The smartphone has been confirmed as the undisputed leading tool used in Italy by 9 to 17-year-olds to access the Internet: 88% access social networks or instant messaging services like WhatsApp from their mobile phones at least once a day and this rises to 94% in 13 to 14-year-olds and even 95% in 15 to 17-year-olds. Risks on the web for the very young include exposure to objectionable “user-generated” contents, whereas sexting and bullying are to a lesser extent.
These are the main results of the research carried out on a sample of 350 young girls and boys representing the Italian population aged 9-17 years old “Smartphones, social network and instant messaging services: challenges for children, parents and teachers” presented today in Rome at the “Global Trends in Online Safety: Creating a National Framework” conference, an event developed and co-hosted by the Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI) and TIM. More specifically, the meeting was organised in order to bring important experts on online safety for children and adolescents together to discuss the important efforts made in Italy to create a national digital strategy.
The research (led by Giovanna Mascheroni) takes a look at the trends already seen in the European study Net Children Go Mobile and highlights in particular the surprising data concerning children aged 9-10, three quarters of whom use a smartphone to access WhatsApp, Facebook and, to a lesser extent, YouTube. The research reveals how the use of smartphones goes hand-in-hand with increased internet risks, relating to the dissemination of problematic user-generated contents:
- exposure to violent and racist contents - referred to as “hate speech” - increases on social networks: 36% of 13 to 14-year-olds and 44% of 15 to 17-year-olds have seen people posting discriminatory, racist and violent messages on social networks;
- sexting (i.e. texting of a sexual nature) is another “at risk” scenario mentioned by the younger users, even if more than half of those who have received this type of message declare that they were not overly disturbed by it; the phenomenon rises with age - regarding 15% of 15 to 17-years-old, 7% of 13 to 14-year-olds and just 3% of pre-adolescents aged 11-12 years old - and girls are more affected than boys - 11% as compared with 9% - with the issue mainly taking place on Facebook;
- bullying is fairly rare - 9% of those interviewed had been victim to bullying on- or offline last year - but also the most painful experiences are confirmed as involving young boys and girls. Two thirds of those who had been “bullied” declare that they had suffered a lot or quite a lot for the events; bullying grows amongst the very young, but in children between 9 and 10 years old these interactions remain mainly face-to-face. It is from middle school onwards that reference is made to cyber-bullying, mainly on WhatsApp amongst pre-adolescents, and Facebook amongst adolescents.
The research also shows how Italian parents are today concerned about their children’s safety on the internet. Two out of three parents make suggestions to their children as to how they should behave on social networks and respond to friend requests made by people they do not know, yet parents tend to consider adolescents and pre-adolescents as most at risk, whereas younger children are less monitored.
Teachers, on the other hand, are not very active in mediating the use of the internet and social networks or messaging, with just one in three teachers suggesting how to make safe use of communication platform.
By presenting the research data, the event gave rise to an international discussion about safety on the web and public-private synergies for the creation of a national framework for online safety suggesting ways that governments, industry and NGOs need to develop and implement solutions locally and at international level. The following contributed and gave addresses: Giuseppe Recchi (Chairman of Telecom Italia), Stephen Balkam (CEO, FOSI), Antonello Giacomelli (Under Secretary of the Ministry of Economic Development), Marlene Holzner (Cabinet Member of EU Commissioner Gunther Oettinger - Digital Economy and Society), Joanna Shields (UK Minister for Internet Safety and Security) and a diverse range of international internet safety and security experts.
In focussing on the digital challenges worldwide, TIM has confirmed its commitment to creating a digital strategy to ensure that use of new technologies becomes an essential principle for social inclusion and economic development, creating real value for the community. Today’s initiative comes as part of TIMs Corporate Shared Value activities #ilfuturoèditutti, a programme of activities based on creating common values with the communities the Telecom Italia Group operates in.
“We are delighted to be partnering with TIM on this timely and important conference”, said Stephen Balkam, CEO of the Family Online Safety Institute. “We hope other countries will look to the Italian experience when creating a national framework for online safety.”
Giuseppe Recchi, Chairman of Telecom Italia: "Today's initiative is another important piece of the strategy that the Telecom Italia Group is pursuing to bridge the country's digital culture gap. We are ever more committed to developing educational routes and tools for the younger generation, their parents and teachers, encouraging the introduction of digital technologies into schools to help develop greater responsibility and a critical sense, as both are so necessary today if we are to recognise the innate possible risks and dangers involved in the use of technology."
Rome, 16 September 2015