Youth involvement in a multi-stakeholder approach to online safety

Perspectives and experiences from the ongoing Dialog Internet in Germany

Als Mitglieder in der ECRA-‘Temporary Working Group for Children Youth and Media’ haben Dr. Ulrike Wagner und Niels Brüggen mit einem Beitrag am Panel ‘Youth and Online Safety: Policy Debates and Challenges’ auf der IAMCR-Tagung 2013 mitgewirkt. Im Fokus standen Überlegungen, inwiefern Jugendliche eine active Rolle im Jugendmedienschutz übernehmen können. Grundlage des Beitrags waren die Erfahrungen aus dem Prozess „Dialog Internet“ des BMBFSJ.


Presentation of Dr. Ulrike Wagner and Niels Brüggen at the Joint Panel of IAMCR Audience/CPT on with the ECREA ‘TWG for Children Youth and Media’ on ‘Youth and Online Safety: Policy Debates and Challenges’ (


Youth involvement in a multi-stakeholder approach to online safety: Perspectives and experiences from the ongoing Dialog Internet in Germany.

Presented by Niels Brüggen


“We would like to share some thoughts about the role of young people in addressing online safety and youth protection in the media. What we present today is derived from an ongoing multi-stakeholder process in Germany, the “Dialog Internet”, in which we are involved.

Let’s jump right into the topic and raise the question: What are the opportunities and limitations of an active role of young people in youth protection?

Young people are at the same time included and excluded in the system of youth protection, which is a multipolar field of interests.

·        On the one hand, young people are on an individual level already included in the implementation of youth protection. They have been asserted an active role, as users and also young people are required to take over more responsibility in the avoidance of risk and harm. This is stressed by currently debated regimes of regulation in a more and more diverse and converging media environment.

·        On the other hand, young people experience that their voice is rarely being heard in the process of policy making regarding youth protection online and its implementation. Yet we find that those who are to be protected articulate their voice in new forms. For instance in Germany there had been a debate about violence in video games. Some politicians advocated for a complete ban of violent games, the so called ‘killer games’. Opposing this ban young gamers organized demonstrations, that got well documented online, with slogans like “I do not vote for game killers!". The necessity to argue with the 'end user' of the regulated media is unprecedented in the discussion of youth protection in the media today.


So how can we think further an active role of young people in youth protection and online-safety?

From our point of view, which is media education and education research, three key aspects form a basis to look more closely at opportunities and limitations of an active role of young people in youth protection.


-- Key aspects in the current debate from a media educational perspective


First: Youth protection in the media is also protection of minorities. In Germany, youth protection in the media was not only framed as the protection of minors, but also and in particular as protection of minorities. Central to youth protection in the media was the idea that the well-being of children and adolescents has to be safeguarded. As a fundamental right, this had to be provided especially for those, who grow up in a difficult environment, when for instance parents do not have the capabilities or will to determine which media offers actually do have the potential to do harm or to impair the development of their children.

Second: In youth protection media regulation and preventive measures complement each other. The combination of regulation and user empowerment was supposed to provide the best achievable protection for those who are vulnerable in a multipolar field of interests. Recently peer-to-peer approaches have gotten new attention in the field of youth protection in the media. The idea is to link professional education to the informal processes of media appropriation within the peer groups.

Third: Youth protection implies at least a potential conflict of perspectives of those who want to protect others and those who are to be protected. From the EU kids online reports and similar other research projects we know, that young people do have the wish to be safe online and that they do identify risks in their mediatized lifeworld. From these aspects, at least in some cases, they expect to be safeguarded. At the same time they claim self-dependency and autonomy.
Those who are involved in youth protection and policy making on an institutional level have to work with a set of values and norms, which not necessarily matches with the perspective of young people. With peer-involvement in youth protection, these tensions may become obvious. The question how these tensions are dealt with seems to be crucial for the actual payoff of these measures.

-- Experiences within the multi-stakeholder process “Dialog Internet”


These key aspects are the background with which we’ve gotten involved in the multi-stakeholder process “Dialog Internet”. This process was initiated by the German Federal Ministry of Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth after in 2010 the amendment of the legal basis for youth protection in the media in Germany was stopped with a campaign by internet activists.

In the framework “Dialog Internet” different stakeholders such as the industry, youth welfare agencies, experts and (this is new) popular non-professional prosumers and internet activists are brought together to develop recommendations for a political strategy for the internet regarding children and youth.

Also a number of pilot projects were initiated with the focus on young people. One with the name ‘peer cubed’ is exploring new approaches in youth involvement and chances for participation in the area of youth protection on the internet. The question this project is built around is basically: To what degree can an active role of young people in youth protection be seen as a rather participatory concept compared to merely safe-guarding on an individual level?


In ‘peer cubed’ ten concepts of peer-to-peer measures in the area of youth protection on the internet were selected after an open competitive bidding throughout Germany. These ten proposals received funding for 8 months to implement their concepts. Our institution served with support and conducted the scientific evaluation of the selected projects as an exploratory study on youth involvement in the area of youth protection.


Given the time restrictions I will not go into details about the qualitative research methods we applied. Rather I would like to highlight selected findings and draw some conclusions.


Among other positive effects we found most interestingly that the peer-educators developed a high aspiration to build up their expertise. Their ambition was to be able to discuss with adults at eye level.


Yet the evaluation illustrates some important limitations and challenges.

•       First there is a thematic limitation. The topics the adolescents chose for their peer-to-peer projects were mainly conduct related risks like bullying, conflicts among peers or access control to personal data online. Content related issues like violent or extremist content or pornography were not chosen as topics for their projects. This suggests that from the perspective of the involved adolescents some domains of youth protection seem to be less suitable for peer-to-peer measures than others. In addition, access control to personal data is only a narrow fragment of the issues related to online-privacy today.

•       Second there is a socio-structural limitation. If you bear in mind, that youth protection is intended as protection of vulnerable minorities, then the following fact needs to be considered critically: the peer-to-peer measures with exactly this group of young people have to be characterized with more constraints compared to those projects with well-educated and socio-economically well off young people. This raises the question, which inequalities are reproduced with the implementation of such measures. At least it shows where extra effort is needed to be spent.

•       And third there are specific challenges from which we would like to highlight the potential instrumentalisation of young people for the means of other and at the end commercial interests. This potential instrumentalisation refers to the participatory idea linked to peer-to-peer approaches. Young people should not only work with their peers but also decide on the topics to be addressed and how this is being done. Yet some of the projects did not meet this criterion in full range.
The idea of an active role of young people in youth protection gets corrupted, if they cannot express their perspective but are supposed to adopt and transport a pre-built message to others. An active role of young people should imply that their perspective and the norms guiding youth protection are being openly discussed. But the reality in schools and youth centers sometimes does not leave much time and space for these debates.

In the light of these results it has to be critically assessed to what degree those who are to be protected have to resume an obligation not matching with their perspective.


-- Conclusion

If we get back to the question, what the opportunities and limitations of an active role of young people in youth protection are, we would like to conclude:

Taking young people serious regarding an aspect of their lifeworld, which is relevant to them, is to be valued as an attempt to foster participation of young people.

Yet empowerment and a high motivation in the peer-to-peer measures can only pay off if young people are not confronted with excessive demands.

Therefore, reflecting the limitations and contradictions of youth involvement is an important basis for realistic expectations and sensible policy making in this area. On this basis we need to discuss the reasonable degree of responsibility of young people, media content provides and regulatory bodies in our media saturated society.


Thank you for your attention!       I’ll be happy to answer questions.”



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Niels Brüggen

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Ulrike Wagner

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