“Then I found out that police had investigated and the boy that I had been talking to was actually a 34-year-old man who had me fooled. I learnt how easy it is for anyone to fake an identity and prey on young girls.”– Peta, featured on SCOPE.
In a tech-savvy world where sharing, liking, posting, poking, tweeting, hashtagging, following, commenting and googling are just part of daily life, few people consider the potential ramifications of social media use until it adversely impacts on their lives.
Being the target of cyber bullying or a victim of unauthorised sharing of a sext (sexually explicit photo) can have a devastating impact on a young person.
In a first for Burnet Institute, two young researchers have created an innovative online hub for young people to access informative advice and real life stories relating to technology, relationships and issues arising from social media.
Dr Megan Lim and Ms Alyce Vella created SCOPE - Social Connectivity, Online Perceptions and Experiences at www.scopeproject.net, facebook.com/scopeaustralia and @SCOPE_AUS through a grant from the Telematics Fund.
SCOPE is aimed primarily at young people aged 15-29 years, especially those living in isolated rural or regional areas, who are seeking reliable information, and also personal insights from young people into issues such as:
“We know from our research that websites are the main source of education about sex among young people but there was a noticeable gap in informed, effective information about these issues,” Dr Lim said.
SCOPE provides evidence-based information and links to resources to underpin the anecdotal, personal stories from young people shared on the site.
Young people are encouraged to share their online experiences through the SCOPE website, but photos and names are changed to protect their identity.
“Some of the stories about their online experiences can be confronting, but they are keen to warn others about the dangers of some online behaviour and its consequences,” Dr Lim said.
For example, two personal stories from ‘Evie’ and ‘Bianca’ on SCOPE’s website discuss online dating and online pornography:
“I have lots of friends who use Tinder and other dating apps and we talk about our fails and triumphs all the time”– Evie.
“In the age of obsession with celebrity, plastic surgery and a lack of comprehensive sex education, I can see why so many of my friends turned to porn to get an understanding about sex” - Bianca
Taking the next step: research
Evaluating the effectiveness of SCOPE through its youth-oriented website, Facebook and Twitter communication channels is the next challenge for Dr Lim and her team.
However, there is a distinct lack of funding opportunities in Australia for this new area of research.
“Ideally, long-term we would like to test if SCOPE has made a difference for young people through conducting some research evaluation surveys and interviewing participants, before and after they have accessed the site,” Dr Lim said.
“It would be a great outcome if SCOPE was eventually integrated into school programs as part of their social media education and awareness initiatives.”
SCOPE can be accessed online at www.scopeproject.net, on Facebook at facebook.com/scopeaustralia and through Twitter @SCOPE_AUS.