three reasons for using
social networking services is to ‘make new friends’.
- Conversely, use of
privacy settings on profile pages appears to be greater amongst the older age
The Australian Youth Affairs Coalition provided the following data:
Young people use the Internet for an average of one hour and
17 minutes each day which includes:
- Almost 50 minutes of
using the internet for messaging, visiting social websites and emailing,
- 15 minutes for games
online against other players, and
- 13 minutes for
homework on the computer and/or Internet.
Young people access the online environment by a variety of means, and
therefore adequate frameworks must be in place to protect them from on-line
threats as much as possible. Some of these places may not have the same level
of controls as those at home or school. In particular, rules and supervision at
friend’s homes may be different to those in place at the child’s own home.
Also in places such as Internet cafes or bookstores, restrictions to online
access by young people may be vague or not enforced.
Government regulators have a role in providing information and programs
about online risks. It seems that few young people or parents/carers go to the
appropriate websites, so that they are often ignorant about both the risks and
ways of avoiding them.
While there is a great deal of material available about cyber-safety, many
parents/carers are often not able to discern what is most valuable or useful. In
addition, those who are likely not to engage with schools are likely to be the
ones whose children are having problems with cyber-safety. For differing
reasons, therefore, parents may not be able to attend sessions on cyber-safety when
schools arrange them.
It was suggested that one way to give parents/carers more intensive
opportunities to become aware of these issues was to have their children make
the presentations, thus providing the chance for a ‘double learning’ process.
Disadvantaged young people
Some young people do not have access to computers in their home, or
their access is severely limited. In addition, there are at least four specific
groups whose access to the online environment is less than that of the great
majority of their age groups. Lack of effective access makes it difficult for
such children and adolescents to participate in the activities and social
networking that are important to them, and undermines their ability to develop
the skills they will need. Effective access is required if they are to develop
into responsible, safe and resilient users of the online environment.
Assistance to such children is vital so that all young people can have
the same opportunities online as their peers. There is little if any research
about the numbers of young people who are disadvantaged, or degrees of
disadvantage, in this environment. It is not clear how ‘effective access’
should be defined, or how such young people could be supported. It is therefore
difficult to prescribe and implement effective plans to correct this situation.
The Victorian Child Safety Commission referred to effective access to
include support for the child while using the technology enabling them to develop
the skills to be responsible and resilient users of the technology:
Lack of effective access to ICT makes it more difficult for
children to participate in the activities and social networks that are
important to children today and undermines their ability to develop the skills
they require when they leave care.
It is clear, however, that those young people who engage in risky
behaviour online often also engaged in risky offline behaviour. There is a
pressing need for more research into the cyber-safety needs of the most
vulnerable members of our society, including those with mental health problems.
Young people affected by abuse and trauma may not know what ‘safe’ looks
like, let alone how to make themselves safe. Berry Street thought that supporting
such adolescents to develop protective behaviours is ‘a huge priority’. Such
behaviours should be incorporated into their daily lives, but translating these
messages into the online environment presents additional challenges.
Most [existing programs] tend to be targeted at mainstream
audiences, taking what I would call an almost safe harbour approach. This
potentially leaves the more vulnerable children at heightened risk and may
explain why some children unwittingly expose themselves to significant risk in
the face of numerous safety programs and extensive messaging. It may therefore
be a fundamental although well-founded error to approach cybersafety in
isolation without considering the wider spectrum of behavioural issues
confronting society. Cybersafety, in closing, must have synergies with other
prevention and policing strategies.
The Victorian Office of the Child Safety Commissioner requested that
consideration be given to children in care:
in the United Kingdom the Home Access program and other initiatives
have sought to ensure that ‘Looked After Children’ are provided with accesss to
computers and the internet.
Some of the young people in care may be subject to rulings that they are
not to have contact with their families. Through social networking sites, they
are sometimes approached, or remain in touch, when they should not be. In such
situations, teaching protective behaviour is complex.
Many of those responsible for young people in care have low levels of
skills and ‘extremely low’ knowledge of technology, its uses and opportunities.
Considerable work has therefore been done by Berry Street to build competence
and confidence in those who already carry out complex jobs in looking after
young people in care.
Vulnerable children are often unwittingly at heightened risk in spite of
safety programs and extensive messages about unwise behaviour on the basis that
most programs are targeted at mainstream audiences. It may therefore be a
fundamental, though well-founded, error to approach cyber-safety without
considering the wider spectrum of behavioural issues confronting our society.
The Victorian Office of the Child Safety Commissioner commented that current cyber-safety
strategies had not yet addressed the issue of keeping either group safe online.
There is ‘relatively limited understanding’ about the use of the online
environment by disadvantaged young people, and growing concern that disparities
in access, quality and skills would reinforce existing disparities in health
and social outcomes. Of course, for some disadvantaged groups, the Internet has
enabled freedom of expression and engagement where face-to-face contact is often
difficult. This highlights the potential for new online technologies to create
new processes of social inclusion.
Vulnerable young people
The Victorian Office of the Child Safety Commissioner drew attention to
two groups of about 5,000 ‘vulnerable’ children in Victoria:
those who are in out-of-home care, removed from their parents
because of abuse or neglect. The factors that make such children more
vulnerable to abuse in the ‘real’ world also make them more vulnerable in the
‘virtual’ world. The level and type of their access to this environment can
- those who have been identified as ‘high risk’ because of such
factors as low satisfaction with their lives, sexual or physical abuse, poor
family relationships or parental conflict. Some are living on the streets, some
are already socially excluded. They may live in dysfunctional families, with
parents who have changing live-in partners. Both online and offline, such young
people are at risk of becoming either victim or perpetrator of abusive
Young people with disabilities
The Australian Communications Consumer Action Network noted that the 20
percent of Australians with a disability had particular circumstances requiring
specialised tools and support to access the online environment. Such support
was vital for disabled young people.
After a roundtable convened in June 2010 to discuss online issues
effecting those with disabilities, the Network summarised its concerns:
barriers to confidence;
gaps in awareness, and
improved accessibility to websites.
Young Indigenous people in remote communities
If a reliable assessment could be made, it is likely that some of those
living in remote Indigenous communities would be the most disadvantaged
children in Australia in terms of their access to the online environment.
Young people in regional areas
Many Australian children live in regional or remote areas where, for
example, Internet or mobile phone connections are non-existent or limited. They
are disadvantaged by comparison with those who live in larger centres and, in
particular, may not have any experience with cyber-bullying.
Little is known about the attitudes of Australian young people to
privacy. A recent American report suggested that children can see some online
interactions as private, and were concerned about their parents/carers
breaching that privacy. Similar feedback was
given during the Committee’s High School Forum in Hobart.
Young people may have a limited capacity to assess the implications of
divulging their own information, and therefore rely on others to ensure that
their interests and safety are protected. The online environment is an area
where they can be at risk, so that a breach of their privacy can be
substantial, including trauma and identity theft.
The Privacy Act 1988 (Cth) does not make special reference to
young people, on the basis that they have the same rights to privacy as adults.
In practice, primary care-givers would usually be responsible for exercising
their rights under the Act until individuals reached levels of maturity and
understanding to make independent decisions.
The complexity of the issue is highlighted by the argument that children
and young people sometimes require protection from themselves.
Privacy will be examined in more detail in Chapter 5, as part of the consideration
of the threats to cyber-safety.
Specific cyber-safety programs and measures in some of the States and Territories
are outlined in Chapter 14.
Schools are optimally placed to support students to be cyber-safe.
Raising the awareness of young people before, or as, computers are introduced
into the curriculum can be a preventative step – ensuring young people are better
equipped against the risks they are likely to encounter online.
Many schools have in place policies and filters provided by the local
education authority. Schools with effective behaviour management systems, and
vigilant supervision of student use of computers provide additional layers of
support and protection. In many schools however, policies are not consistently followed
by teachers, or are not widely known or understood by teachers, students or
The Alannah and Madeline Foundation suggested that Australian schools
had ‘much ground’ to make up in producing ‘robust, acceptable’ policies
reaching beyond their gates to include parents and the wider community.
The Australian Government’s provision of laptops for every student in
Years 9 to 12 is intended to give unprecedented access, creating borderless
classrooms and blurring boundaries between school and home.
The Government’s National Secondary School Computer Fund is helping schools to
provide new computers and ensure that all students in these grades have access
The Australian Library and Information Association noted that libraries,
especially school and public libraries, are key access points for the Internet
for Australian children. They are an integrated, connected and collaborative
network, and are therefore able to impact young people’s engagement online. The
responsibilities of libraries to provide safe environments are taken very
seriously, to the extent that user behaviour policies and other measures have
been developed to increase online safety.
The ALIA Internet access in public libraries survey 2008 found
that there are separate internet terminals for use by children at 33 percent of
responding libraries. Further parental consent
was required for children to use the internet by 77 percent of library respondents
with variations dependent on age and almost a third of responding library
services required parents to be present with children using the internet.
Outside classrooms, school libraries are the main location for the delivery
of messages about the online environment. Library staffs are familiar with
Internet-use policy and procedures at their schools, and with current
information and research about safe online practices.
Teacher librarians are valuable and crucial partners in delivering
important messages about these practices through teaching and learning
programs. These focus specifically on digital information literacy development,
including being literate across multiple areas within the ever-changing online
These libraries are places of learning and discovery; safe and secure
spaces for students that have Internet access. They have constant adult
supervision and are only open when there is supervision. Further, school
libraries play an important role in teaching students about
Searching for, selection, analysis and creation of, material;
How to develop responsible cyber-safety behaviour;
Becoming aware of ethical practice;
The impact of their digital footprints; and
Good cyber behaviour habits for use after their formal learning
Teacher librarians are in central positions because they touch the lives
of everyone in those school communities. They are therefore well-placed to
support and deliver digital information literacy across all curriculum areas
and age groups, including parents/carers.
While technology has changed them, libraries can also be sanctuaries: for
some students, the safest places in their schools.
The Australian School Library Association believed that digital
information literacy, of which cyber-safety is an integral part, is not being
taught because of lack of training and professional development in either pre-
or in-service professional training.
Being a responsible digital citizen requires appropriate, responsive
behaviour with regard to the use of technology. A digital information literacy
program in a school setting would focus on the following:
Information literacy taught in the content of teaching and learning
Equity of access and participation;
Social responsibility and ethical behaviour;
Collaboration and creativity in a safe environment;
Safe practices (e-safety and health safety);
Critical thinking and evaluation; and
Cultural and social awareness of the information environment.
The Australian School Library Association believed that the potential of
teacher librarians to contribute to better outcomes for students within safe
learning environments is untapped. As these personnel support all levels within
a school, they are well-placed to integrate cyber-safety into digital
information literacy programs and to provide professional learning for all of
As a result of Building the Education Revolution, more than 3,000 new
libraries have been built in primary schools. Most have been designed so that
there is a movement away from the ‘traditional’ library environment. In many of
them, there are trolleys allowing Netbooks to be moved around the library and connect
to a wireless network, or plugged in to a direct connection. Such spaces are
learning and information environments where students can use tools provided by
the school or ones that they bring from their homes.
Where there are ‘Acceptable Use’ policies at schools, both students and
their parents/carers are required to sign acknowledgement agreements. These
indicate that students must abide by the school’s Internet access policies, and
that they have rights and responsibilities. These policies ensure that students
are aware of consequences if they break the access rules. These can vary but,
if the school is practising other social skills programs, they have to be part
of the overall education process.
The Australian School Library Association believed that teacher
librarians are often not considered to be part of the general classroom
program. Their role is often overlooked and they are engaged in a range of
miscellaneous tasks, their professional development often neglected so that it
must be pursued at their own expense.
There is a network of over 1,500 public libraries in Australia and they are
community hubs, the hearts of their communities. This network is the key
provider of safe and free access to information and services. These libraries are
recognised as trusted, neutral and non-threatening spaces for individual or
group social inclusion.
While cyber-safety training is already being delivered at libraries
around the country, for seniors as well as young people, the Australian Library
and Information Association noted the need for more support to provide more
training for staff in the use of the Internet and cyber-safety.
Since 2002, public libraries have continued to develop and improve
Internet services for children. A survey in 2008 showed there were separate
terminals for use by children at 33 percent of responding libraries, compared
with 20 percent in 2005 and 16 percent in 2002. Websites linked to material
especially recommended for young people increased to 56 percent (up from 52 and
47 percent respectively).
Parental consent is required for children to use the Internet by 77
percent of respondents, an 8 percent increase since 2005. While more than half
the responding libraries require this consent to the age of 18, the youngest
age where it is not required was eight years. Almost a third of responding
libraries required parents to be present when children used the Internet,
although the age to which this was required varied widely.
Access to the Internet for young people in libraries appeared to be
closely linked to the values of individual communities. Requirements for
parental consent varied within jurisdictions and metropolitan libraries, except
for Tasmania where one regulation covered the state.
Public libraries in NSW
Public libraries across NSW provide free Internet access for the
community. They form a critical element in community development, supporting
life-long learning, literacy and education.
The Library Act 1939 (NSW) guarantees everyone in the community
access to libraries. All have conditions of use relating to public Internet
access, and conditions of vary between local authorities. It is common for
parents/carers to be required to give permission for children to use the
Internet. The State Library provides free access, including by wireless, for
laptops or PDAs. It recognised the privacy of users and did not monitor the
information or sites accessed.
While young people are not formally supervised in NSW public libraries,
there are guidelines for use of the online environment within them. The responsibility
to supervise their young people remained at all times with parents/carers.
Public libraries in the ACT
Libraries ACT, formerly the ACT Library and Information Service, forms
part of the network of public libraries in Australia.
The ACT Government provides free Internet access in its libraries,
promoting community access to information. Community use is high, and a project
has begun to provide wireless facilities in addition to desktop computers.
Users are required to accept an access policy before they use terminals,
and an Internet blocking facility has been installed preventing access to sites
identified in the Australian Communications and Media Authority’s blacklist. Computers
are in areas where there is a balance between privacy and supervision.
Libraries ACT recognises the role of parents/carers in supervising young
people in libraries generally, and for online access generally. Staff uphold
policies on appropriate use and educate all users, specifically parents/carers,
on cyber-safety measures that they can adopt. When children become library
members, their parents/carers sign a declaration that they understand and
uphold ACT Library and Information Service’s policies.
Consultation with young people
Sociologists have described young people as ‘having been born into an
age where they are unable to rely on anything, yet have incorporated this uncertainty
into their lives [and exude] optimism and a sense of confidence.’
The optimism and confidence of young Australians in exploring, utilising and
navigating new technologies is often over-looked.
As recent research confirms, young people are the most valuable resource
in the development of cyber-safety awareness programs.
It is therefore vital that young people’s perspectives are incorporated into
the cyber-safety debate in ways that empower them and develop meaningful policies
Youth Advisory Group
The Youth Advisory Group was formed in 2009. It provides a forum where
young people can talk directly to the Government about cyber-safety.
In its first year, it consisted of 304 secondary students from 15
schools across the country and provided advice on cyber-safety issues such as
cyber-bullying, mobile phone safety, privacy and online computer games. This
advice lead to the announcement of two important initiatives: the Cybersafety
Help Button and the Teachers’ and Parents’ Advisory Group on Cybersafety.
The expansion of ACMA’s cyber-safety education, awareness-raising and
counselling services was also informed by feedback from the Youth Advisory
Group. The Authority’s Cybersmart website and online helpline
implemented a number of features consistent with initial advice from the Youth
In 2010, the Youth Advisory Group was expanded to include 500 primary
and secondary students aged from eight to 17 years, from 30 schools nationally.
It provided advice through the y@gonline site and at face-to-face
meetings, dealing with five main areas of concern: cyber-bullying, socialising
online, scams and fraud, online games and digital citizenship.
A Consultative Working Group on Cybersafety and Youth Advisory Group
summit was held in June 2010, where its members, parents and teachers provided
views on a range of Government cyber-safety programs and initiatives. These
included the Cybersafety Help Button and the Teachers’ and Parents’ Advisory
Group, the budd:e cyber-security educational modules and the ThinkuKnow
program administered by the Australian Federal Police.
A slightly different format will be used for the Youth Advisory Group in
2011. Ten one week consultation spheres are proposed, representing
State/Territories, metropolitan and regional areas, Indigenous communities and
National Broadband Network rollout sites. The Consultative Working Group is
particularly interested to talk to schools near these rollout sites, to see how
their students view the Network.
Each sphere will include 100 to 200 primary or secondary students from
between ten and 20 schools in a designated area or community. In total, there
will be about 1,300 Youth Advisory Group members from about 130 schools.
The Youth Advisory Group has commented on the array of social networking
sites and games, and the associated features and conditions. Before they can
join a site or play a game, young people are confronted by long and detailed,
usually legalistic material on the terms and conditions of participation. More
often than not, they scroll to the bottom and click their agreement without
reading it, as they are looking for an easy way to understand the key features
of these sites and games. As a feature of the Cybersafety Help Button, the Consultative
Working Group on Cybersafety is looking to make it possible for anyone
interested to find out about the features of sites and games, and what they
need to understand about them.
The Consultative Working Group on Cybersafety has taken very seriously
advice that the Youth Advisory Group has given. It considered that this Group
would be critical to further development of cyber-safety policy, and
acknowledged that it will be essential that all stakeholders be responsive in
considering the Group’s advice.
One of the Working Group’s members stated that involvement with the Youth
Advisory Group had brought ‘enormously valuable feedback’. There was a
continuing need to analyse what adolescents actually said to each other on the
Internet so that inappropriate behaviour could be detected.
Cyber safety, as you very well know, is a big thing! it
isnt to be taken lightly, not anymore anyway... What you need to be doing, is
come to us teens and just ask us the best way to get through to us. asking
other adults isnt very smart because what they were taught or told and their ideas
are probably quite different to a teenagers.
Are you safe? Survey of Australian youth
As noted above, the Committee launched its Are you safe? online survey
on the National Action Day Against Bullying and Violence, 18 March 2011, at
Macgregor State School in Brisbane. This survey closed on 6 May 2011.
It was completed by 33,751 respondents from around Australia, by children
and young adults ranging from five years to 18 years of age. 18,159 respondents
completed the 12 years and under survey; 15,592 respondents completed the 13
years and older survey.
The results and comments received by the Committee through the survey
are discussed throughout this Report.
Primary school visit
On the National Action Day Against Bullying and Violence, Friday 18
March 2011, the Committee visited MacGregor State School in Brisbane to formally
launch the Are you safe? survey. Its students were the first students to
complete the survey.
Members of the Committee also led small group discussions with students.
These groups then reported back to the Committee as a whole and in camera
evidence was formally taken from these presentations.
Group discussions generated many useful insights, and some groups
developed practical recommendations for their peers to protect personal
information. Discussions centred on the following key topics:
Anonymity and disclosure of personal information on the Internet;
Concerns about personal safety and avenues to seek help when
Targets, prevalence and motivations of cyber-bullying and avenues
to seek help;
The success of current education programs and the degree of
parental or guardians knowledge as a source of support and guidance; and
Specific recommendations on how Australians can increase their
own cyber-safety, and initiatives that can reduce cyber-bullying in our
High school forum
Hosted by the Tasmanian Parliament in Hobart, the Committee held a High
School Forum on Wednesday, 20 April 2011. The forum allowed the Committee to
hear substantively from young adults in an environment where participants told
of their experiences online and offered their insights into how safety in the
online environment can be enhanced.
The Committee invited 45 students from a mix of public and private,
co-educational and single-sex high schools and colleges from around the Hobart
region. Participating schools included:
Ogilvie High School;
St Michaels Collegiate;
Tasmanian Academy - Elizabeth College;
Calvin Christian School;
Cosgrove High School;
New Town High School; and
Guildford Young College.
The structure of the forum allowed Committee members to ask questions or
pose scenarios to participants that were then debated amongst the participants.
The holistic view of technology taken by many young people has
implications for their safety in the online environment. As at June 2010, the
Alannah and Madeline Foundation reported that more than 1.6 million young
Australians had received cyber-safety lessons in the classroom, yet rates of
cyber-bullying, ‘sexting’, identity theft, breaches of privacy and sexual
exploitation continue to rise.
Roar Educate believed that fear has been a major driver of the national
response to cyber-safety issues, supported by ‘sensationalist media reporting’
of incidents. This focused ‘considerable attention’ on the negative features of
the online environment, rather than the many positive benefits to education and
life generally that come from ‘safe, ethical and responsible’ use of technology.
I do not think we should be panicking even though most of the
Cyberbullying is unbelievably hurtful and terrible. We cannot give the message
to parents especially that, if a child is cyberbullied, therefore they can only
commit suicide. That is what is linked somehow in the messages which sometimes
the media is sending for sensationalism. We have to address that as well.
The Consultative Working Group on Cybersafety has identified the
following key messages about cyber-bullying:
The online environment is generally a positive place for young
people, so that the situation is not all bad;
Strategies for dealing with face-to-face-bullying are also
effective for cyber-bullying;
There is still time in Australia to put strategies in place to
prevent serious problems, but ‘action should be taken now’;
Young people need to be involved in developing solutions, as
their involvement means that measures undertaken are likely to be accepted;
Cyber-bullying is a behavioural issue that needs to be dealt with
by the wider community, not only by schools;
It is important not to punish the victim by removing access to
the online environment when cyber-bullying is reported; and
State and Territory educational authorities need to pursue
coordinated responses to this problem.
The Consultative Working Group on Cybersafety emphasised the variation
in cyber-safety risks faced by Australian young people across the online
environment. The nature and implications of the following abuses are likely to
be significant, and have long-term negative implications, for the individuals
involved, their families, the Australian community and its digital economy:
handling of the individual’s and others’ private information;
- Exposure to and
creation of inappropriate content;
- Computer gaming
- Sexual predation.
The Mental Health Council of Australia noted research from 2009 into
Cyber-Safety from the Child Health Promotion Research Centre at Edith Cowan
University on five major risks for young people:
Cyber-stalking, grooming and sexual solicitation;
Exposure to illegal and inappropriate material;
Promotion of inappropriate social and health behaviours and
Identity theft, privacy and online security.
The many ways of interacting in the online environment expose people to
a wider public than is possible offline. Young people often post personal and
identifying material without thinking, or perhaps even being aware, of, any
possible consequences. For example, sexting can have long term consequences for
an individual as a potential employee.
The range of risks confirms the concerns of organisations, such as the
Queensland Catholic Education Commission, about the need for a clear definition
of ‘cyber-safety’ and identification of the key issues, to deal with some of
the myths surrounding the term. It believed that the concept of cyber-safety
should be framed within the larger issue of student protection in general,
reaching out to the responsibilities of peers, teachers, parents/carers and
school authorities. The Australian Youth
Affairs Coalition emphasised the need to ensure that cyber-safety strategies
address peer relationships.
The chapters in Part 2 describe a range of threats to cyber-safety, with
responses and strategies addressed in subsequent sections. Chapter 3 focuses on
cyber-bullying, Chapter 4 on cyber-stalking, online grooming and sexting, Chapter
5 on privacy and identity theft, and Chapter 6 on other significant cyber-safety
threats. Chapter 7 examines how young people decide to post information online
and their awareness of online risks.