Page last updated at 18:07 GMT, Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Youngsters help shape cyberspace future

School Reporter Samra speaks to Andrew Flanagan, chief executive of the NSPCC
School Reporter Samra puts her question to Andrew Flanagan, chief executive of the NSPCC

By Samra
School Reporter from Harwich & Dovercourt High School

Cyberspace - the collective title for social media, the internet and augmented reality - is something of an expertise for those of us who have grown up in the computer age.

The 600 delegates at the London Cyberspace Conference whose estimated average age was about 49, had a completely different perspective of the issues facing cyberspace - in comparison to that of the youth. This was despite most having accolades in relevant fields.

However, Minister for Children Tim Loughton indicated great value for the thoughts the young people had to offer, stating: "We are here to protect young people, so surely we need to ask what affects our young people?"

The 21 young people from all over the country represented the youth of today - collectively making up the extremely articulate, assertive and academic Youth Forum.

With representatives from Harwich & Dovercourt High School, the British Youth Council, Raw TV Ltd, Restless Development, Dance 4 Life Change Makers, Beat Bullying, Virgin Pioneers and Childline (all under the guidance of the NSPCC), the forum's aims were to provide innovative ideas, raise concerns and make suggestions on how to improve internet security and the use of social media from their perspective.

Vulnerability and resilience

This would allow delegates to consider a broader range of opinions.

William Stringer, journalist for the Dance 4 Life HIV awareness charity, constantly works with online media.

"The pioneers of the cyber world are us and in order to convey the right message we have to ensure that our mediums can be trusted," he said.

Members of youth forum sitting in a discussion group
Members of the Youth Forum debate internet safety

Developing resilience and identifying risks within the cyberspace community to prevent cyber bullying, fraud and viruses, was touched upon by many delegates and all three topics were the biggest issues faced by the members of the Youth Forum.

Stringer is aware of the "identity risks susceptible to the vulnerable", and feels strongly about protecting them.

Andrew Flanagan, the chief executive of the NSPCC, also knows the importance of protecting vulnerable people from the risks of cyberspace.

Identifying the vulnerable as "the same as those in society," Flanagan made many analogies to the real world. In the case of parental control he suggested that all are vulnerable to attack, "...if you don't have your seat belt on because you're a safe driver, there's still a chance you could be hit".

Young Voices

The Foreign Secretary William Hague proposed £650m to improve cyber-security, seven principles for global internet co-operation, a four-year programme to protect the nation, two future cyberspace conferences in Hungary and the Republic of Korea, and also provided one important quote.

"Behaviour that is unacceptable offline is also unacceptable online, whether it is carried-out by individuals or governments."

William Hague speaking to members of the youth forum
William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, talks to Youth Forum delegates

Despite the optimistic nature of many of the Youth Forum members, the question still arose "will our voice be heard?"

We were summoned to nervously report back to over 150 delegates on our findings.

However, with only around six minutes altogether to report back to the conference - out of around 16 hours that we attended - our opinions were only lightly touched upon.

Clearly the security of cyberspace is dependent on the co-operation of governments and organisations across the globe.

It will also be interesting to see whether the policies that were proposed will be implemented by the time the next conference arrives - and if the Youth Forum has its voice heard.




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