17/03/2017 10:46 AM AEDT | Updated 17/03/2017 4:30 PM AEDT

In The Age Of Instant Content, Young Girls Want Positive Messages About Staying Safe Online

Facebook is doing something about it.

For young Aussie women in 2017, the online world is a fragile, double-edged sword. And it is quickly disappearing.

It can be positive and empowering, or it can be dark and flagrant, plagued by cyber bullying and gendered harassment that too often leaves young women as its victims.

We know that instant content doesn't actually disappear. If it is released, then it is permanent. And we also know there is a high risk that if something does go wrong, and we are the victim, we might in turn be blamed for it.Idil Ali, Plan International Australia Youth Ambassador

And it has reached endemic levels, according to Plan International Australia. In a report carried out in 2016, seven out of ten surveyed Australian young women are often bullied or harassed online, with over half receiving uninvited or unwanted indecent material such as texts, video clips and pornography. 51 percent reported feeling pressured to take 'sexy' photos of themselves in return.

In the age of instant content, this space is becoming increasingly transient.

"I would describe it as being a careful experience. I think there is a lot of pressure put on young people, particularly young girls, to share a certain representation of themselves online," Idil Ali, Youth Ambassador for Plan International Australia told The Huffington Post Australia.

"We know that instant content doesn't actually disappear. If it is released, then it is permanent. And we also know there is a high risk that if something does go wrong, and we are the victim, we might in turn be blamed for it."

And so the conversation turns to how to keep young users safe, including industry at the forefront of these changes.

Like Facebook.

Social media platforms have a lot to answer for.

In February, Facebook -- in partnership with Plan International Australia and and youth-based anti-bullying organisation Project Rockit -- hosted an event in Melbourne to generate discussion among young women around online safety.

We have all of these guidelines for permanent content, but what has changed since the world of instant media? Mia Garlick, Director of Policy for Facebook and Instagram

"The safety and wellbeing of people on our platforms is tremendously important to us. If people don't have a positive experience on the platform, they won't continue using it," Mia Garlick, Facebook and Instagram Australia's Director of Policy, told Huffpost Australia.

"The instant content trend is an emerging one and we thought it was timely to sit down and talk with these girls to see what they understand about our existing safety guidelines and make sure that they are tailored to them."

"A lot of the time, the onus is put onto young women to keep themselves safe, rather than it being a community or industry effort. This was an opportunity for us to discuss how we can take some of that responsibilty off these girls," Ali said.

How do young people actually want to be helped?

Garlick and Ali, along with the creators of Project Rockit, staged a #GirlTakeover to understand what would help young girls have a positive experience online.

To coincide with the National Day of Action Against Bullying and Violence, this is what they had to say.

Online safety: What young women want

According to Garlick, young women and girls are not underestimating the implications of instant media.

"There wasn't a false sense of security among the girls. They definitely understood that you need to be considering the same rules and sensitivities that you do with permanent content," Garlick said.

Frustrations arose among misunderstandings among parents and the use of overused, cliched messages.

"Young people still felt as though their parents do not understand why they love this type of technology. Lots of these students also agreed that some of the messages that are typically shared are quite negative."

We get told to think before we post. We do, except we're not thinking what you think we think.

For Ali, these messages are often gender-specific.

"Young women are often told how they should deal or react, rather than being protected and kept safe. We heard a lot of frustration coming from these girls who felt like boys are not often spoken to in the same manner," Ali said.

How to report an instance of bullying or abuse on Facebook

1. Start with the report link: Facebook includes a 'Report' link that allows use to report an instance of abuse, bullying, harrassment on nearly every piece of content. If you've reported something, you can check the status of the report from your 'Support Inbox'.

2. Unfriend the person: Go to the person's profile, hover over the 'Friends' button at the top of their profile and select 'Unfriend.'

3. Block the person: This will prevent them starting conversations with you or seeing things you post on your profile. They can no longer tag you, invite you to an event or group or add you as a friend. Click at the top right of any Facebook page, click 'How do I stop someone from bothering me', enter the name or email address of the person you want to block, and click 'Block.'

Moving forward

On Friday, Facebook launched a campaign delivering a new host of messages to promote online safety.

"Our focus is about empowering each individual to be able to navigate their own safe space. So we worked on delivering more empathetic and empowering messages with these girls," Garlick said.

"Importantly, young people need to know that parents are on their side."

Among the women that we spoke to, accountability was really important.

Moving forward, Ali is calling on clearer safety-seeking guidelines and continued platform accountability.

"Young people need to be able to see clear guidelines on social media. If they are sent something inappropriate, what is the best way to go about reporting that?

"We spoke to Facebook about reporting back to us. If something is reported, we want to know why and what is being done about it."

For Ali, the event was a sign of industry moving forward. "This is a serious matter. This was Facebook putting itself in a vulnerable position where they are being held accountable. And they need to keep doing that."


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