More than half of children would feel 'lost' if their online identity was deleted

Nearly one in four (38%) of children said it was easier to be themselves online than offline (Getty)

Most young people say they would feel “lost” if their online accounts were taken away, according to research.

More than half (54%) admit they would feel lost, confused, or as if they’d lost a part of themselves, if their online accounts were removed. Over a third (38%) said it was easier to be themselves online than offline, seeing it as a safe space to explore and grow.

The findings come as online platforms face growing pressure to protect vulnerable people online, amid government plans to tackle a wide range of online harms.

Young people’s online experiences a key part of who they are offline: report

A Young Persons’ Charter is to be presented to almost 40 MPs and government officials at Westminster on Tuesday, with a list of requests from young people about making the internet a more inclusive place, such as establishing better protection online and industry accountability.

According to a survey released to coincide with Safer Internet Day, the UK Safer Internet Centre reveals young people’s online experiences are an essential part of who they are offline and help them find their own voice offline.

The research also reveals:

  • Almost half (49%) of young people say that what they do and see online contributes to their identity, making up an essential part of who they are offline

  • 51% have felt better emotionally or less alone because of the internet

  • 46% say they understand other people’s identities better because of things they’ve seen online

  • A quarter of 13 to 17-year-olds say they have been targeted with online hate in the last month because of their sexuality, race, religion, disability or gender identity

The research also shows young people face significant external pressure to present a perfect version of themselves to help them “fit in”.

In addition, the survey shines a light on experiences of disabled young people, 54% of whom said they find it easier to be themselves online than offline.

Almost a third of young people have created more than one account on the same platform, with many doing this to curate their identity in a positive ways. But four in 10 (40%) are doing so in order to change how they are seen online and 36% because someone had been mean to them.

Home secretary Priti Patel said: “Used safely, the internet can play an important role in young people’s development. But social media companies must be held accountable for protecting their users from harms on their platforms, including grooming, hate crime, and terrorist content.

“That is exactly why we are working on legislation to make the UK the safest place in the world to be online.”

Will Gardner OBE, director of the UK Safer Internet Centre, says: “We must help young people on this journey by acknowledging the pressures, challenges and limits the internet also brings. We can do this by listening to them and starting conversations about our online lives.

‘We must acknowledge challenges the internet brings’

“We know talking works. As a result of Safer Internet Day last year, 78% of young people felt more confident about what to do if they were worried about something online.”

Safer Internet Day was set-up to make the internet a more secure environment and this year’s campaign focusing on children and young people.

Here are five things you should do to ensure your children’s lives online are as protected as they are offline.

1. Update your privacy settings

Many social media sites have the default privacy setting as ‘public’, meaning that anyone who searches your name can see everything you’ve recently been up to.

Setting a Twitter account to ‘private’ and changing your Facebook profile to ‘friends only’ only takes a few minutes but ensures you’re not leaving a traceable digital footprint.

Facebook also has an option to remove the your profile from search engines like Google, which means the only way someone can view your account is if you add them as a friend yourself. You can control your Facebook privacy settings by clicking here or also by going to ‘Privacy Checkup’ on your page.

Social media websites also update and change their settings all the time, making it tricky to keep track of what’s visible to whom at any one point.

If you want to edit these settings in one go, use a product like Trend Micro Security, which provides a privacy scan of social networks like Facebook, Google+, Twitter, and LinkedIn at once.

2. Install anti-virus software and firewalls

Most new laptops or computers come with a year’s trial of anti-virus software installed, but if not then it’s definitely worth investing in one. Anti-virus software prevents malicious data from accessing your private information on your accounts, ranging from your email address to passwords or bank details. The best anti-virus software available in 2018 can be found here. If expensive software isn’t an option, check out the best free protection here.

Many people used to think that Apple products were immune from malicious attacks due to the way they were built and the ever-changing hardware programmed into them. However, according to a report from Malwarebytes in August last year, there was a 230% rise in Mac malware in 2017.

Chris Hoffman, of How-To-Geek.com, highlighted the hidden dangers of new viruses infecting popular websites and urged everyone to install some form of virus protection software because even familiar websites can easily become compromised.

“Your computer could be infected just from you visiting a website,” he said. “Even if you only visit websites you trust the website itself could be compromised – something that happens with alarming frequency these days.” Downloading anti-virus software will prevent your browser from opening the webpage if it notices a problem.

3. Only use secure Wi-Fi connections

If you’re waiting around at the airport or in a shopping centre, it can be tempting to join the nearby free Wi-Fi connection to kill some time. But while many of these connections are secure and trustworthy, not all of them are.

The Norton Security 2016 Wi-Fi Risk Report found that 22% of respondents have accessed bank or financial information while using public Wi-Fi, and 58% of people have logged into a personal email account. Logging into a public, unsecured Wi-Fi connection puts all of this information at risk, and makes it far easier to be shared with everyone nearby who’s also connected.

But if you must use public Wi-Fi, download a virtual private network (VPN) to use to access it. A VPN scrambles the data from your phone or laptop before it receives the data on the other end that you’re trying to access. Some VPNs will charge you to download the software, but there are free versions available, like Betternet on the App store, which requires you to watch a quick advert but will connect you securely for free.

4. Use difficult and varied passwords

In 2016, nearly 17% of people safeguarded their accounts with the password “123456”. Others that made the top 10 most common list included “password” and “qwertyuiop”. Data breaches are becoming more and more common globally – an estimated 10 million passwords were made public last year – but can be avoided to an extent by using a strong password. A combination of upper and lower case letters with numbers and special symbols is the best bet to keep your data private.

Ensure that you use different passwords for different accounts, and keep them above at least six characters long. Password managers like Keeper, which come installed on some laptops, are great for creating a personalised, fully scrambled password automatically.

Widespread data breaches of big companies can often result in passwords being shared with hackers. The best result is that you lose access to one of your accounts. At worst, if you use the same password for everything, you could find yourself a victim of identity fraud.

5. Think twice before clicking on email links or attachments

The rise of internet banking has made it more and more common to receive financial communication via email. Things like requesting an appointment or a reminder that your credit card will expire soon may be harmless, but may also just have likely been sent by a third-party pretending to be the bank.

Clicking on the name of the email sender will often show the full email address. Rather than just “Barclays”, for example, it may reveal a random email address – a giveaway sign that the account it has come from is entirely unconnected to your bank. Many bank-related scams target customers in this way, pretending to get you to log into your account for something minimal, but actually re-directing you to an entirely alien website.

Look for spelling errors, links that don’t work or impersonal greetings (like “Dear customer”, instead of “Dear [your name]”) as a first port of call. If you’re not sure whether or not an email is legitimate, try sending a reply. If it’s a fraudulent account then there’s a chance the email might bounce – a big hint that it’s not an authentic request. The safest way to check is to get in contact with the bank or organisation and ask if they’ve emailed you before anything else.


The UK Safer Internet Centre is led by three charities – Childnet, the South West Grid for Learning and the Internet Watch Foundation and aims to create a better online experience for all.

The global theme for Safer Internet Day is “Together for a better internet”, with this year’s UK campaign entitled “Free to be me.”

For more information on Safer Internet Day 2020, please visit: www.saferinternetday.org.uk

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