Barriers to access: trust & safety

Many of the participants in this research were concerned about the potential risks or harmful results of being online. The first concerns to be raised by most of the groups of young people were scams, catfishing and cyberbullying.

Woman looking at scary computer screen worried about scams, being spied on, bullying, misleading info and theft.

A list of things young people in Naenae worried about when they used the Internet

  • Being catfished.

  • When they steal your money.

  • Bullying.

  • Being spied on.

  • False advertising.

  • Getting scammed.

  • Suicide from bullying.

  • Viruses.

  • False information.

  • Propaganda.

Physical safety

At the extreme end of the spectrum, young people in several locations shared stories they had heard about people being killed, or almost killed, as a result of Internet use.

“Don’t use TradeMe cos this guy got killed. Went over to buy and item and he got ambushed, and almost got shot.” – Youth, Naenae

Some participants faced very specific risks when using the Internet, in particular some of the women with experience of family violence wanted to avoid contact or being contactable by their ex-partners or their families. Likewise the former refugee we heard from went to considerable length to be sure she could not be located by the people back in Colombia who had threatened her life and forced her to seek refuge in New Zealand in the first place.

“Well I came here under the refugee quota and yes I’m safe here, but my family are in Columbia, and I wouldn’t like the people that are the reason for me to be here to find out that I’m well and I’m safe. No, I would like to keep that secret.” – Former refugee, Wellington

All these women were relatively confident in their skill at keeping safe in these specific ways online, although the women who had children with their violent ex-partners did say that they sometimes struggled to keep their children from connecting with their exes online or giving away information that could expose their mothers online.

The former refugee participant, in particular, had very clear practices for maintaining her privacy and safety online. She did not use public social media platforms like Facebook, for example, and only contacted her family via secure messaging services with end to end encryption.

“[T]hat’s why I limit it to WhatsApp, the platform that I use to communicate with my family, because yeah, it is a bit of a sensitive issue. Yes, I do have those skills. I think that I do a good management of the Internet.” – Former refugee, Wellington

Scams and pranks

Participants told us that they were concerned about the risk of financial scams online, and some said they had personally been victims of digital scams or theft.

“There was a couple of months back where some money was taken out of my bank account, it was only 40 bucks so it was alright, but it’s still money right? That was a concern.” – High school mentor, Mangere

One of the most common online risks identified by young people was ‘catfishing’. This term was used to cover a wide range of misleading activity online. This included pretending to be someone else at school and using that fake identity to ‘prank’ someone by pretending to like them, or trick them into agreeing to a date.

The term ‘catfishing’ was also used to describe an older man assuming the false online identity of a young woman to trick young people into engaging with him, and eventually meeting in person, something that was seen as potentially extremely risky.

Emotional wellbeing

Cyberbullying was a common theme in discussions with young people. Most of the young people we heard from told us that they had witnessed cyberbullying, of varying degrees of seriousness. This included misuse of private information, for the purpose of online harassment.

“I had a friend who was in a relationship with someone and they sent pictures to each other and around the time of their breakup the guy sent her pictures around.” – Youth, Mangere

Another observation was that there was a lot of negative content online, and being exposed to it, even if it wasn’t targeted at you in any way, could have a harmful effect on your emotional well-being.

“Exposed to things that are just not positive, that are just there to knock you down not in a targeted way just broad things like news stories and negative information to focus on.” – Naenae Youth Group

Some participants also expressed concern at the addictive nature of social media.

“I think addiction as well. People are addicted and that’s why people are always like ‘Oh I’m shutting down my Facebook for exams.” – Mangere, youth

False and misleading information

Another risk identified by participants was that of being misled by false information. Some people said they had been taught at school how to distinguish between good quality and poor quality information online. However, when probed on this, one group of students gave a response which suggests that they may have formed overly simplistic, or simply inaccurate, ideas about how to assess the credibility of information online.

“Don’t use Wikipedia, and you’ll be okay.”

“Have a look at the website address itself and know that if it’s a government website then it’s more trusted than Wikipedia.” – Both high school students, Mangere

Quote: “I think people worry about risks online but still don’t understand how to protect themselves against it.”

In other conversations, participants said they were aware of the risk of misinformation online, but generally only those who had studied at university had any confidence in their ability to reliably discern which sources of information were credible and which were not.

Overall, despite widespread awareness of the risks of being online, many participants said they hadn’t really changed their behaviour as a result of that awareness.

Some people said they had taken steps like adjusting the privacy settings on their Facebook accounts and making sure that the content they posted on Facebook could only be accessed by the people they chose. Others said they hadn’t really made any changes, despite a lingering sense that they probably should.

“I think people worry about [risks online] but still don’t understand how to protect themselves against it.” – Wananga, Kawerau