- the harm done to its targets, either from personal harassment or from online spaces being experienced as hostile;
- the risk that those who encounter it may be radicalized by it, becoming more sympathetic and possibly even active; and
- the effect that it has on the values and culture of the online spaces in which it happens.
One of the biggest concerns voiced by parents of young Internet users is the easy access to pornography that the Web provides. There are millions of porn sites online, making hardcore sexual images that were once very difficult to obtain now just a click away.
Teens and preteens are at the heart of the social Internet interacting with others through chat, instant messaging, social networking sites, in virtual worlds and online multi-player games. It is inevitable that at an age where young people are starting to explore their sexuality offline, they will do so online in these interactive environments as well.
When most people think about sexual risk and harm on the Internet, sexual predators come to mind. Because of its sensational nature, the spectre of unscrupulous adults preying upon and sexually exploiting kids online gets a lot of media attention. Although this does happen, sensational headlines do not help us understand the nature and true extent of the problem or how to deal with it effectively.
As adults, we want to foster resilience in young people, starting when they’re young. This can be done by teaching them how to handle harassing messages or requests that make them feel uncomfortable – on the Internet or in the schoolyard – and, as they get older, by teaching them how to spot and respond to emotional manipulation. The good news is that most teens are effectively handling online requests from strangers – the bigger challenge is helping them handle sexual advances from people they know.
The internet has become a prime means of communication worldwide and this unprecedented global reach – combined with the difficulty in tracking communications – makes it an ideal tool for extremists to repackage old hatred, raise funds, and recruit members. As the internet has grown and changed, hate groups and movements have adapted, creating websites, forums and social network profiles, becoming active in spaces such as online games, and even creating parallel versions of services such as Twitter and Wikipedia.
Online hate can have an impact in three interconnected ways:
Teens use the Internet as much, and in similar ways, as adults. But they also often engage in risky behaviour such as downloading illegal copies of movies and music. Popular social networking sites, like Facebook, can also expose teens to a variety of security risks.
Since its earliest days, the internet has been hailed as a uniquely open marketplace of ideas, and it has become an essential means for people to access information and services. The downside of this is that, alongside its many valuable resources, the internet also offers a host of offensive materials – including hateful content – that attempt to inflame public opinion against certain groups and to turn people against one another.
It is not always easy to discern when hateful content on the internet crosses the line from being offensive to illegal. The line between hate speech and free speech is a thin one, and different countries have different levels of tolerance. The line is even thinner in digital environments where hateful comments posted lawfully in one country can be read in other countries where they may be deemed unlawful.
Given the high likelihood that youth are going to come across or seek out online pornography at one point or another, not to mention the many messages they receive about sex through other media, it is important that parents take an active role in their kids’ Internet use and start talking to them about healthy relationships and sexuality at early ages to help them contextualize and make decisions about what they’re seeing online.