New research commissioned by the UK Safer Internet Centre reveals how sharing and viewing content is integral to the lives of young people, and the positives and challenges that come with this.

In an increasingly digitised world, with young people sharing a variety of content every day, almost two-thirds (65%) say they would feel disconnected from the world if they couldn’t be online. Helping them to make sense of their daily lives and wider society, 70 per cent of young people say being online helps them understand what’s happening in the world and 60 per cent only know about certain issues or news because of the internet.

Crucially, young people are using the internet as a safe space to understand and navigate topics they’re nervous to ask about, with 67 per cent saying it’s easier to learn about them online. Encouragingly, the internet has helped almost half (46%) through a difficult time..

However, the myriad of ways in which young people connect online means they must also navigate the complexities of asking for and giving permission before sharing. Young people have a strong sense of right and wrong online, with an overwhelming 84 per cent believing everyone has a responsibility to respect others. However, in practice almost half (48%) admit their peers don’t always think before they post. Over one third (36%) of young people are sharing screenshots of other peoples’ photos, comments or messages at least weekly.

This exposes young people to a confusing landscape when it comes to online consent, and a lack of consensus on how to navigate this. Half of young people (51%) think their friends should ask for permission before tagging them or sharing a photo or video of them, while 37 per cent think their parents should ask. Young people are also not asking permission before posting, despite 81% knowing when and how to ask. Consequently, in the last year over half of young people (52%) said someone they know shared a photo or video of them without asking.

The ‘rules’ are also confused when consent is breached. Whilst the majority of young people would always remove something they’d posted about a friend if asked to, 36 per cent  would not. Encouragingly, young people do rally against injustices they see online and 68 per cent would report something that had been shared about them without permission. Almost two thirds (63%) would report if it happened to a friend.

The UK Safer Internet Centre (comprised of Childnet, Internet Watch Foundation and South West Grid for Learning) believes it is crucial to bridge the gap between young people’s attitudes and behaviours online. With Safer Internet Day, the Centre is collaborating with hundreds of organisations across the UK to empower young people with clear strategies and guidance to navigate the internet in a safe and respectful way. The Centre has also developed educational resources to equip parents, schools and other members of the children’s workforce with tools to support young people.

Will Gardner OBE, Director of the UK Safer Internet Centre, says: “There can be no doubt that sharing and connecting with others online is an integral part of everyday life for young people. These findings are encouraging, highlighting how young people have a strong sense of what is right online, and are harnessing the internet to make a positive difference for themselves and others. However, it is vital that we – from an individual to an industry level – take responsibility to support young people to navigate consent online and put their positive attitudes into action. We must move beyond advising them only on what they should do online, and work with them to understand how to do this in practice. In doing so, we can empower young people, and those that support them, to be better able to harness and use the positive power of the internet for good.”

Home Secretary Sajid Javid said“As a parent, I know how important it is to keep children safe online.The internet can be a fantastic place to connect with people and share information, but it can also be exploited by criminals and abusers. It’s great to see more than 1,000 organisations come together on Safer Internet Day to promote the positive power of digital technology. The Government is committed to keeping children safe online. We are working closely with the technology industry to make the internet a safer and more responsible place.”

Minister for Digital Margot James says: “In 2019 the government will be setting out new laws to tackle online harms, and leading the world by bringing in age verification for online pornography. But it is crucial that there is continued collaboration across the UK to achieve our aim of making the UK the safest place in the world to be online. Young people deserve access to the support and advice they need to navigate the online world, including on the challenging issue of consent.”


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