A new first-of-it-kind study by Unicef South Africa explores how the local youth deal with dangers online, as society moves further into an easily-accessible, ever-connected environment of communication.
The report was compiled after holding close to 180 in-depth focus groups at 93 schools across South Africa, covering topics including online violence, abuse, sexting, online risks and real-world consequences and dangers.
The study showed that one in five secondary-school learners have experienced some form of cyber-bullying or other violence online.
Remarkably, however, the report found “substantial” evidence that the majority of young people are aware of the risks they face online, which has allowed them to develop protective measures of their own.
“When asked what they thought the risks and dangers that lurked online were, children reported a range of risks that could impact on their psycho-social wellbeing, their physical wellbeing, and their school performance,” the report said.
“These appeared to be informed by personal experiences, by experiences of their friends and peers, and undoubtedly by stories and events they had read about in the media.”
Teens and sexting
Sexting, or the act of sending and receiving nude or pornographic images via chat, was found to have a strong correlation to cyber bullying.
“The relationship between sexting and cyberbullying becomes most apparent when the consequences of failing to comply with requests for photos are explored.”
“Failing to concede to such requests could result in other forms of bullying,” the report said.
Through the focus groups, the researchers found that, intitially, such content was usually shared with the consent of the subjects.
However, these could then be used maliciously, “to humiliate or ‘get even’ following a relationship breakdown”.
Girls reported feeling coerced or misled into sending sexually explicit images to male friends, though in a gradual manner.
Through the focus groups, the researchers found that learners were aware of the harm this can inflict on the victim.
“The fact that the intention is to hurt the victim shows an awareness of the consequences,” Unicef said.
However, the researchers noted that the data suggested that young people were participating in the general activity of sexting as a result of “normal adolescent sexual exploration”.
“Sharing pictures of this nature seems to be relatively common among young people as they use their mobile phones to experiment with their sexuality,” the report said.
Additional findings from the study
- 20.3% of young people admit to having lied online about their age.
- female reporting of online violence was always higher than that of males
- 5% of learners who experience some form of online violence are told of available support services or resources.
- Of those who are told, three out of five utilise the service, suggesting that there is a real demand for various forms of support services for victims of online violence.