The 4 Rs of online safety

In recent weeks there’s been an increased focus internationally on the importance of media literacy in this brave new online world we inhabit, with UNESCO’s Global Media and Information Literacy Week concluding just as Annual Media Literacy Week kicked off in the US this week. Events like this are important in highlighting the power of media literacy education and its essential role in education today.

Previous generations were taught that the fundamental ‘Rs’ of education were "Reading, '(w)riting, and '(a)rithmetic.  While these still hold true (despite only one of them being a true ‘R’), I have been thinking that today there are a new set of ‘Rs’ we need to be instilling in our young people—respect, resilience, responsibility and reasoning.

In this age of information overload, I often feel that I have too many apps open in my brain—and not enough RAM! So, I often use mnemonics, such as acronyms, alliterations or singular letters to help me remember complex tasks or lists.

When I was working at Twitter, it was all about encouraging people to ‘BRIM’ in the face of online abuse, depending on their situation. That is, to ‘Block, Report, Ignore or Mute.’

Here at the eSafety Office, we are giving a lot of thought to the critical skills young Australians need to help navigate the online world more safely. Ultimately, these come back to some fundamental values that we all need to practise in the offline world too.  We have developed the Young & eSafe platform to do just that. Here is a rundown on the revamped 4 Rs and why we believe they are imperative for people—both young and mature—to possess.

Respect—the Golden Rule to “treat others how you would like to be treated” might seem overly simplistic, we need to be reinforcing this mantra across all lines of communication—online and offline—and it should underpin our every interaction. Not only should young people treat others with respect, they need to respect themselves and know and understand that their digital footprint should always be a positive and realistic reflection of themselves.

Responsibility—this should be taught from the first swipe of the iPad! We need to constantly remind young people that they are the most tech savvy generation to date and they have a responsibility to shape the online world positively for generations to come. Let them know they can be the difference between a positive or negative online experience. Instil them with confidence to be vigilant both online and offline and inspire them to take a stand and be the right kind of digital influencer.

Reasoning—it can often be difficult for young people to step back and process whether information they see online is credible or true. Whether it’s an out of character Snap, shady advertising on Insta, or an outlandish tweet trending on Twitter, it’s crucial that young people stop and question. As AI and machine learning technologies continue to advance, it will only become more difficult for young people – not to mention, adults - to discern what is real and what is not. This is why it’s imperative to cultivate these critical reasoning skills now, so they’re able to call out the bad stuff (and shout out the good stuff!).

Resilience—unfortunately, young people are bound to witness or experience nasty comments and may come across confronting or inappropriate content online. Blocking or limiting their access is not going to build the strength and resolve they need to withstand this potential online onslaught.  In the analogue age, we weren’t coddled quite so much as our parents knew that the online way we could cope in the real world was to fall down, brush ourselves off, learn from our mistakes and move on.. We need to provide kids with solution-focused coping strategies to ensure they can bounce back from tough situations—online and offline.  

We all have a part to play in leading the way for our youth—we ourselves need to model good behaviour in order for them to effectively develop the 4 Rs of online safety.  But we also need to give young people a voice so they feel empowered to continue these important online safety conversations among their peers, to create a strong culture of mutual respect where bad behaviour in not tolerated.

Young & eSafe is an initiative of the Office of the eSafety Commissioner. The platform was developed by young people for young people to empower the next generation to challenge the haters and fakers online.