Key Risks of Social Media use in Schools pt2 – What students perceive as risky online activities

This blog is 3-2 of 19 in a series on how to implement an Enterprise 2.0 framework  for schools.

The following blog contains key findings on the how teachers, students, and parents view the risks of internet and social media use. The following key findings are reproduced from the Australian Communications and Media Authority

Young Australian’s use of Online Media and associated risks

Key findings: Perceptions of risk and cyber-safety

Perceptions of risk by children and young people may be divided into two areas: general online risks and risks specifically associated with social networking services. The general risks associated with online behaviour include computer viruses from downloaded
material and accidental exposure to graphic or explicit material. Risks identified as specific to social networking include being contacted by a predator, encountering undesirable
behaviour (often via webcams), unwanted dissemination of personal information and cyberbullying.

Of the age groups consulted, children and young teenagers were more inclined to identify contact with a predator as a risk arising from online conduct. This result appeared to be an outcome of parents identifying and discussing this risk with younger children, as well as school cyber-safety educational programs focusing on it. In contrast, older teenagers were more sceptical that there was any real risk of being targeted by a predator, largely due to their not having encountered such a  problem personally during years of using social networking websites.

Girls perceived there were risks associated with being the target of lewd or indecent behaviour (often via webcam) or having their personal material disseminated to unintended recipients. Again, this perception arose from actual experience (or a friend’s experience) of such behaviour.

Cyber-bullying was very much seen as a risk associated with social networking websites such as the profile websites Bebo and MySpace, and thus more of a concern for teenagers. Of this group, girls tended to see the risk as more relevant and immediate, with girls believing they were more likely to experience, or had already experienced cyberbullying.
For older girls, bullying was more related to personal attacks on their appearance, comments about their friends/family or personal information about themselves, than name-calling only. By contrast, boys claimed to have little exposure to cyberbullying, and accordingly did not perceive it to be a real risk.

However, parents believed that offline risks present in childrens’ lives, such as actual face-to-face bullying, exceeded any potential online danger.


When asked about what type of content they had come across online that they didn’t like, children and young people identified violent, pornographic or other sexual material. It was believed that such content could be accessed by pop-ups, downloads, file sharing, or Google images. For children and young people, the perceived consequences of accessing such risky content included contracting computer viruses, getting into trouble with
parents, or exposure to unpleasant or explicit material.

Such material may be found accidentally, or sought purposefully to indulge curiosity or sought to share with friends. Males were more inclined than females to seek graphic or
violent material for their own personal curiosity and to share with friends.


Whilst predator risks are forefront in children and young people’s minds, they are not actively concerned about other risks that may arise from online contact. Those of primary school (8 to 12 years) age are often content with their immediate friendship circles and do not actively seek or desire contact with people they do not know. In comparison, the lifestyle, friendships and curiosity of 13 to 17-year-olds expands at a faster rate through high school years and the fun and freedom that comes with growing up and experimenting tends to outweigh any perceived risks.

Types of potentially risky behaviour that may arise through contact made online included accepting friend invites from people not known offline (especially 15 to 17-year-olds), use of a webcam, and meeting up with people offline that they first met online. The extent to which those surveyed identified they would engage in such behaviour varied according to age and the segment that they belonged to. Cyber-bullying was also identified as a risky behaviour falling into the ‘contact’ category.


Often young people choose to be open and expressive. The option of protecting their privacy online often falls by the wayside in favour of wanting to stand out to others online. Young people may attempt to stand out through expressive profile pages, welcoming attention from the opposite sex, and making or accepting friend requests from those with
similar interests. Purposeful divulgence of personal details such as passwords was commonplace. Sometimes personal information was divulged without an understanding of the potential consequences of disclosure (for example, posting information about going on holiday and not realising that this could give an unintended recipient information about their whereabouts).


About whellmuth

Working with the education software industry to build software with standard arhitectures that allows schools to have extensible and well integrated technologies. Member of Software QLD. Member of Microsoft advisory board on cloud computing. My doctorate specialises in Software Architecture in the Education environment. My Master Research specialised in IT change management.
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One Response to Key Risks of Social Media use in Schools pt2 – What students perceive as risky online activities

  1. Pingback: Key Barriers to the use of Social Media in Schools | Wayne Hellmuth

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