The internet is a vast space which plays host to 1.8 billion uploaded images every day. Some of the most frequent online users are young students who have grown up with incredible technology, information and influence immediately available at their fingertips. They are part of a generation of visual learners enriched by YouTube, Instagram, Apple, Amazon, Google and many more organisations built to enhance our online lives.

I think there’s much to envy about this new generation. They have a fearlessness which doesn’t hold them back. Their command of technology has become second nature; students don’t need an instruction manual to use a new iPhone – they just know, or if they don’t they’ll play around until they work it out.

So, then a question; are our educators appropriately equipped to educate their students in staying safe online when perhaps there is much they are unable to appreciate or understand? Let me be clear, I don’t mean that all educators are incapable of understanding how to post a tweet or upload a selfie; I just wonder whether there might be a lacking in empathy for students going through fresh twenty-first century problems.

Safer Internet Day (SID) is an initiative coordinated by the UK Safer Internet Centre, which aims to address the principals of that very question. Today will see over a thousand schools and organisations join together to help promote the safe, responsible and positive use of digital technology. It also offers a fountain of advice for children, parents and teachers seeking to understand the risks of being online and how occasionally this can escalate to cyber bullying.

Cyber bullying is a term I heard about on the news and, I must admit, I didn’t give it a huge amount of thought. I vaguely contemplated how if I was a student in 2016 I would cope with the occasional nasty tweet or comment – probably a lot better than a few punches!

I realised recently how ignorant this viewpoint was.

I’m 25 years old so social media was only just taking off when I was at school. At 16 I was gripped for hours on msn, having typed-out conversations with friends, but at the end of the evening I could close down my large, chunky laptop and wind down ready for bed. This is a luxury that many students don’t have today.

87% of 16-24 year olds now access the internet via a mobile device and can spend up to 3 hours a day just on social media. With our dependence on modern day mobile phones increasing, the likelihood of us ever closing them down is very slim. Moreover, if you get used to receiving hundreds of notifications a day, turning off your mobile phone and not staying engaged with your friends via these notifications can, ironically, feel very alienating. So, if young people are being bullied online - let’s say for example, someone posted a hurtful status and tagged another person in it - the solution can’t be “just turn your phone off and go to bed”. The content posted still exists and, more importantly, it is no longer a dispute between two people; it is public and other people are able to contribute their thoughts too. Each time they do another notification comes straight through to the phone which is why it becomes even harder for young people to shut down the device because they know the scenario is still unfolding. This cycle can torment the minds of people which, in my opinion, is far worse than punches to the face.

In an attempt to raise awareness of scenarios like this, Masterclass have teamed up with Kidscape to launch their Cyberscene project which is working with students from four London colleges (South Thames College, Leyton Sixth Form College, Hackney Community College and Barnet and Southgate College) to create a powerful new play which explores the impact of technology, social media and cyber bullying. The play will be scripted through a series of theatre based workshops with a team of professional theatre makers and trained workshop leaders. It was through these workshops that I really began to adjust my notion of cyber bullying and of the online world.

During one of the Cyberscene workshops at Leyton Sixth Form College a student said, “sometimes we become so assuming that nothing bad will happen to us because we’re so knowledgeable about being online, that nobody really thinks of the consequences if we are being cyber bullied.”

This is just one of the reasons SID is so important not only students, but for teachers, parents and guardians too. Today is an opportunity for everyone, from families to law enforcement and businesses to theatre makers, to play their part for a better, safer internet. Using some of the findings from the Cyberscene workshops, Masterclass will be taking to social media today to show their support for SID and for young people using the internet every day.



The Cyberscene Project is generously sponsored by
 
Masterclass is a proud member of the Anti-Bullying Alliance and is working with the Association of Colleges for The Cyberscene Project.