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ICA 2013: Evidence on the Extent of Harms Experienced by Children as a Result of Online Risks: A Critical Synthesis of Research
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ICA 2013: Evidence on the Extent of Harms Experienced by Children as a Result of Online Risks: A Critical Synthesis of Research

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A recent UK parliamentary inquiry into online child protection prompted a resurgence of moral panics about children and adolescents’ Internet use, despite the fact that little empirical evidence of ...

A recent UK parliamentary inquiry into online child protection prompted a resurgence of moral panics about children and adolescents’ Internet use, despite the fact that little empirical evidence of actual harm is brought to bear in public and policy discourses. This article makes a key contribution to the field by reviewing the available evidence about the scale and scope of online harms from across a range of disciplines and identifying key obstacles in this research area. The findings are based on a review of 271 empirical studies. We identified three main types of harms: health-related harms as a result of using pro-eating disorders, self-harm or pro-suicide websites, sex-related harms such as Internet-initiated sexual abuse of minors, and cyber-bullying.
Presented at the International Communication Association Annual Meeting, 2013, London.

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  • 1. Evidence  on  the  extent  of  harmsexperienced  by  children  as  a  result  ofonline  risks:  A  cri:cal  synthesis  ofresearchDr  Vera  Slavtcheva-­‐Petkova,  University  of  ChesterDr  Victoria  Nash,  Oxford  Internet  Ins:tute,  University  of  OxfordDr  Monica  Bulger,  Oxford  Internet  Ins:tute,  University  of  Oxford
  • 2. The  backdrop  of  moralpanic
  • 3. •Frequent  confla:on  of  risk  and  harm•Depic:on  of  children  as  essen:ally  vulnerable  and  in  needof  protec:on•Overwhelming  focus  on  sexual  content  and  sexual  harmPolicy  Context
  • 4. Methods• Systema:c  review.  Search  conducted  via  all  availabledatabases  accessed  through  University  of  Oxford• Keywords:  “harm  AND  Internet  AND  children”,  “harmAND  Internet  AND  adolescents”,  “harm  AND  InternetAND  minors”,  “harm  AND  Internet  AND  teens”  and“harm  AND  Internet  AND  teenagers”• Categories  for  inclusion:  empirical  work,  published  inpeer-­‐reviewed  journal,  main  focus  of  study  was  youngpeople  (aged  under  18),  addressed  Internet  use,discussed  harm  related  to  online  interac:ons• 271  studies,  published  between  1997-­‐2011• 148  ar:cles  met  criteria  for  inclusion,  coded  using  anadapted  version  of  the  EU  Kids  Online  framework
  • 5. Categories  of  harms• Health-­‐related  harms:  63  ar:cles• Sex-­‐related  harms:  49  ar:cles• Cyberbullying  –  36  ar:cles• Categorized  thema:cally  aaer  ini:al  and  then  focusedcoding• Focus  on:  opera:onaliza:on,  scope  and  scale  of  harmSeveral  harms  referred  to  in  policy  debate  did  notdemonstrate  a  strong  research  base:• Harms  from  commercial/consumer  contact,• Privacy  viola:ons,• Restric:ons  to  freedom  of  expression/informa:on
  • 6. Opera:onaliza:on  of  harm• Assump:on  that  risk  and  harm  are  equal  terms• Majority  of  studies  fail  to  opera:onalize  harm• Even  within  a  topic,  defini:ons  of  harm  differ,  so  difficult  toassess  true  scale• In  health-­‐related  research:1. Defined  in  44.5%  of  the  studies2. Oaen  opera:onalized  in  terms  of  par:cular  harms:  self-­‐mu:la:on,  self-­‐injury,  cuing3. Most  common  defini:on:  self-­‐harm  (75%  of  all  studies  thatdefine  the  term).  Explana:ons  of  what  self-­‐harm  means  arerare.  Example:  “a  form  of  ac:vely  managed  self-­‐destruc:vebehavior  that  is  not  intended  to  be  lethal”  (Murray  et  al.,2008)
  • 7. Scope  of  health  harmsThe  propor:ons  represent  the  scope  ofharms  as  reported  in  the  researchstudies  –  they  are  not  indica:ve  of  theactual  scope  and  scale  of  harms.
  • 8. Scale  of  Harm• Majority  discuss  perceived  or  poten:al  harm  (e.g.,  textualanalyses  of  pro-­‐ea:ng  disorder  websites  or  surveys  onpercep:ons  of  users)  rather  than  evidence  of  actual  harm(documented  by  prac::oners  or  evidenced  by  case  studies).• Excep:on:  suicide  case  studies,  which  describe  how  suicidesare  facilitated  or  incited• Address  poten:ally  harmful  content,  focusing  on  poten:allyworrisome  messaging,  but  lijle  evidence  of  its  effects  –  mayincrease  but  not  cause  ED• “More  research  is  needed  to  determine  if  these  websites  doharm,  and  if  so,  to  whom  and  in  what  form”  (Talbot,  2010)• Disagreement  over  the  role  of  “support”  websites
  • 9. Discussion• Why  are  these  studies  useful?  -­‐  Iden%fying  not  just  who  is  at  risk,  but  who  is  harmed.• What  other  important  research  ques:ons  remain?    -­‐  Does  the  focus  on  risk  mean  we  may  miss  possible  benefit?,  -­‐  Do  we  pay    too  li?le  a?en%on  to  personal  and  circumstan%alfactors   which  enable  some  individuals  to  cope  be?er  than  others?• What  are  the  limita:ons  of  ‘harm’  research?   -­‐  failure  to  opera%onalize  ‘harm’-­‐  Over-­‐reliance  on  surveys  and  self-­‐reported  measures-­‐  Imbalance  between  research  areas-­‐  Lack  of  research  on  salient  policy  concerns
  • 10. Conclusions  &  Policy  Implica:ons• Severe  harms  rare,  but  poten:al  for  more  minor  harms  rela:velyhigh• Interven:ons  should  be  evidence-­‐based;  but  in  some  areas,evidence  s:ll  lacking• ‘One  size  fits  all’  policy  measures  unlikely  to  be  effec:ve• Focus  on  harm  as  well  as  risk  needed  to  develop  more  informedand  effec:ve  measures
  • 11. Thank  you!Vera  Slatcheva-­‐Petkovav.petkova@chester.ac.ukhjp://www.chester.ac.uk/media/staffVictoria  Nash@VickiNashOIIhjp://victoriajnash.tumblr.comMonica  Bulger@literacyonlinehjp://www.monicabulger.com