Information, Communication & Society | 07.08.14
Abstract: Intense media and policy focus on issues of online child protection have prompted a resurgence of moral panics about children and adolescents’ Internet use, with frequent confounding of different types of risk and harm and little reference to empirical evidence of actual harm. Meanwhile, within the academic literature, the quantity and quality of studies detailing the risks and opportunities of online activity for children and young people has risen substantially in the past 10 years, but this is also largely focused on risk rather than evidence of harm. Whilst this is understandable given the methodological and ethical challenges of studying Internet-related harms to minors, the very concept of risk is dependent on some prior understanding of harm, meaning that without efforts to study what harms are connected with children’s online experiences, discussions of risk lack a strong foundation. This article makes a key contribution to the field by reviewing available evidence about the scale and scope of online harms from across a range of disciplines and identifying key obstacles in this research area as well as the major policy implications. The findings are based on a review of 148 empirical studies. Results were found in relation to main types of harms: health-related harms as a result of using pro-eating disorder, self-harm or pro-suicide websites; sex-related harms such as Internet-initiated sexual abuse of minors and cyber-bullying.