Youth voices are essential to shaping a safer internet.
After all, the internet is a place where kids explore their identities and make valuable connections — so it’s important that they help inform the resources to navigate it safely.
It’s for this reason that Thorn formed the NoFiltr Youth Innovation Council two years ago. Hosting 22 teens passionate about digital safety, the Council provides a unique space for young people to openly share their online experiences and discuss issues that directly affect them.
Involving youth is vital to raising awareness for combatting issues young people face online, like sextortion, grooming, and cyberbullying. NoFiltr’s Resource Hub is chock full of educational pieces co-created by its young members and designed for their peers and the community at large.
By bringing teens’ voices to the table, Thorn also ensures that tech platforms gain these invaluable insights. The Council holds workshops with tech companies where they can speak with youth directly. Hearing the challenges teens encounter online and their ideas for digital safety — as Discord recently did — allows platforms to more effectively and inclusively design their child safety features, taking a true youth-informed approach.
The young members of the Youth Innovation Council are at the forefront of dynamic digital safety conversations. Today, as we join the worldwide celebration of Safer Internet Day, we sat down with these current and future thought leaders to hear about the issues they face and advice they have for tech companies.
What is a digital safety issue you wish more people paid attention to?
Exposure to gore and sexual content at a young age as a vessel for grooming. When children are exposed to porn they want to explore, which is natural, but this often leads to them exposing their bodies when they don’t know better. —Kenna, 18
Grooming. I feel like there has been a narrative pushed that grooming can only be one thing, when in reality it’s a much more complex thing and does not always have to equate to sexual grooming. —Dayanara, 17
Can you share a positive experience you’ve had online that made you feel safe and supported? What factors contributed to that positive experience?
As a music lover, I often go on online forums dedicated to diverse genres and new artists. I remember finding a group that others also enjoyed and spent hours talking about their discography — to me, that authenticity and freedom to express my own interests without judgment made me feel seen and heard within the group. I don’t often get a chance to talk about that band in-person. Online spaces are all about that sense of inclusivity and social support which bridge people with similar interests. —Harry, 17
When I was going through something and had a community on one of my Discord servers to back me up. Not only had I made friends through a safe way, but I was able to share my issues in a place where I could be heard and also be in a separate sphere compared to ranting to my friend in-person about the issue. —Kai, 16
Have you ever encountered any situations online that made you feel uncomfortable or unsafe? If so, what did you wish you had available to help you through the situation?
When I was younger, I mentioned taking a trip somewhere to an online friend/gaming server and someone wanted to meet up with me. I did not want to. Uncomfy! I believe others in the server suggested it was unsafe and I just said I’d be too busy. But I wish I had the tools to politely decline or that I could’ve talked to my mom about it without an extreme negative reaction. —Kenna, 18
Times when people were swearing in the group chat and I didn’t appreciate it because I couldn’t tell if they were swearing for fun, since it was over text. When I told them that it wasn’t very nice to swear, they told me that I was being a baby and that I was no fun – classic case of cyberbullying. At the time, I didn’t want to report it and seem like a baby. Having an adult to tell me to be strong and report it would have helped me overcome my insecurities and allowed me to make sure that I wasn’t getting cyberbullied. —Jennifer, 17
In your ideal vision for a safer internet, what role would technology companies play and how can they foster a sense of security and support?
The most effective way would be the technology companies directly monitoring and blocking out any harmful/explicit content or material, combined with making user reporting easier. Though this may raise the concern of privacy, it may have more benefits in the long term. —Katie W, 16
I think that an attentive and 24/7 implementation of some type of customer/user support system, especially in regards to digital safety, would be really valuable. Maybe incorporating AI in a larger way that allows actual immediate action to be taken. —Laynie, 17
Tech companies could have GENUINE separate spaces for teens – a third space with a FOCUS on the age group it caters to and what is appropriate for them. They could make it secure via identification (that wouldn’t show on profiles for privacy reasons). —Kenna, 18
How would you describe your experience working with a platform like Discord to make their platform safer for youth?
My experience collaborating with Discord not only grew my knowledge about digital literacy, but also allowed me to better understand their mission as an online resource. It was so much fun getting to meet some of the brains behind Discord, and work with like-minded professionals who genuinely care about the things we had to say. It was very fulfilling to know that such a large company actually wants to hear and implement the ideas of younger generations. —Cayden, 16
How do you think parents can play a role in promoting online safety for young people? Are there specific initiatives or educational programs that you believe would be effective?
By educating themselves on these issues, it is easier for parents to understand their kids’ digital space/presence/usage and advocate for methods of safety and privacy online. I am not particularly aware of many programs that help parents promote digital safety to their children, but an option would be to partner with companies (in workplaces) or add in seminars at conferences, online which could draw attention to the information. —Richa, 16
I think parents can play a role in promoting online safety for young people by directly engaging with their children and their children’s friends. They may set screen times, set examples for their kids, or block any sites that may contain harmful or explicit material. Specific initiatives or educational programs I believe would be most effective are those that are private and between the parent and their child only. Parents should explain why, as young people are more likely to do something they are told not to do if they are not given a reason. —Katie W, 16
At Thorn, we’re grateful to the Youth Innovation Council for sharing their experiences and fostering an open, safe and judgment-free dialogue on these tricky topics. No one understands what it’s like to be a teen navigating the internet like teens themselves. That’s why their thoughts matter so highly as we strive to build a safer internet for all.
Check out the NoFiltr Youth Innovation Council’s recent partnership with Discord, in which they helped the platform better understand how teens want to feel on Discord, and what it takes to ensure they do.