Staying safe and supported online

Original research by TSR Insight with The Student Room into the effect of sensitive content on young people, content moderators, and researchers.

Do we really know what young people see online? Following ground-breaking research by The Student Room and TSR Insight, we have new insight into what is viewed online and it isn’t pleasant.

Young people don’t want to see content that is violent, sexualised, abusive or otherwise upsetting, but it can be hard to avoid. Content encouraging self-harm and suicide, cyberbullying and sexualised content are prevalent and often normalised. Young people must be enabled to cope with the worst the web can throw at them, the scale of which is alarming.

This all has a negative impact on young people’s wellbeing and mental health, but it also affects the adults involved in supporting them and market researchers who work in this area.

Our research

The Student Room has a strong relationship with the young people in its community, who are supported by a team of staff and volunteer adult moderators, helping them to navigate their life and education choices.

They noticed worrying trends and significant increases in traffic to the mental health forums and decided there were issues that needed to be investigated further. Together, The Student Room and TSR Insight carried out primary research, asking people in The Student Room community aged 16 and over about their experience of viewing upsetting content online, including websites and social media. The speed and scale of response was telling, with over 3,000 responses in five days and over 1,000 open-ended comments covering respondents’ worst experiences on social media.

Here are a few key insights from the research, regarding violent content – which was of most concern to young people:

Young people report that they experienced the following online before they were 16:

  • 55% Witnessed violent content
  • 47% Been a target of cyber bullying
  • 46% Witnessed self-harm content
  • 33% Received nude photos

The full report from TSR Insight contains further details, to receive a copy, get in touch here.

Research impacts

The impact this is having on young people is being investigated by government, regulators, educators, support groups and tech companies, where guidance and safeguards now need to evolve to keep pace with technological change.

Recent findings by Ofcom into Children’s Media Lives, described how several of 18 children in their long term study had seen upsetting content online such as violent or self-harm videos on social media, as well as some children receiving mean messages or unsolicited sexual images. Our research is consistent with Ofcom’s report.

There is an opportunity here for tech companies to make a positive difference, with 79% of our respondents saying they thought they needed to do more to self-regulate in order to protect young people who use social media.

Impact on moderators and researchers

The wellbeing of those working for the digital platforms like Instagram, Snapchat or The Student Room is also important, as is that of the research agency staff undertaking sometimes challenging and upsetting work. The risk of developing PTSD from witnessing disturbing content is very real, as this Facebook Moderator found to his cost, and this is just a small part of a much wider trend. In the research industry, we also want to attract, support and keep great researchers by making sure we support them in the right way.

We were recently invited to speak about this research at the MRS Kids & Youth Conference, where Julie and Hope from TSR Insight and Grace from The Student Room presented the findings. The presentation included The Student Room and TSR Insight’s recommendations around how they take care of staff involved in challenging work and prompted multiple discussions around the impact on everyone in the ecosystem. If you are interested in receiving a copy of our presentation, get in touch.

Making sure people are supported

There is evidently a need for support when faced with such content and the MRS is looking into the issue of stress in the wider market research sector.

The Student Room and TSR Insight also actively support the online community, volunteers, moderators, and researchers:

Support for The Student Room community:

The Student Room has always taken the welfare of students and young people extremely seriously. Here are some of the actions they have implemented to keep our community safe:

  1. Provide proactive support to help young people in the form of articles and discussions
  2. The provision of guidance created with Digital Awareness UK for staying safe online
  3. Community Staff inform how to report and block anything that makes people feel uncomfortable online
  4. Visible community guidelines and moderation system, keeping an eye on sensitive topics
  5. Working with and signposting to, organisations such as Student MindsPAPYRUS, and The Samaritans

Support for The Student Room moderators and volunteers:

  1. Building a culture of care and professional support
  2. Regular and proactive planned training and support
  3. Encouraged to take breaks
  4. Ensure they are aware that there is no expectation for them to have to deal with this material if they feel unable to/don’t want to
  5. Wellness Action Plans, for those who have self-identified they require mental health support in the capacity of their volunteer role

Support for TSR Insight researchers:

  1. We make sure that breaks are normal, attractive, and possible
  2. It’s OK to walk away from your desk, do something different, go for a walk
  3. Nobody does analysis with sensitive content on their own
  4. Researchers pair up on projects, supported by a senior colleague
  5. Build a culture of mutual support and trust where it’s safe to talk
  6. Staff are encouraged to use a company health scheme counseling service
  7. Managers are always available to talk about safeguards, support, and solutions
  8. Researchers are included in risk assessments along with respondents
  9. Close the loop, highlight the positive outcomes from difficult projects
  10. Debrief in order to process and learn from what has been experienced

Feel free to suggest your own ways to support each other online.

Request a copy of the TSR insight report: ‘The impact of social media on young people’.

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