Blog: Natalie Smith on the general election, young people and the dark side of social media

4 Jun 2017

Young people live and breathe social media, from snapchatting their friends to updating their status on Facebook. Most of the interactions are harmless, friends sharing good times, but knowing what hides behind the scenes of social media interactions is essential.  
In this ever evolving technological world we need to understand exactly what young people are facing in the current climate of the new world of social media and how vulnerable this can potentially make our younger generation.

Through the power of services like youth work, supporting young people could be the key to helping them face the issues that trouble them the most. This could be anything from cyberbullying and social media trolls to a deeper darker side of the internet involved with child grooming and sexual exploitation. Only yesterday did I stumble across the codes young people use in online chat so their parents are unaware of what is happening.  These codes include: LMIRL (let’s meet in real life), CU46 (see you for sex), WTTP (want to trade pictures), KYS (kill yourself) plus many others. But now is this time to find a safe way for the younger generation to enjoy the internet but be protected from potential risks. Mediasuch asFacebook and Twitter should invest more in developing software which highlights when unpleasant events happen during interactions between profiles, to the exchange of unsavoury photographs shared from a young person’s profile.

This election I urge politicians to fight for young people and their online safety, help them develop through supported networks and channels, enable them to have a safe community hub to attend when they need someone to talk to, who they can view as a friendly help rather than someone of authority. A community hub should be a safe place, close to home that young people can access for free with communal Wi-fi, interactive workshops plus a cool place to be with their friends. Even offer sexual health advice and consent discussions. It’s about time the way young people access help and advice is revolutionised. Through this channel of communication, youth workers and services will be able to highlight potential issues and help young people solve them in an approachable way.

Being young should be about discovering who you are, spending time with friends, being free and careless. The transition from adolescent to adult is an exciting yet challenging time, as you are maturing, gaining qualifications, seeking employment,studying maybe looking for the next opportunity on the horizon.  No one should have to worry when the next threatening text is coming, or what will happen if their latest snapchat isn’t on ‘fleek’.

It’s time for the younger generation to be empowered and become whoever they want to be! #NoFilter

Natalie Smith is a trustee of the National Youth Agency. This blog post first appeared on the British Youth Council’s website.