Memorandum submitted by Andrea Millwood
Hargrave and Professor Sonia Livingstone
1.1 Much of the evidence that is available
to submit to this inquiry does not offer firm conclusions about
the potential risk of harm from the Internet, video games and
mobile telephonybut it is directional. That is, it does
show that there may be such risks, particularly to "vulnerable"
1.2 The research shows that some of the
risk derives from the greater range of content, and forms of contact
and conduct, available on the Internet than the public is familiar
with from broadcast and print media. Further, much of the risk
comes from the nature of the delivery mechanisms which offer far
greater accessibility to media contents that were less easy to
find previously, especially by children and young people.
1.3 Our review of the research literature
reveals little published research about these potential harms
as yet, for the delivery platforms and the possibilities of content
manipulation are still too new for the research communityboth
researchers and research fundersto have considered them
in detail. Although the body of rigorous and independently conducted
work is increasing, there is still insufficient to replace anecdotal
claims (regarding, for example, suicide, anorexia or race hate
websites) with good evidence.
1.4 We recommend a risk-based approach to
regulation and policy-making, premised on the precautionary principle,
and combined with other factors such as awareness raising although
the ability of these additional measures (including media literacy)
to help minimise risk have yet to be proven. A risk-based approach
means that the consequences of access to and use of inappropriate
or potentially harmful media content and contact must be understood
as one factor among several putative causes of particular social
harms for particular individuals or groups.
2.1 Sonia Livingstone is a Professor of
Social Psychology in the Department of Media and Communications
at the London School of Economics and Political Science. She is
author or editor of ten books (including Young People and New
Media, Sage 2002) and 100+ academic articles and chapters on media
audiences, children and the Internet, domestic contexts of media
use and media literacy. Having recently directed the research
project, UK Children Go Online, for the ESRC's e-society programme,
her current projects include a 21 country thematic network, EU
Kids Online, for the EC's Safer Internet Plus programme. She serves
on the UK's Home Secretary's Task Force for Child Protection on
the Internet, the DCSF's Ministerial Taskforce for Home Access
to Technology for Children, Ofcom's Media Literacy Research Forum
and, until recently, the Internet Watch Foundation.
2.2 Andrea Millwood Hargrave is an independent
advisor on media regulatory policy and research issues, working
internationally across the communications field. With a keen interest
in the benefits of the new technologies, she is developing a cross-industry
evaluation framework for media literacy projects in the UK. As
former Research Director of the UK's Broadcasting Standards Commission
and the Independent Television Commission, Andrea has published
widely on media content issues, in particular as they relate to
children. With Professor Sonia Livingstone, she published a review
of the research evidence for harm and offence across a variety
of media, currently being updated.
3. FACTUAL INFORMATION
3.1 Much of the evidence submitted here
is drawn from the review of the research evidence for content-related
harm across a variety of media, mentioned above and published
in 2006. This has since been updated, with the focus on children
and young people, in response to a request from Ofcom for information
to be submitted to the Byron Review.
3.2 Nearly 1,000 research items form the
database which has been mainly, but not exclusively, research
from the United Kingdom and the United States of America. It is
primarily, although not exclusively, academic, peer-reviewed research.
A determination was made to look at recent research, and the research
evidence is drawn from 2000 onwards. While much of the policy
focus is on children, the reviewlike the Committee's inquiryis
not limited to children.
3.3 The review was not designed to cover
research evidence for the positive or pro-social benefits of the
media, including the newer technologies that offer both economic
and social opportunities to society. Both Professor Livingstone
and I have written and spoken widely about these, although this
is not the focus of this particular submission.
3.4 It is important also to note that while
there is an increasing body of research on the potential risks
from possibly harmful material carried via the technologies considered
by the inquiry (the Internet, video games and mobile telephony),
much of the research evidence on the possible effects of harmful
content is still focussed on the medium of television, and this
drives many of the research (and policy) discussions of harm from
the newer delivery mechanisms.
3.5 We note that the inquiry is considering
video games in particular, rather than interactive, internet-driven
electronic gaming as a whole. Like television, video games are
one-way and offer no return path. A key defining feature of both
internet-delivered content and mobile telephony is that they offer
such a return path. So whereas the potential for harm from video
games is solely about inappropriate or harmful content, the concerns
that there may be about the Internet and mobile telephony include
inappropriate contact (such as bullying and the other areas outlined
in the notice about the inquiry). Within this submission we look
(briefly) at the research evidence for the risk of potential harm
based on content and then, separately, the risk of potential harm
from inappropriate contact.
3.6 Inappropriate or Potentially Harmful Content
3.6.1 The research literature shows that
young people come across a significant amount of unsolicited sexual
material. In the UK, Ofcom's Media Literacy Audit on children
(2006) noted found that 16% of 8-15-year-olds have come across
"nasty, worrying or frightening" content online. This
finding is repeated in other countries, with higher estimates
in many countries, and with pornographic websites most frequently
3.6.2 It can be argued that there is little
new about the content of online pornography, and the policy concerns
about the effect of such material remain the same in any medium.
However, the change is in the availability of such material offered,
easily accessed, at times more extreme in nature, thus expanding
the market's potential in several ways.
3.6.3 There is little research evidence
that looks at the potential of harm from sites such as the pro-suicide
or pro-eating disorder sites, to name but two. Indeed the research
studies considering sites and forums that deal with suicide or
life-threatening illnesses such as cancer are often in conflictthey
depend on the nature of the sites and, in some cases, they may
offer timely social support to those in need.
3.6.4 Hate speech is another area of concern
on the Internet and through other easily accessed delivery platforms.
The effect of such material on these platforms is not well-documented
and in the USA, such content would be protected (in general) by
the First Amendment, although it is illegal in many others such
as France, Germany, Sweden and Canada.
3.6.5 The limited research that there is
would suggest that these areas fall within the realms of offence
for many research respondents (Leets, 2001), although there are
concerns that they might incite negative behaviour. However the
concernsexpressed by US respondentswere not strong
enough to suggest these should be banned (even if the legal framework
allowed this). We found no research examining the effects of exposure
to such sites by the minority groups (mainly, ethnic minorities)
attacked by them.
3.6.6 In the UK, Livingstone et al (2005)
found that 9% of the sample of 9-19-year-olds they interviewed
had accidentally visited a website hateful to a group of people
and 2% had visited one on purpose. As with online pornography,
half claim not to have been bothered but 27% were disgusted and
16% disliked what they saw. In general, the younger children surveyed
(9-11-year-olds) are less likely to have encountered undesirable
content, but more likely to be upset when they do.
3.6.7 Much of the discussion about video
gamesboth computer and internet-deliveredis concentrated
around the potential for harm from violent content. There is an
increasing body of research evidence which suggests there may
be short-term negative effects, although the criticism of such
research lies in its experimental methodology and sampling (as
with criticism of television) and questions the validity of generalising
such findings to everyday life.
3.6.8 While much of the research (see Anderson
et al, 2007, for example) centres on increases and changes
in hostile emotions, attitudes and behaviour immediately following
game play, there is also a body of research that links the playing
of violent video games to low self-esteem. However, other research
(Durkin, 1995) argues that game playing is generally sociable
rather than solitary, especially on the Internet and may be a
positive socialisation tool.
3.6.9 A number of studies have looked at
excessive video game playing which is likened to an addiction
for a minority of players (Griffiths, 1998). Similarly the ease
of access to gambling has also been discussed, although we have
not considered that in particular in our review of the research.
3.7 Inappropriate or Potentially Harmful Contact
3.7.1 In conducting the update of the research
on the risk of harm from inappropriate contact (ie research published
from 2005 to date), we note that while there has been an increase
in research on the use of social networking sites, this research
has concentrated on the fixed internet, although such sites are
increasingly available on mobile telephony as a delivery platform.
3.7.2 In terms of social networking, the
research evidence shows that the issues of privacy, verifiability
(including age verification) and anonymity is where the key policy
concern should lie. There are a number of studies, both in the
US and in Europe, that show that a significant proportion of young
people communicate with strangers online.
3.7.3 In the UK, a study by CEOP (2006)
suggested that 25% of children and young people have gone on to
meet someone in person that they first "met" online.
The data are not available at this stage, to quantify whatif
anyare the actual harms caused by such meetings, although
there are highly publicised negative events created by such contact.
3.7.4 Similarly a Europe-wide study, the
Mediappro study (2006), noted that while almost half (47%) of
children surveyed say they never talk to people on the Internet
that they do not know, it seems that 1 in 3 do.
3.7.5 The research evidence (though scant,
as yet) also shows that young people post material about themselves
which otherwise would be considered "private". In many
cases they do this knowing how to restrict stranger-access to
such information on their sites, although there is some evidence
suggesting that this may occur because of limitations primarily
in the interface design of the sites used. They also post such
information (including images) as part of the playful and risk-taking
culture of adolescence, rendering wise advice to be careful ineffective
3.7.6 Many of the concerns about the posting
of such information relate to concerns about inappropriate contact,
especially sexual predation, but there is some evidence to show
that many young people have an imperfect understanding of the
way in which the Internet works (the way in which data are cached)
and they do not appreciate the potential long-term consequences
of publishing such information, including for their future employment.
3.7.7 The inquiry also refers to cyber-bullying
(and harassment). Here it is primarily the issues of rapid dissemination
and anonymity that are the concerns. A study by NCH (2005) had
found that 20% of a sample of 11-19-year-olds had been bullied
via text or the Internet or email. While such figures were lower
in the MSN Cyber bullying Report (2006) at 11% of 12-15-year-olds,
most of the sample (74%) had told no-one. As with bullying in
general, it is this inability to report cyber bullying that raises
concerns, children's fear being that their internet access may
then be withdrawn, as well as the difficulty of removing such
material once it is placed on the Internet.
3.7.8 There is as yet, little research evidence
about the harms created by user-generated content.
4.1 We have argued, as a result of this
research review, that to look for simple and direct causal effects
of the media is not appropriate. The research evidence is too
patchyespecially where the new media delivery platforms
are concerned, where it is sometimes non-existent. However we
do argue that the research evidence suggests that the media should
be seen as one of a range of factors that directly, and indirectly
through interactions with each other, combine to explain particular
social phenomena. In our original work we say "In some cases,
this may reduce the focus on the mediafor example, by bringing
into view the many factors that account for present levels of
aggression in society. In other cases, it may increase the focus
on the mediafor example, in understanding the role played
by the Internet in facilitating paedophiles' access to children".
4.2 We recommend this is done by adopting
a risk-based approach, which argues for the likelihood of risk
rather than inevitable harm. The research shows that not all users
of content and delivery platforms are affected equally and many,
it appears, are not affected at all. However the research does
suggest that there can be greater negative influences on those
who are "vulnerable". While there is no standard definition
of "vulnerability", the findings imply vulnerable audiences/users
may include children and young people, especially boys, together
with a range of other groups among the adult population (including
psychologically disturbed individuals, people who are depressed,
sexual offenders, young offenders, etc).
4.3 Similarly, while we note mounting evidence
that internet-based and mobile communication technologies are
being incorporated into practices of bullying, harassment and
other forms of malicious peer-to-peer communication, it is not
yet clear that these technologies are responsible for an increase
in the incidence of such practices. However, the research does
suggest that the combination of convenience and ease of use with
the highly personalised, private and often anonymous conditions
under which these technologies are used may introduce new kinds
of problems for users, as well as exacerbating old ones.
4.4 We also argue against a premise of regulation
that talks of technology-neutral content delivery, as the research
shows that the public does not treat technology as equivalent
and that the domestic and technological conditions of access vary;
these and other factors differentially affect, at least at present,
how people approach and respond to different media.
4.5 Finally while we agree with, and are
fully supportive of, the growing efforts to raise awareness among
parents and children regarding the risks of media use, we note
that there is as yet little evidence that such awareness-raising,
or even parental mediation, is effective in reducing the extent
or nature of risk or, indeed, in affecting how children respond
to risk when encountered. This point may seem counter-intuitive
and we note that, while it seems likely that awareness and increased
media literacy have a positive role to play in the management
of content-related risks, this strategy should not be relied upon,
and more research in this areaand on what works bestis
37 Millwood Hargrave, A, and Livingstone, S. (2006).
Harm and Offence in Media Content. Intellect Press. Back