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Sensationalist media coverage skewing children’s ability to assess online risk

by Dr. Leslie Haddon, LSE Press Office

Sensationalist media coverage of online risks such as cyberbullying or the dangers of meeting an online 'friend' offline, may be acting as a barrier to effectively educating children on e-safety, the new report by the EU Kids Online project has claimed.

The report, released on second June 2014, from the EU Kids Online project based at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), explores how children between the ages of 9-16 across Europe experience the internet. The findings reveal that children are strongly influenced by the media's often sensationalist reporting of certain online risks, despite the fact that these are in reality less likely to be experienced by the majority of online users.

This can lead to them focusing more attention on these potential risks than those they are more likely to experience, such as exposure to violent or sexual content, which is in reality a more common online problem reported by children, or witnessing or receiving nasty messages. E-safety education, the researchers recommend, should therefore incorporate the need to educate children on the drawbacks of some media coverage as well as warning about potential online dangers.

Dr Leslie Haddon, a visiting lecturer at LSE and one of the report's authors, said: "We believe that most of the current prevention programmes are too narrowly focused on issues such as personal data protection and the dangers of meeting online strangers offline whereas children are in reality, more likely to have to deal with nasty messages. Children need a more thorough and broader education about the online world to help them to evaluate better and deal with the broad assortment of problematic situations they may encounter."

The research also shows how children's perceptions of online interactions can differ from adults. This is especially the case with online bullying, with children reporting the online aggression they have experienced as something that 'just happens' rather than viewing it as cyberbullying. This can lead to children disengaging or minimising their problems with this online behaviour, which can have the result of normalising peer aggression.

Professor Sonia Livingstone who heads the EU Kids Online project at LSE said: "It’s important to help children to understand how 'just teasing' can escalate into serious harmful incidents. Once they see how online communication can make things worse, children should be motivated to take preventive measures to neutralise aggressive exchanges before they get out of hand."

Click to download the corresponding pdf-document
(2.2 MB, german language)

Available on the website since June 15, 2014