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Introducing “Netiquette” to Europe’s youth

Story by
Zeyi Huang

Zeyi Huang

According to a survey carried out by Huawei, teenagers are sick and tired of the bullying and cruel messages they see and receive online, writes ZEYI HUANG, project manager for our SmartBus.

This summer, Huawei completed its latest survey of online behaviour and attitudes among European schoolchildren, aged 11 to 14. The answers they supplied makes fascinating reading.

Perhaps the clearest message the children transmitted was that they are really sick of bullying and mean messages. This was the second most bothersome issue for them, after slow Internet connections and time-wasting online. Yet, ironically, the area they least knew about was “Netiquette”, the unspoken rules of civility for online interactions.

On 1 October, Huawei is launching its new SmartBus for schools, so we thought it would be a good idea to hold some of the SmartBus sessions on Netiquette as a response to the survey’s findings. 

Two SmartBus will be touring Belgium and the Netherlands in October, while another began touring Spain and Portugal on 23 September.  Through them, we are passing on some quick tips to children on the kinds of user-friendly behaviour they should expect to encounter online… and what to avoid.  And, since over 50% said they were unable to find the report button on their favourite website, we will also be showing them how they can report, block or get help when coming up against unsavoury conduct.

Uploading personal data

Another important matter on which we want to engage the children, is what can happen with the personal data they give up to the Internet. Almost two-thirds of the survey respondents admitted posting personal information online, including videos and photos, but the notion of a “digital footprint” was one of the concepts they understood least.

Using group activity to follow the path of a fictional person online, we try to show who might be picking up the information that character is leaving about themselves. The children follow printed messages on slips of paper to follow the path, calling out the message that could be the next step.

So, for example, if I “like” an ad for a product I see online, the marketing company picks it up and integrates into its database; a service provider adds my “like” to its profile of me; my aunt sees that I like the product and worriedly contacts my parents; one of my friends sees it and sends me a link to a similar item. And so on.

The SmartBus sessions are designed around five pillars, based on the needs, concerns and interests expressed by the children in focus groups and from their answers to the questionnaire. These are social sense and sociability; footprint; access to opportunities; rights and responsibilities, and; trust.

Distinguishing what’s fake 

It is this latter element that perhaps causes the most debate. Young people really are incredibly - and in some respects worryingly - trusting. 64 % say they don’t know how to check the credibility of online information; and only one in five are concerned with learning more about sifting real information from fake. Nor do they seem to understand that it is they who are shaping the future Internet.

We need to teach them that trust, like rights and responsibilities, is a two-way street that begins with the way we act online ourselves. A case in point is the large number of respondees, aged 11 to 14, with a profile on WhatsApp, even though WhatsApp is only open to over-16s in the European Union. When creating a social media profile, 61% say they gave a false birth date and 15% have posted false information to impress others.

Online trust is a central theme underpinning most of our activities conducted on the SmartBus. While we make the sessions fun, by working with a magician and through music and art, we leave the children in no doubt as to the dangers of illegal downloads, trojans, bots and the damage they can do, for instance through a webcam.  Our hope, though, is that this highly rewarding work with these youngsters will help shape a responsible class of users of the future Internet.