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Online Harms in the Offline World

June 6, 2024

The Dual Nature of the Digital Age

In the digital age, the internet has become an integral part of our daily lives, offering countless benefits in communication, education, and entertainment. However, alongside its advantages, the online world also harbors a darker side, where harmful content and behaviors can manifest and seep into offline violent realities. One of the most concerning manifestations of this phenomenon is the connection between online content and offline violence, particularly Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG).

Individual Responsibility and Collective Action

“Becoming greater than ourselves” involves recognising this interconnectedness and taking responsibility to foster a safer, more inclusive digital society. 

While individuals must take steps to protect themselves online, such as securing their profiles and being aware of the signs of online harms, we must think "greater than ourselves." This means implementing protective measures for the most vulnerable, such as stronger legislation and comprehensive support systems.

The Social Switch Project aims to explore the intricate relationship between online harms and offline consequences, focusing on the specific challenges and dangers posed by digital content and their real-world consequences.

Empowering Professionals and Youth

The Social Switch Project has equipped over 2,500 professionals with the tools to address the challenges and opportunities presented by the digital world when working with young people, courtesy of their Online Harms Training. The results speak volumes: 91% of participants have seen a marked increase in their understanding of young people's social media usage, while 88% have heightened their awareness of the safeguarding risks inherent in social media.

Additionally, the project has provided training to over 1,500 young Londoners in social media management. Of these, 79% have successfully transitioned into employment, apprenticeships, or further training, while 20% have completed valuable work experience or internships. The Mayor of London and its Violence Reduction Unit has supported the innovative work of The Social Switch Project since 2019, delivered by Catch22 and Redthread.

“The Social Switch Project has re-focused the traditional online safety training to think more about the experience of young people than the content put before them. It is vital that trusted adults are aware of how young people are being influenced online, and how online behavior feeds into offline society so they can safeguard and support young people now and in the future” says Richard Smith, Operations Manager at The Social Switch Project.

Addressing VAWG

By empowering professionals and trusted adults with the knowledge and skills to identify and address online harms, the project aims to mitigate the risk of such behaviors translating into real-world violence, particularly concerning VAWG. The current proliferation of social media platforms, online forums, and digital communication channels has exponentially increased the dissemination of information and the exchange of ideas. Unfortunately, this interconnectedness has also facilitated the spread of harmful content, including hate speech, violent imagery, misinformation, cyberbullying, and digital misogyny.

The Internet’s Dark Corners

Certain corners of the internet have become breeding grounds for misogynistic ideologies, objectification of women, and glorification of violence against them. From explicit pornography to misogynistic memes and revenge porn, the internet hosts a plethora of content that normalizes and trivializes VAWG, perpetuating harmful stereotypes and attitudes.

The Pervasiveness of VAWG

VAWG is a pervasive global issue that encompasses various forms of physical, sexual, psychological, and economic violence directed at women and girls simply because of their gender. It is rooted in unequal power dynamics and entrenched social norms that perpetuate discrimination and gender-based violence. Despite significant efforts to address VAWG, it remains prevalent in all societies, with the digital realm amplifying its reach and impact. According to Amnesty International, 23% of women surveyed across eight countries said they had experienced online abuse or harassment at least once, including 21% of women polled in the UK (Amnesty International, 2017)

Building a Positive Digital Environment

To create a more positive online world, we need to spread awareness and build skills. Initiatives like The Social Switch Project, which emphasizes peer-to-peer education and digital literacy, play a crucial role in this effort. By fostering a culture of collective responsibility, we can work towards a digital environment where the benefits outweigh the harms.

The internet has revolutionised the way we communicate, connect, and access information, but it also presents new challenges and dangers, particularly concerning online harms and their offline consequences. The nexus between online content and offline violence, especially VAWG, underscores the urgent need for collective action to promote a safer and more inclusive digital environment. By addressing the root causes of online harms, fostering digital literacy, and providing support for victims, we can work towards a future where everyone can fully enjoy the benefits of the digital age without fear of violence or harm.

Contact Information:

Kayleigh Milner
Senior Marketing & Events Officer for The Social Switch Project

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