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Cybersafety issues affecting children and young people

CHAIR (Senator Wortley) —I now declare open this public hearing of the Joint Select Committee on Cyber-Safety and on behalf of the committee express our thanks to all of the witnesses for being available today. Although the committee does not require you to give evidence under oath, I should advise you that this hearing is a legal proceeding of the parliament and warrants the same respect as proceedings of the House and the Senate. The giving of false or misleading evidence is a serious matter and may be regarded as a contempt of parliament. Do you wish to make any introductory remarks before we proceed to questions? Perhaps we can start with Ms Noon.

Ms Noon —We at beyondblue work in every state and territory of Australia. It is our mission to work with people who have depression and anxiety. It is our 10th year of operation. We have five priorities which include community awareness of depression and anxiety, destigmatisation, targeted research, working with consumers and carers, working with the primary care sector and, very importantly, early intervention and prevention. Cybersafety is a very important issue. Young people have the right to feel safe in any environment in which they live, work and reside, and that includes the school environment, the home environment and, of course, the environments they find online. Young people experience online space differently than perhaps earlier generations. Young people see their home and their schools and the online space as more fluid than perhaps those of us who may be slightly over 25. This potentially creates a great deal of opportunity for us to move forward in ways in which we can access young people when they seek help. As an example, beyondblue has a great website called where we have online forums that are fully moderated and young people can talk about their experiences, including their experiences of depression and anxiety. This potentially creates a risk for young people. The fluidity of technology allows young people to have a space of risk they perhaps have not had in the past. That provides a responsibility for us all as Australians to keep young people safe in this space.

One of the things we know about bullying more broadly—and there is the new definition of bullying, cyberbullying—is that bullying has a dramatic effect on young people’s sense of self and their self-worth. We know that young people who experience bullying often have drops in self-esteem, and those drops in self-esteem have long-term effects on their well-being. That potentially includes increased effects of depression and anxiety, and the clinical effects of those, but it also affects how those young people engage vocationally, educationally, emotionally, socially and developmentally. All those things are impacted by lowered levels of self-esteem. Low self-esteem has an impact on not only increased rates of depression and anxiety but also help-seeking behaviour. If bullying links to low self-esteem and low self-esteem links to depression and anxiety, we also potentially see an impact on how young people seek help and how they feel when help is available. That is a key issue within all of this. Not only are we seeing young people who are potentially at a great deal of risk, and where we are seeing actual clinical effects because of this risk, but also we are seeing a potential lower level of help-seeking. That is all based on a long history of research in the bullying space, which can now be applied to the cybersafety side as well.

beyondblue is doing a range of things to address these issues. We have lots of fantastic programs that run within the school environment, including a news program called Sensibility, which works on the core senses of self and resilience. We also have a program called KidsMatter, which works in both early childhood and the primary school years. As I mentioned before, we have our website and a range of fact sheets for young people and information that they can access. We work with other community partners to put out those sorts of resources, such as the Streetsmart resource that is available to most year 11 students across Australia. We also work with the Red Frogs who do work with transitioning young people. You might have heard about them and what they have been doing at schoolies recently. We work with other programs such as performance programs that are about building community. They include the Wakakirri program and the Rock Eisteddfod Challenge program.

CHAIR —Thank you very much for that.

Miss Vennus —What the Stride Foundation put together for the inquiry focused on our cyberbullying program, which explores ways to support a change in the culture to reduce the incidences and harmful effects of cyberbullying. Our CyberS@vvy program is one of eight that we run throughout schools. The Stride Foundation is a not-for-profit organisation that has been running student wellbeing programs across Victoria for the past 25 years and, further than that, for the past 40 years in New South Wales. It was started as a peer-support foundation. We take on the cultural change of schools. We look at what issues students are facing and how we can give them the tools, education and skills to work with those specific issues and work together as a whole for cultural change in the school.

We have believed, right from the inception of our CyberS@vvy program, that, in order to support schools to change their culture and reduce the harmful effects and incidences of cyberbullying, we need to take a whole-school approach involving students, parents and the wider school community. As I said, we have been running these preventative programs. So we look at it before it becomes a massive issue. We work at the level of a whole year, the whole school and whole class groups so that we can give them the skills so that once things happen they have already got the ability to work through it and the understanding and skills to get through that.

We reach far and wide across Australia, whether up in Broome or Beagle Bay, Coober Pedy or Marree, Mount Isa or Doomadgee. We are going to all capital cities but also to very regional and remote communities and running such programs. I have personally delivered the student and teacher programs Australia-wide for the past five years and previously was a secondary school teacher, so I have an understanding of the school system and what students and teachers are going through currently when it comes to cyber programs and cybersafety.

A big part of the focus is on empowering the students, to give them the skills and knowledge to create change. That is why we have also incorporated our CyberS@vvy program into our MPower Girls, an antibullying program, and Revved Up, which is an antibullying program for boys, and also into our peer-support program. So the CyberS@vvy program is included in those three programs as a whole-school antibullying policy. So we are not just looking at it as a stand-alone program; it is incorporated throughout our other programs.

A point of difference for us compared to other organisations that are running cyberbullying programs is that we focus on the behaviours surrounding the technology. We are not analysing the technology and what is out there and what is happening but how we use it, what we are doing online and what the students and young people are using it for. So it is giving them the behaviours and the skills to work through those. The four key things that we look at in our CyberS@vvy program are: understanding the lack of empathy, looking at how digital footprints work and how students and perpetrators can be traced, what the legal penalties are, and serious issues and how to refer them on to a trusted adult.

As was said by Michelle earlier, young people have been born into the technology—it is a part of their world. As the previous generation we generally have to learn a lot of this; we need to pass on that knowledge, because a lot of the young people are not aware of legal penalties and of how they actually can be traced out there. Our programs are very interactive. They are activity and discussion based and involve quite comprehensive debriefs on all the key areas that we focus on.

We have had our programs endorsed by two key people in the student wellbeing field: Robyn Treyvaud, who is the director of Cybersafe World, and also Andrew Fuller, who is a member of our board and also the creator of Cyber Doctors.

We strongly believe that parents also need to be involved in this whole culture change on cybersafety in our community. We also present parent information evenings, giving the same message to the parents that we are giving in our open forum and to teachers in professional development, and the same message as we are giving the students in their workshops. So far we have reached almost 34,000 students Australia-wide with our CyberS@vvy program through all our other programs.

In closing, I will just say that we need to work together, and that is what we focus on in our programs: bringing all the areas together so that we can be consistent and are all hearing the same messages, and so that our young people particularly are learning the skills to change their behaviours to reflect the cultural change. Thank you.

CHAIR —Thank you very much. Ms Oliver, would you like to come in here?

Ms Oliver —We are actually going to do a joint summary.

Ms Limbrick —Obviously you have read our submission. There were three key things that we just wanted to highlight that we have learnt through this particular lens. Berry Street is a child and family welfare organisation and we have been operating in Victoria for 138 years. Through some funding from the Telstra Foundation we, in partnership with Victorian Office of the Child Safety Commissioner and the Department of Human Services, set up a project called Be Net Wise, and Lauren has been the lead project manager on that project. So it is really through that lens that we have come in contact with cybersafety, in particular through vulnerable children and young people—those who are living in out-of-home care and are engaged in alternative education.

When we set out to start the project, we had about six key aims around raising awareness about technology, the value of technology for these particular children and young people and the importance of safety online for vulnerable children offline. We also wanted to increase the access. Typically children in out-of-home care have less access to technology than their peers who are not in out-of-home care, and we see technology as a valuable tool for connecting socially isolated young people with their community and with their families. We have lots of evidence of kids using Skype and things to make contact with their family. We wanted to increase the options around e-learning for vulnerable learners—children and young people who have been excluded from the mainstream and perhaps are not the children who can function well in large classrooms or social settings. The last set of aims was really around the staff and carers who work with these vulnerable young people, increasing both their confidence and their capacity to keep children safe online. So that is what we set out to do. Lauren will give you a bit of an overview of the findings.

Ms Oliver —One of the things that we wanted to particularly start with and have a focus on is that, through our experience with Be NetWise and our experience talking with children and young people—particularly in a sector that has a huge fear factor around engagement with technology when it comes to young people—we see technology as a hugely positive tool, first and foremost, and as an enabler for so many things that the children and young people we work with are otherwise cut off from in so many ways. If we come from a purely human rights perspective, very specifically we have obviously been engaging with the Victorian Charter for Children in Out-Of-Home Care, developed by the Office of the Child Safety Commissioner and by the Department of Human Services a few years ago. Within that there are 16 rights outlined, none of which would not benefit from children having better access to and safe access to technology. There are huge benefits for them around very basic things like accessing opportunities and information, connecting them to their communities and their families, whatever those may look like for them, and providing them with access to life skills, education and employment. Those last ones are probably particularly significant, given that they are areas that children in out-of-home care typically experience huge barriers within. While there are huge challenges in all those areas, we believe that the positive far outweighs the negative and that any approach to cybersafety really should recognise the hugely positive potential around technology and young people engaging with technology.

What we have learnt about children, particularly vulnerable children and young people, in terms of engaging with technology—and this is through consultation with young people and with staff, carers and educators in the sector—is that, whether we are engaging with it or not, children and young people are using technology and they will continue to use technology whether we like it or not. To quote Bernie Geary, who I believe you are hearing from this afternoon, ‘Doing nothing is no longer an option.’ We as a sector cannot sit back and not engage alongside the children and young people that we care for.

We are seeing the risks that we see in the offline world when working with vulnerable children and young people translate into an online world, which further emphasises the need for us to take action. We are working with children and young people affected by trauma and abuse. We know that that quite often means that they do not even know what ‘safe’ looks like, let alone how to actually make themselves safe. That poses all sorts of questions that we feel are very important when you come to talking about cybersafety. We feel that there is a huge priority to support those children and young people to develop protective behaviours. In reality, that is work that we do in their everyday lives anyway, but translating that to an online sphere has been a very challenging conversation for many people. We also know that one size does not fit all. We need a suite of approaches, as we do in our face-to-face interactions with children and young people. We have to develop very individualised responses. That goes as much for cybersafety as it does for the day-to-day work that we do with children and young people. Cybersafety, like building resilience in a child affected by trauma and neglect, is actually more of a journey than just a thing that you do, and it requires that individualised approach and a long-term approach as well.

Ms Limbrick —One of the other areas that I mentioned before for us was exploring through this project the role that staff and carers play in either supporting access or blocking access. We had a bit of a theory, going into the project, that certainly staff’s anxiety and their own lack of confidence, perhaps, in an online environment would be contributing to the lack of access for young people, but we were actually surprised at the level of what we found. Typically, we are talking about residential care workers, volunteer foster carers and social workers and youth workers in a casework support role. Particularly those in a direct care role we found had extremely low knowledge of technology, its uses and opportunities themselves. They had low levels of skill in using the technology. Particularly in a work environment they may be using it because, say, for Berry Street we have an online incident reporting system, so they have to use that every day, but that is about their limit of using the technology. They had low rates of personal use of technology and high levels of fear both for themselves and for the children they are caring for, online.

So we have really found through the project that there is considerable work to be done in building the competence and confidence of the workers who are carrying out an already complex job acting in loco parentis for these kids. They are not just a parent sitting at home deciding whether they are going to have a net nanny on their computer and whether the computer is going to sit in the lounge room; they are the first that will be criticised if Berry Street hits the paper with child pornography access by children. They are the ones who are there every day trying to work with the complexities and the effects of the already significant abuse and trauma and then trying to help these kids lead a positive life. As Lauren said, we are still seeing it as a positive, but the challenges that we face, we think, in the out-of-home care sector are significant and require a lot of energy for us to get around them to be able to deliver the positive outcomes for the kids.

Ms Oliver —Just to confirm quickly, I think something that we have seen echoed in some of the other submissions is the fact that we very much see children and young people as the experts of their own experience. They are therefore, to us, key stakeholders in any approach to cybersafety. One thing that we have developed, I suppose, since writing our submission is a three-pronged approach to cybersafety—I am trying to think of a word other than ‘attacking’ cybersafety—which we have adapted from Common Sense Media, which is a US organisation, taking the concepts of protecting, empowering and educating and working on all three of those areas.

Protection is as much for staff, carers and educators as it is for children and young people. We often hear stories of staff being exposed through social networking interactions with children and young people in ways that cross boundaries that they had no idea how to manage in that sphere, so there is a lot of work to do around protecting them as well as protecting children and young people. For children and young people, for example, there may be rulings in place where they are not meant to have contact with family, but through social networking sites family are approaching them or staying in touch with them where they should not, so it is quite a complex protection process—but also teaching protective behaviour to children and young people.

The empowering side is really about empowering children and young people to be part of that solution, to be the ones who start to recognise what ‘safe’ needs to look like and feel like for them. It is also about empowering staff and carers to feel like they can actually say, ‘What you have just done online is not okay,’ or, ‘The way that you’ve interacted with somebody is not okay.’ It is also that they feel able to then contact the right people to say: ‘This is what’s going on. I don’t know what to do with it.’

In terms of educating, what we really want to see happen is a lot of education around what is positive. What can you do with kids and young people that is positive, that will engage them in a way that is exciting and new and good and that will take them on constructive journeys? But it is also understanding what the challenges are, being aware of those risks whilst you are engaging with the positive side, and recognising where there are new opportunities to get engaged with technology, which, as we know, is changing every five seconds. It is a fast paced world at the moment, and we are trying to help people catch up with it.

CHAIR —Thank you very much, Ms Oliver, Ms Limbrick and everyone for those opening statements. The way I intend to run this is that members of the committee will be given the opportunity to ask a question, which can be directed at any of the people appearing, any of our witnesses. But, if any of the other witnesses would like to add a comment in answer to that question, please feel free to do so. I am happy for members of the committee as well to come in without being called.

I would like to start with an opening question. Miss Vennus, you spoke about awareness about the footprint and about many people not being aware of that and of the legal penalties that apply to that. Do you think that is a significant part of what we need to do in educating young people about their use of social networking sites and the internet generally?

Miss Vennus —Absolutely. My personal experience with facilitating programs in a lot of schools over the last few years is just the lack of awareness of students understanding what can be traced and you do not just hit a delete button and everything is gone but that things can come back. It is not so much for them in bullyings but also there are perpetrators online and people can be found, so it is in a safety way as well as antibullying within the student network itself. So it is giving them the awareness of how things can be traced and how easily, and that was highlighted when we have had major hackers out there who can get all sorts of information. So providing those stories and where people can be traced back to the original source. Also with regard to the penalties, because they think they are anonymous, that no one can find them, that there are no penalties and they are not going to be caught, nothing is going to happen to them. They feel that hiding within the four walls of their bedroom and doing all the things they are doing on the computer that it is okay. So a big part of this awareness is that we often show Let’s fight it together, which is a DVD that ACMA got hold of that we have the rights to, which was originally developed in the United Kingdom. It is a real visual and the kids really respond well to that DVD because it shows what is happening through mobile phones and through the computer and eventually the police come knocking on the door of the school. It is a real wake-up call to students that it does get back to the authorities and they realise that there is a trace there. So we are finding that both of those messages are really important.

CHAIR —You go out to schools and so you would make them aware of that. How do you think that message could be put across to young people, in fact all users, that there are ways that a footprint can be traced and also that that can be used in a positive way in relation to them knowing that?

Miss Vennus —How else can we provide that message?

CHAIR —What do you think could be done to get that message out there? What would be a useful way of having that message out there so that young people and the wider community are aware of that?

Miss Vennus —They need to be aware of the real issues that are happening and how people are getting traced, for their own safety and for understanding and for the education of what the penalties are. So education is through the parents understanding and through the school understanding through a collaborative policy that is working with all areas. We recently worked with a school, Sienna College. They created their policy which I delivered to 400 parents on cyber-safety, just giving them the understanding that their children are born into technology and we are learning what the kids know. So we give the parents this information. Then it went to giving all teachers that information, Then it went to the workshop of the students, giving them the same information. Together those three bodies created their individual school antibullying policy for cyber-safety that initially came from the students and was passed through the parent body, so it is coming from the bottom. We need to empower the students, saying, ‘You know what’s going on, you’re out there, you are seeing it. We’re not seeing it, we’re not getting bullied online.’ As adults we are not getting that. We are hearing it but we do not see it first-hand and the students are seeing it first-hand. So empowering them to deliver the message to their parents or even to the school and spread it out is a part of all of our programs, giving the students that power and I guess that confidence to refer issues on or to pass the message through their peers. If they are keeping secret then the message is not going to get out there. If they are delivering it then everyone will listen, their peers will listen. I think we need to get to the student body and empower them, make them feel important, make them feel like they have the knowledge and that they can give us that knowledge as well.

CHAIR —Do you think it would be worth while having a public advertising campaign on television and radio?

Miss Vennus —Absolutely. Look what we are doing for roads out there. I think it is the same message. We look at cars and we are not taking cars off the road and demonising cars, we are giving education to the people behind the wheel. It is the same with technology: let’s educate the students who are on their mobile phones or behind their computers about their behaviour and what it will do. We are not talking about computers alone and demonising the technology. As Berry Street said, it is an amazing tool and it is changing—it is changing every five seconds. We cannot get into all the specific things that are happening, but we can focus on the behaviours and what we can do to change the behaviours.

CHAIR —Would anyone else like to add to that?

Ms Oliver —I would like to add that one of the things that we have been looking at in terms of a digital footprint is the lack of long-term consequential thinking that many young people have. When we are talking about children and young people who have experienced trauma or abuse or who are engaged in quite chaotic lifestyles, the ability to look beyond today or tomorrow is very limited. That changes the way that we can educate them by saying: ‘If you do this today, this is the outcome for the future. That stays forever.’ Whilst some of them will grasp it, those who are particularly vulnerable really do not get their heads around that very easily. We have also seen a lot of the Let’s Fight it Together film, and one of the pieces of feedback that we had in workshops with staff and carers was: ‘That’s great for our staff and carers, but for those particularly vulnerable children and young people who unfortunately are already engaged with police on a regular basis the threat of the police knocking on your door is not great.’ They are a bit blasé about that.

So we have to come at things from a slightly different angle. This is where empowering the children and young people to play such a big role is important, because they are the ones who can tell us what is important to them. ‘Let’s say that this happens—you do X online and it stays on there forever. What would you be concerned about? What will the consequence be for you? If we really pick it apart, what could that look like?’ That is not just a conversation for us, sitting with a young person; it is a long-term process of talking about consequences and about the impact of your own actions. For us an almost therapeutic approach needs to come into it as well, because it has got to the point where we have heard stories of young people who, when they have been confronted about bullying, say, ‘What does it matter anyway?’ Somebody says, ‘Look, young people have killed themselves partly as a result of being bullied,’ and the young person who was being approached says, ‘That’s what I want to see happen.’ So there is no understanding that in reality, if this happened, it would not be okay. You would not be happy with that result. I guess what I am concerned about from our perspective is that it takes a lot more than a television and radio campaign. I think a media advertising campaign is a fantastic idea, but there also need to be more specific approaches to those with whom those campaigns will just not register.

Ms Noon —Certainly at beyondblue we have had lots of experience creating national advertising campaigns, including those targeted at young people. What we know is that young people are amazing advocates for their own wellbeing. While we often talk about young people being quite problematic and in need of strategies, policies and care, young people are also amazing friends to each other and can be empowered to take care of themselves in a really effective way. That sounds very soft and fuzzy, but I will give you a practical example of how we have used that youth development and youth empowerment model. Youthbeyondblue came up with a campaign called ‘Look, listen, talk, seek help’, and that is shorthand for ‘Look for the signs of depression, listen to your friends’ experiences, talk about what’s going on and seek help together.’

So rather than come from an angle saying, ‘Young people are experiencing incredibly high rates of depression and anxiety—how do we get them to doctors?’ and talking about all of these stats and getting their parents on board, we instead looked at what we knew about young people being amazing advocates for their own wellbeing and being fantastic friends. That is what those messages are about. They are about looking out for one another and taking care of each other. Potentially, that is an angle a cybersafety campaign could take—saying, ‘You are in a position as young people to be great friends and to be there for each other,’ rather than saying, ‘You’re a young person and you’re a bit of trouble—let’s deal with that.’ It is potentially a little bit of a different angle that the campaign could take.

CHAIR —Thank you. Mr Fletcher.

Mr FLETCHER —Miss Vennus, can I start by asking you about your experience with groups of children and young adults as you talk about these issues. Do you talk about the consequences down the track if, for example, an employer sees a photograph or something else on a Facebook profile that might not be favourable?

Miss Vennus —We certainly cover that topic, and we are being asked more and more to do that and address looking down the track, particularly with Facebook and MySpace, the biggest social networking sites. Our students and young people are spending 90 per cent of their time on those social networking sites—the more information and the more chats that they can get involved in, the better. That is their link into their friendships. It is becoming less and less face to face for young people; it is more online. To give them an awareness of what employers see, we say: ‘Go and have a look at your pictures online. What are you writing? What can be traced back to you, maybe not now or next year but in five or 10 years time when you are out in the workforce? What can be seen?’ We are encouraging them to get an adult, maybe not their parent but an adult or perhaps an older sibling, to look over all their sites and have a more mature look at what they are actually putting out there. That is certainly a big part of our program. I guess it comes into the digital footprints as well, checking how things can come up, googling themselves and having an awareness of being out in the bigger world.

Mr FLETCHER —In your work do you do practical exercises?

Miss Vennus —Yes. The two-hour workshop that we are run as a stand-alone program is an interactive, discussion based program where we will give a particular activity, work through the key objective or learning outcome and then create a discussion about what they are learning through that activity. We will do penalties, giving them true or false examples where they stand in different areas, digital footprints where they are doing a bit of a puzzle and physical activities that suit those kinaesthetic kids that want to touch and feel and be involved. So we are learning in different ways and presenting those learning outcomes by different means through the activities. We drive this through debriefs—we are asking them questions and creating specific debriefs from what we are doing, so the program can alter. What we might be facilitating up in Beagle Bay, out of Broome, might be different to the Siena College experience. Our program is extremely adaptable for the specific environment we are working in. We do not have one, set standard. We have the base, but we are certainly adaptable in all areas that we go to for the program.

Mr FLETCHER —Related to that—and I am interested in the perspectives of any of the witnesses—what does privacy mean to a 15-year-old or an 11-year-old? I know what it means to a 45-year-old. When they understand who can see what might be on their Facebook page, does that change behaviour or is that just accepted as part of the condition of using that medium?

Miss Vennus —I think their privacy is what a friend can see, what they want them to see or not. I do not think they are thinking past their friendship group initially or the group that they are working with. I do not think they are thinking, ‘Who is seeing this?’ or ‘Who do we want to see this?’—particularly in that ‘girls world’. From the research and readings we have done, it seems that girls are more likely to use this means and to bully through this means of communication. It is a big reason why we have incorporated it into our empower girls program, which is what that is all about. For them, privacy goes as far as their friendships or as far as their open chat rooms. They are not thinking ‘adults, perpetrators, safety’—and those are the messages we want to get through.

I often provide them with an interesting story, which I get quite a great reaction to, and I will share it with you quickly. A gentleman who works in the cybersafe world looks over Facebook sites just to see what the security is out there. He saw that a young girl had her photo on her Facebook site which was not bad—it was just her profile picture—but it had the name of her school on her uniform and also that what she likes to do is go to the local beach with her two dogs at sunset. So he could see where the school was and where the local beach was, he went down there and, yes, there was a young girl of 12 or 13 with her two dogs running along the beach. So we say to the students that she did not have anything wrong—she had the privacy settings and she did not have any bad photos—but she had the name of her school and enough information there for someone to find her.

That opens young people’s eyes so they think, ‘That’s how easy it is’. That is how easily they can be found, without even doing anything wrong. That is why we talk about having an adult look over the information. I can understand that people from troubled backgrounds may not have that adult or that support network to look over such information. Our Supportive Friends program, which has been running for 17 years now, is a youth suicide initiative that is focused on passing on that information to a friend. The research and the background knowledge we have is that friends, students and young people will go to other young people. Often the first thing I ask a room of students is, ‘What will you say to an adult when they ask “what’s wrong?”‘ Their answer is, ‘Nothing.’ Then I ask, ‘What will you say to a friend who asks you what is wrong?’ They will tell them their life story. They would go to a friend first before anyone else if they have got a problem or an issue, so that is where we need to have that communication, at a support level there.

Ms Oliver —I will just add to that. I spoke recently at the privacy conference in Melbourne, and one of the things that we discussed was that sometimes—at the risk of sounding paranoid—privacy for a 15-year-old is ‘what I can keep hidden from mum and dad and other adults.’ I think that the sharing with friends thing is absolutely key, and also what Michelle was saying about the angle for an advertising campaign is very true. I think it was the research on covert bullying that came out of Edith Cowan University that pointed out that, for the majority of young people who had approached an adult with a cybersafety issue, the problem had got worse or had not changed at all. The more common route for young people is to talk to their friends. I think that privacy has a much broader interpretation amongst friendship groups, but I think it still quite commonly means ‘what I can keep hidden from adults’. Certainly that is relevant for us in the work that we do, because there is very much that thing of trying to operate quite often illegally without the staff and carers in your life realising that that is what you are doing.

Miss Vennus —Just to add to that, the biggest fear for young people is the fear that that technology will be taken away from them if they tell an adult. They fear that they will be banned from it and it will be taken away. That is like removing the right arm of the young person in today’s society. That is the worst thing that can happen.

CHAIR —A number of submissions have said that if you are bullied when you are not on the internet or on a mobile phone, then you are likely to be bullied on social networking sites or when using any of the other technology. So how do you deal with that?

Miss Vennus —The people who do the bullying on the playground are those who also target online. The research that we have done shows that there are a number of different types of bullies, one being the vengeful nerd that we often like to refer to. Quite often it is the ones who are on the receiving end that will go in and, behind closed doors or behind the safety of a mobile phone, retaliate in that way so that they do not have the fear of being exposed. So quite often it is those who are on the receiving end who are likely to bully and return what they are on the receiving end of. We have noticed that is quite a big statistic.

CHAIR —That is in relation to someone who is being bullied then going out and bullying. What happens in a situation—which a number of submissions have put forward—where, if you are bullied in the playground then you are likely to be bullied when you are using the internet?

Ms Noon —Perhaps that relates to the concept of how young people are interacting with the world more broadly. What we know from the research and from what young people tell us is that for a young person today, a digital native, there is no difference between the school playground and the online space. In the same way as all of us here today, the slightly older people, would find talking face to face really beneficial, if you talk to young people, then all being on a teleconference, on Skype or online is similar to the face-to-face experience and how we feel about that. As older people, we might find the face-to-face experience to be far more beneficial.

What we are seeing in that is a complete translation and fluidity from the ‘real world’, as we would call it, to the digital world. But the risk is increased because, with the real world, historically you can leave school, go home and be safe in your bedroom or eat dinner with your family and be okay, but now what we are seeing is the infringement of technology into those lives as well. So you cannot sit at the dinner table and not worry about your phone going off and getting an offensive text message, and that is a very different space to what we have seen previously. It relates to how young people feel about themselves and the world, and the fluidity of that world, I would think.

Miss Vennus —Following on from that, where does it lie? Who is responsible when things can be initiated at school and then flow into the home? Is it the parents? Is it the school? Is it the teachers? Who takes the role of trying to solve the issue? When does it become a home issue? That is where there is a real grey area as to who picks it up. How much can the school go over and look at some of the things that have happened over a weekend or at two o’clock in the morning? Where does that sort of responsibility lie? We find that teachers and parents are at a real loss as to where they jump in and who is responsible.

It is also the nature of cyberbullying that it is over and over again. When we were at school, bullying was face to face. It was a one-off and then it was done, whereas these young people are getting messages, online or on their phone, that they could read 20 or 30 times over the day. It is repetitive cyberbullying which can be constant throughout their lives and which can over time obviously have that effect.

Ms Oliver —There are two areas in terms of a response to the fluidity that we are talking about. One is the preventative work that needs to be done around building protective and respectful behaviour online. That is an ongoing journey to continue to work with young people, as I think people already do in a day-to-day world context. We often talk to kids about respect and responsibility, the rights of others and their own rights et cetera—so bringing that into a digital sphere as well and working on that protective behaviour. But what there needs to be also is a consistent response from all of those different parties to bullying, whether it is online, offline, covert, overt—however you want to look at it.

What we have heard many stories about are the inconsistent responses, where people either do not take it seriously, do not know what to do with it, do not know how to respond to it or do not really understand what it is. What you end up with is children and young people saying, ‘I’m not bothering to talk to you again, because that didn’t work for me there.’ So what we need when working with children and young people is a coherent and cohesive approach from all the different angles, where everybody understands the gravity of something like 24-hour cyberbullying and everybody is able to access the supports and put the response into action so that kids are not left floating, which they are currently.

Senator PRATT —We have been through some of the ways in which the digital environment is different to the personal environment, but for the sake of comprehensiveness I want to see if we really got them all on the table. To start with, there is the generation gap. The other is the pervasiveness and the borderless nature of those interactions—the broadcasting of personal information and I suppose the extent to which people might be slightly more adventurous in what they are likely to say online. What else is missing from that picture?

Ms Noon —Kelly might be able to talk more about this, but I think it is probably the longevity of those interactions, which is something that we have not seen in the past. Something that you do at 15 having an impact on your life at 25, 35 or 45 is quite a different concept—in some ways. Technology is an amazing global tool and it sometimes creates the effect of locality, insulation and community. It is almost like being in a small town.

Senator PRATT —Yes: that idea that a telephone conversation that you or I had at 15 might still be out there somewhere in the online environment.

Miss Vennus —It is not uncommon, when you go into a room of 100, 200 or 300 students and get them to put their hand up for how many people they have as friends on Facebook, to hear ‘600’ or ‘700’. You say, ‘How many of you know every person that is your friend?’ and very rarely do we have a hand up to say they know personally everyone that they have accepted into their friendship. But they also classify people they have never met as close friends. They truly believe they have built up a relationship and a friendship with people who are virtual—whom they have never physically met, whom they have on their Facebook page and who are viewing all their personal information. It is understanding that we form that relationship with people face-to-face whereas they form it online and it is, I guess, just as bonding as what we do in a personal way.

Ms Oliver —I want to harp on the positive again. I think what is missing from that list is the increased access and opportunities that come from technology and also the connections. We talk about friendships but actually it is broader than friendships. For an Indigenous child it may be a connection to culture. It may be a connection to religious and spiritual pursuits. It may be a connection to family in other countries. Whatever that may look like for a child or young person, it is something that in a non-digital world they may have limited or very challenging access to.

Ms Noon —Certainly we see that on our ‘Share your story’ forum on the Youthbeyondblue website. This is a space where young people can interact and talk about their experience of depression and anxiety, often before they have spoken to anybody else in their world. It is other young people whom they do not know who get online and give them the most amazing and inspiring advice. We have that moderated, so this is pre-moderation. Clinicians look at all that content before it goes online and our clinicians always tell us that these young people—and we are talking about people as young as eight in some cases—give the most amazing advice. That is a great way to seek help in an online space and certainly one of the benefits of an online space for young people’s help seeking.

Senator PRATT —Miss Vennus you mentioned Beagle Bay. Have you got a project out there?

Miss Vennus —Yes.

Senator PRATT —I would be interested in hearing a bit about that, particularly as an example of a community where you would have a really significant generation gap in terms of cultural differences.

Miss Vennus —Yes: generational and cultural differences. I spent a bit of time in my childhood in Marree and so was exposed to that cultural difference quite early on, and we have been running programs in Indigenous communities for the last six years. I originally set up what we refer to as Online Dreaming, which was in Coober Pedy, Ceduna and Marree, and that has been constantly ongoing. The idea was to take role models into the communities, set up local coordinators so that the program was sustainable, and then continue that connection through teleconferences—setting them up on websites and blogs so that they were able to keep in touch with their ‘hero’, their role model.

We have been having those programs run very successfully. We are getting into fantastic figures as to how many students are coming along and keeping on board. We are turning their digital awareness and knowledge into short films. They film themselves and then that is put onto websites. In a really positive nature, it is trying to engage them in technology where they can keep in touch with us and their heroes, do some good and have a focus. That then links on to their further education. In a lot of the schools where they are unable to do the subjects of their choice, this gives them the option to further educate themselves. It gives them a re-engagement with the communities.

Our big program in Beagle Bay is that re-engagement for students into the school. We have to get them there, and the technology is getting them into the schools. It is the break over Christmas that we are working on. That is when the crime goes up, that is when the young people are getting bored and that is when we are trying to increase their involvement through the use of technology and activities over that time. That is the big project in Beagle Bay at the moment.

Senator PRATT —In relation to young people’s involvement, you have all expressed it as a key principle and it is certainly one that I endorse, but I am keen to find a way of driving home that point in terms of the evidence base that comes from that. Because of the generation gap, if you do not put young people in the driver’s seat we will simply continue to have things that we have no idea about and that public policy will remain entirely disconnected. Is that a true statement and can you comment on that?

Ms Oliver —I would say definitely. One of the statements we made in our response was that I think today’s digital natives, as we call them, are in a frustrating position because digital immigrants are still running stuff. They are waiting for that bridge to be gapped. So there will come a point when organisations’ programs et cetera are being run by people who have grown up with technology, in which case the conversations may be quite different. But at the moment we are all struggling to kind of make that connection. Absolutely, there is a hugely important role for young people in driving that and for those of us who are digital immigrants to actually just sit back, listen and learn and be the ones who can facilitate conversations like this where young people whom we work with may not have been comfortable writing a response for you guys. But we can take what we have heard from them and bring that to you. There is a hugely important role and I do think there is a huge danger that if we do not involve young people we will use the wrong lens to actually create responses.

Senator PRATT —Perhaps this committee should be doing adolescent online consultations with young people?

Ms Oliver —Yes.

Ms Noon —Maybe you shouldn’t. The reason I say that is I was recently speaking to one of our young consumers who last night met with the Minister for Mental Health and Ageing, Mark Butler. He was talking to me about the use of online space and how he felt that online treatments were not effective. That sentiment was very different from the things I have heard before, to the effect of ‘Our young people love this online stuff; just put it online and they’ll be there.’ He is one voice, but he is a very important voice. He has had an experience of depression and anxiety. He is one of our young ambassadors and does amazing work with us across the country. It struck me as quite interesting and really brought it home to me why it is so important to continue to have these conversations with young people so that we do not immediately rush to make online treatment available just for young people because it makes sense with young people like him, this stuff online and—

Miss Vennus —I would like to add to that. Coming back to our programs, such as group nature and the interactive discussions, sometimes that is the first time when young people will talk about such issues that are going on. If we are putting the programs and the resources online, are they then sitting there again in front of the computer by themselves? Will they be spending that time doing surveys, doing interactive activities online when they have, at the click of a finger, Facebook, MySpace games and all that stuff that they are spending 99 per cent of their time on. Or will they be interactive as a group and expressing their behaviours around the technology and how they can learn the skills to deal with it when it is happening? Will they learn that online? No. Our focus is on being in a group in a face-to-face setting. We strongly believe that that is where it works best.

Senator PRATT —We certainly should have young people giving evidence.

Ms Oliver —Lauren and I work at Berry Street. I think that is where it comes down to the one size does not fit all. I think you will get great input online. Certainly, things like Inspire’s Reach Out is a great testament to where you can get young people giving fabulous input and the work you guys do online as well. But with respect to that face-to-face stuff, particularly when I think about the children and young people we are working with, one issue we are grappling with is the lack of access or lack of ability to do that and low literacy levels et cetera. So if you want a broad spectrum of youth input then you would probably need to take several different approaches.

CHAIR —Please feel free to add your comments to this. There are content service providers, social networking companies, other online companies, mobile phone companies et cetera. A large number of services and products are available. Do you think that the industry is doing enough or is there more that should be done by industry in relation to ensuring safety and appropriately protecting personal information? What is your view on that?

Miss Vennus —I think the industry can always do more. A lot of reading I have done recently shows that various industries are abusing the fact that young people are online and are using it as an advertisement tool—putting their products in the face of a young person because they know that is where they spend the majority of their time. At times it can be an abuse of our young people by putting it in their faces in a very underlying way and they are not aware that they are being subjected to advertising. Various forms of behaviour is coming through that way.

CHAIR —If that is occurring—and you say it is occurring—how should that be addressed? Is it self-regulation or should government intervene? What is your view on that?

Miss Vennus —Government intervention into what is out there and how it is affecting young people, with indirect advertising and indirect messages that they are not aware they are seeing. I believe that there is a need for that.

CHAIR —Do you think self-regulation by the industry—educating industry and having self-regulation—would be effective or should government put in place regulation?

Miss Vennus —By the government.

Ms Limbrick —I am not sure that self-regulation would work in that context because they are driving a different agenda to bring people to their product or have them purchase more. It needs intervention.

Mr FLETCHER —Does anyone have any views about how many of these tools would have been made available if it had been left to government in the first place?

Ms Oliver —When you say ‘tools’, what do you specifically mean?

Mr FLETCHER —We have heard some very interesting views about the importance of these various communication tools to young people. I ask the general question: if it had all been left to government, would these tools have been made available in the first place?

Ms Oliver —That is a controversial question to try and answer.

Mr FLETCHER —In all seriousness, I would be delighted to hear your opinion, but I am not necessarily—

Ms Oliver —This comes back to the concept that cybersafety, like any safety, has to be a whole-community approach. We would find that, whilst industry drives a different agenda, there would be concerned people among them. There needs to be concerned people among industry leaders, because we are talking about their market. There is also a huge role for government. If we leave it entirely up to industry, that is not fair to a certain extent. It is not their role to necessarily protect the community. It would be lovely if they made that a priority, but it is everybody’s role to play a part in this. We can ask industry to be accountable but we cannot ask them to draw all the lines that will make children and young people safe. That has to be the role of parents, teachers, staff, carers, government—everyone who is involved. In this sense, as almost a peak body, the government has a huge role to play in making those conversations happen and asking people to work together to draw some of those lines.

Mr FLETCHER —I will ask a related question. I would like to hear from each of the witnesses about their experience of dealing with young people. Could you give me an estimate of the share of their time, roughly, that you think is spent on different tools, products or technologies. To start the discussion, my very rough estimate—and I stand to be corrected—is that perhaps 50 per cent of their time is on mobiles and texting, 40 per cent is on Facebook and MySpace, and 10 per cent is on Skype—and zero per cent is on email, because only old people use email! I would like everybody’s views on that, and correct me if I pulled those numbers out of the air. Ms Noon, do you have a view?

Ms Noon —I do not know the answer, I am afraid; I do not have the statistics. I know that we can find them; I hope that we can find them. We might find them on the table.

Ms Oliver —From our perspective, it is extremely hard to quantify because, for example, when I have run workshops with young people, one of the questions we ask at the very start is: what is technology for you? When we ask that question of staff, carers and educators, they list pretty much consistently: mobile phones, computers, the internet—you might get MP3 players and games consoles in there. When I ask it of children and young people, we have got as far as trains, medical equipment, cars, bicycles. The interpretation of technology is way broader than when we talk amongst ourselves here. In that sense it is hard to quantify. When we are talking about the children and young people we work with, it is on a huge scale.

I do not know that we would have an average that would be indicative of reality because when we ask young people what they have access to they may give us a relatively comprehensive list. When we dig deeper we find that list includes things of very low quality, not very good access or inconsistent access: ‘I go to the library once a week’ or ‘We go to the cyberBUNKER once a week and we have $5 to spend.’ It is quite difficult to break that down. By far the most important function for them is, as Kelly pointed out, the social networking side of things. That goes for the use of mobile phones and Facebook et cetera.

Miss Vennus —It is Facebook and MySpace that we are constantly seeing. Ninety-nine per cent of times when we go into a room and are running the CyberS@vvy program we ask for hands up of who has a computer, who has internet access, who is using it for Facebook. That show of hands shows us what we are working with each time. All of them have a computer; all of them have a phone. Pretty much 90 per cent are using it for those specific reasons. We often try and get that differentiation between homework time and social time. It is five times the amount. They will spend two or three hours every night when they get home on the computer in social networking.

Bond University’s 2009 survey on children’s participation in cultural and leisure activities reported that of 2.7 million children aged 5 to 14 years 79 per cent are using internet at home as reported as the most common site of internet use followed by school—that is, home 73 per cent; school, 69 per cent. It is saying that they are using the internet at home and that approximately 72,000—that is, three per cent—children have had some kind of personal safety or security problem on the internet and similarly 28,000 through mobile phones. It is happening a lot more through the internet and, as we are seeing with mobile phones, that is accessed through them now anyway. When we say computers and phones, I think that that gap is closing with the use of iPhones that a lot of students have got.

CHAIR —We only have a few minutes left. One area that we have not touched on is identity theft—

Mr FLETCHER —Sorry: can I just finish this line of questioning?

CHAIR —I will give you one minute to finish because we have got five minutes to go and we have to finish.

Mr FLETCHER —I am interested in the economic factors affecting the decisions that children and young people make. My hypothesis would be that for most of them using Facebook on a home computer or a computer in a library has zero marginal costs but using a phone might well involve a cost that they know they are going to have to pay. They are going to see the bill or their parents are going to come in and say, ‘What’s this?’ Any comments on that?

Ms Noon —What we say about technology today is going to be very different in six months. While there could be an affiliated cost today, new phone plans lessen the costs for access to Facebook. I get Facebook for free on my phone as an example. What we are also seeing is a change in technologies. People used to use technology to get information and now they use technology to interact and soon they will be using technology to enable them to interact and work things out. We see that already with iPhone applications. Today I got significantly lost using an iPhone application to find this place, but my point is that that was the way the technology was enabling me, in theory, to interact with the world. We are seeing a shift. I think we really need to try to work to get on that upward wave and work with that and find a space within that to do something really meaningful.

CHAIR —I want to move to identity theft and spend a couple of minutes on that, because it has been raised as a major issue—not so much in relation to identity theft on the issue of credit card type things but in relation to people coming online and saying that they are someone they are not or mobile texting saying that they are someone they are not. How can that be addressed and what is the impact of that?

Miss Vennus —That is a big issue. We are finding that, particularly with girls, a lot of them are sharing passwords with their best friends—and we know that best friends can last a day sometimes—and then their best friend turns around and uses the password to be someone else online. That is happening. We put cyber into our girls’ program because we were noticing massive identity theft to create issues. That is probably the biggest part. Using someone else’s password or Facebook page is a way of hiding. There are even stories of Facebook pages being made up of teachers and students communicating to parents while pretending to be a teacher at the school. We are hearing all sorts of stories. We hear of hate sites and fat people sites being set up and people’s name being put on them. Every day we are finding out something new. There is a different page every day. Identity theft is certainly up there.

CHAIR —I would like to give each of you the opportunity to touch on an area that we have not touched on.

Ms Noon —First of all I would like to thank you for the opportunity to participate today. I guess one thing that has come through is highlighting the importance of involving young people in this process and in any process that is about them. That is a key theme that has come through. That is also key to the work that we all do with young people. There is evidence to suggest—and I am sure we will all tell you this from our experience—that when you involve young people that is when you see the best outcomes. Certainly we have seen that to great effect in the work we have done at beyondblue. I guess that would be my summary.

I suppose one thing that has not come up too much is the impact of these things on young people. Certainly there might be a need for further research in that space—not only what is happening but how that impacts on people and their wellbeing more broadly, whether that is depression, anxiety or other developmental, social or emotional outcomes.

Miss Vennus —I would also like to thank you for giving me the opportunity to be here today. On a personal level we are very passionate about the wellbeing of young people. We need to focus on them as being a big part of the voice in how to work through giving them the messages. It is working with the cultural change. We need to work with schools, young people, parents and industry. We need to get to everyone and we need to pull that together. We need to make it simple. Sometimes, particularly dealing with parents and teachers, it has become very complicated. If we create a simple message that everyone is following and endorsing then I really believe that we will get cultural change and we will reduce the incidence of the harmful effects of cybersafety in our schools and on young people.

Ms Oliver —Thank you also for the opportunity to present today. It has been great to hear from the other witnesses here and fantastic to be given the opportunity to speak like this. This is not a subject that Berry Street gets consulted on very often and it is an exciting area for us. Again, I want to emphasise that the key outcomes of today for me are the involvement of young people and the multipronged approach—that one size will not fit all; that we are not going to come up with one solution that is going to work. Any recommendations that do come out of the inquiry need to take a long-term approach. It is great to have those messages but, if they are around for only a short time, what do the next generation get and how do we make sure that those continue to develop into the future?

I think what has also come out of today for me is the emphasis on the whole community approach—that this is everyone’s responsibility. We all play a role, but there are many other sectors and groups that should be playing a role as well. Obviously, because it is the area that we work in specifically, we would love to see continued regard for those who are particularly vulnerable and for whom these straightforward cybersafety approaches, if there is such a thing, possibly do not have the same meaning and impact. So there is a lot of work and research to be done in that area.

CHAIR —Thank you, Ms Oliver.

Ms Limbrick —I just want to back up everything that the three previous witnesses have spoken about and thank the committee for listening. The main thing I want to refer to is, as Michelle mentioned, the research gap. I think, as we mention in our submission, there is a lot of room for us to look in more detail and in greater numbers than we have been able to to date through our project at the issues around privacy protection; the particular issues for more vulnerable populations, including those with learning and developmental disorders; and how we actually make the positiveness of the technology available and safe for all of those children and young people.

CHAIR —Thank you, Ms Limbrick. Thank you all for attending today. If you have anything further that you would like to add or if you feel like you have left something out, please feel free to forward that to the secretariat. Also the secretariat may contact you seeking further comment on a particular issue should any of the committee members require that—just to let you know. Thanks.

[10.32 am]