The Digital Youth Panel: honesty, confidentiality and exchanging experiences among young people

In 2023, the Danish Safer Internet Centre organised the Digital Youth Panel with seven group chats where young people discussed, reflected on and responded to different themes related to their online lives. All group chats are text-based and anonymous, which creates high honesty among participants, as their stories are very personal. This setup enables young people to connect, facilitating the group's exchange of advice and support.

Date 2024-02-22 Author Danish Safer Internet Centre Section awareness Topic media literacy/education Audience media specialist, research, policy and decision makers
Shadow of a girl looking at an electronic device

Algorithms

Several group chats focused on social media algorithms, with particular attention to Artificial Intelligence (AI). Although algorithms exist on all platforms, young people are most aware of them on TikTok. They notice that videos on their For You page quickly become similar when they focus on a specific interest for a while. One young chat participant wrote, "You tend to get more of the things you have liked. At one time, I watched many sports on TikTok. Then it was all I got!

However, young people do not see this as a big problem; they know how to change it by watching different content for an hour. 

There was also a discussion regarding how the algorithms sometimes present content that crosses the line. One participant wrote, "If I like something that I found funny, even if it was a joke right on the borderline, it can be uncomfortable to have my entire For You page filled with similar content.

In general, young people believe that algorithms have a useful function in everyday life, especially in entertainment. One participant stated: "The algorithms help me see content I like." The same goes for young people's attitude towards AI, which is seen as a tool. Some reflected on how the police can use AI to fight crime or that it can write exam papers. 
At the same time, young people recognise that artificial intelligence cannot replace human care, although it can "delay" the need a little. If you are lonely, AI can soothe the feeling for a shorter or longer period, but it cannot replace human contact.

When the vulnerability occurs online

In the conversation about algorithms, it also became clear that digital space has a particular function, especially if you are in a bad mood and look for videos with others in a bad mood to feel less alone. One young person wrote: "I follow a Facebook group called 'Group for those of us living with depression.' It can sometimes worsen my mood if I am having an okay day. But conversely, it makes my sad day a little less sad but still sad - if that makes sense."

He also mentioned groupings of videos on TikTok that speak to specific segments, such as "depressed TikTok," where emotions are often the focus. One participant described it: "It's like when there's Lofi music playing, and then suddenly there's a text about something sad, or a video of someone screaming with music overlaid to muffle the scream, if that makes sense."

In this context, we also discussed the algorithm and how it can affect online content. However, there was no indication that the content could generate emotions.  For instance, if you encounter depressing content while being happy, it may not provoke emotions but rather amplify existing ones and, in a way, diminish their significance. One young person said: "At first, it makes me feel more depressed, but just when I start to think they're boring, I start to feel more ok again".

Dialogue and understanding

The conversation delved into strategies for better dialogue with parents about online experiences. When we asked how young people's parents should approach discussions about social media, one participant wrote: "We could sit together and talk about what's going on and that they will listen to me. I might also need solutions" and "That they can let me talk and then nicely ask me." 

Many young people experience challenges finding a balance in their use of digital media because there are so many arenas in life that call for digital tools, such as school lessons. One young person wrote: "I'm 17 now, but we talk about it, and my parents think I use it too much. But it's also hard not to use it because you have to use it all the time.

Some young people also found it difficult to speak about unpleasant online experiences, as it was sometimes hard to know when something was right or wrong in the situation. Sometimes, the reaction comes later. 

One young person wrote: "I've never experienced my pictures being exploited or anything. So, I had an okay relationship with it. At the same time, I find it quite inappropriate that 14-year-olds send nude photos to a guy they barely know."

What is the Digital Youth Panel?

The Digital Youth Panel consists of young people who willingly share their thoughts, feelings, and experiences with us. We are deeply appreciative of their willingness to engage with us. This panel primarily focuses on supporting young individuals who find themselves in vulnerable or exposed positions. It also serves as a platform for those who often feel unheard, whether on a personal level or in the context of broader societal trends.
Within the Digital Youth Panel, we provide a safe and non-judgmental environment where participants can freely express themselves. They can influence our understanding and approach to young people's digital lives. We value both their positive and negative experiences.

If you want to know more about the SIC DK Digital Youth Panel, please contact Signe Sandfeld Hansen at signe@cfdp.dk .

Find out more about Safer Internet Day in Denmark. Alternatively, find more information about the work of the Danish Safer Internet Centre, including their awareness raising, helpline, hotline, and youth participation services – or find similar information for other Safer Internet Centres throughout Europe.    

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