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Q&A Dr. Yansie Rolston:

Why do you think initiatives like Meta's Youth Experts Network are important?

Social media and online activities are ever evolving and moving forward very rapidly, and in the quest for progress many of the basic safeguarding systems are being ignored by users. This requires initiatives that are focused on ensuring that those online spaces are kept as safe as possible. It is important that all young people are provided with support, advice, and interventions that help them to keep safe and that includes their mental health and general wellbeing.

By bringing together a diverse range of experts it is more likely that the needs of all young people will be considered and issues of diversity and inclusion will be at the core of the network.


- How do you see the intersection of youth wellbeing and the online world?

The promotion of resilience and emotional and mental wellbeing is important in life. Issues such as sleep hygiene, friendships/relationships, re-triggering trauma, and mental health challenges are some of the issues that are being raised by young people in the online world as impacting their wellbeing. When these are placed against the backdrop of social and economic inequalities, their impact is intensified and therefore needs to be identified and spoken about so that the young people are aware that it is not only cyberbullying that will affect their wellbeing.


Looking back on 2023, what is the main challenge you saw when it comes to youth online safety?

  • Insufficient culturally relevant support systems for socio-economically vulnerable youth, who have endured harm via online content. 

  • Inadequate access to wellbeing support services for content creators whose mental health has been compromised by the trauma-triggering process of creating content on negative world news.

  • The lack of acknowledgement of the scale of real threats via digital means, such as racist abuse that migrant or displaced young people endure. 


What is on your radar for youth online safety and youth wellbeing in 2024?

I am personally invested in working towards further prevention of access to inappropriate content that increases incidents of self harm and suicide. I am also working on helping to share knowledge and information on safeguarding neurodivergent young people and migrant or displaced young people and the ethical challenges associated with these groups.


What would be your advice for young people and their guardians when it comes to a safe and healthy use of social media?

First, that there are safe and accessible standards of behavior to maintain when producing or accessing content and parents/carers and young people should be aware of them. Second, though just as important, is that young people need to protect their mental health - and be aware of the digital issues beside cyberbullying that can affect them, such as poor sleep hygiene, but that they can find the relevant mental health and wellbeing support like therapists and social prescribers, should they need to do so.


What role do you see policymakers playing in youth online safety?

The ability to engage with a range of stakeholders including for example UK All Party Parliamentary Group on Issues Affecting Men and Boys, and community-based third sector organizations to co-create robust policies and monitoring and evaluation processes that are deeply rooted in systems of accountability. Also, protecting young people from illegal, harmful and damaging content and working creatively with an array of young people to co-create campaigns 


What role do you see for tech companies in continuing to better young people's experience on social media?

Tech companies should foster digital literacy and embark on programs that promote digital resilience; streamline reporting systems for inappropriate, illegal, and harmful content to make it accessible to and understood by all, including from a language- and neurodiversity-inclusive perspective; provide funding to enable community-based organizations to provide quality and culturally competent mental and wellbeing support for young people; and to fund appropriate education and training for vulnerable young people. 

What role do you see for diversity and inclusivity in youth online safety conversations?

 What are points that people are missing when not considering inclusivity?

Understanding the complexities of family structures and relationships, for example among  migrant or displaced young people who are used to taking risks, and who are accustomed to little or no adult guidance, and circumstances where young people are the main carers of younger siblings, while themselves having limited understanding of safeguarding.

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ThinkYoung is a not-for-profit organisation, aiming to make the world a better place for young people by involving them in decision-making processes and providing decision-makers with high-quality research on youth conditions. ThinkYoung conducts studies and surveys, makes advocacy campaigns, writes policy proposals, and develops education programmes: up to date, ThinkYoung projects have reached over 800,000 young people.

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Meta is a tech company with apps that you may know, like Instagram or WhatsApp. We work hard to build online spaces where young people can learn, connect, create, and have fun. We want young people to enjoy our platforms and to be safe, so creating spaces for young people to have their say on the future of platforms like ours is crucial.

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