Risky online behavior ‘almost normalized’ among young people, study says | Internet

Risky and criminal behavior online is in danger of becoming normalized among a generation of young people across the board Europeaccording to EU-funded research which found that one in four 16- to 19-year-olds have trolled someone online and one in three have engaged in digital piracy.

An EU-funded study found evidence of widespread criminal, risky and criminal behavior among the 16-19 age group in nine European countries including the UK.

A survey of 8,000 young people found that one in four have stalked or trolled someone online, one in eight have engaged in online harassment, one in 10 have engaged in hate speech or hacking, one in five have engaged in sexting and one in three have engaged in digital piracy. It also found that four out of 10 have viewed pornography.

Julia Davidson, a co-author of the research and professor of criminology at the University of East London (UEL), said risky and criminal online behavior was becoming almost normalized among a generation of European youth.

“The survey indicates that a large proportion of young people in the EU are involved in some form of cybercrime, to such an extent that the commission of low-level crime online and online risk-taking has become almost normalized,” she said.

Risky and criminal behavior among 16- to 19-year-olds – graph

Davidson, who led the research with her UEL colleague Prof Mary Aiken, said the research findings pointed to more male participation in risky or criminal behaviour, with almost three-quarters of men admitting to some form of cybercrime or online risk-taking compared to 65% of the women.

The study asked young people about 20 types of behavior online, including viewing pornographic material, posting revenge porn, creating self-generated sexual images and posting hate speech.

According to the study’s findings, just under half of the participants engaged in behavior that could be considered criminal in most jurisdictions, such as hacking, sharing intimate images without consent or “money muling” – where someone receives money from a third party and passes it on on, in a practice linked to the proceeds of cybercrime.

The study, conducted by a research agency with previously used sample groups, found that half of 16- to 19-year-olds spent four to seven hours a day online, while nearly four in 10 spent more than eight hours a day online, primarily on phones. It found that the top five platforms among the group were YouTube, Instagram, WhatsApp, TikTok and Snapchat.

The nine countries in the study were the UK, France, Spain, Italy, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, Norway and Romania. The country with the highest rate of what the study calls “cyberdeviancy” – a mix of criminal and non-criminal but risky behavior – was Spain at 75%, followed by Romania, the Netherlands and Germany at around 72%. The UK was at the bottom at 58%.

The investigation was carried out in collaboration with the cybercrime center at Europol, an EU body that works with crime agencies across the economic bloc, and funded by the EU’s Horizon fund. It calls for greater education of young people and parents about what is potentially harmful and risky behavior online.

The results have been published against the backdrop of landmark online regulation in the EU and the UK. In the UK, the Online Safety Bill, which returns to Parliament next week, will create a range of new offences. They include encouraging self harm online and sharing deepfake pornographymeaning images that have been manipulated to look like someone without their consent.

Aiken said: “The online safety legislation is potentially ground-breaking and addresses key issues facing all countries. It could act as a catalyst to hold the tech industry accountable. The bill sets out a number of key measures to protect children and young people; But our findings suggest that there should be more focus on accountability and prevention, particularly in relation to youth online offending.”

The EU has just adopted the Digital Services Act, which requires major online platforms and Google to take action against risks such as cyber violence against women and online harm to children.

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