Here's what I learned when Facebook flew me to the USA

Posted on March 6, 2017 by Rosie Thomas

What happens when you throw 75 experts from 18 countries in the one room to thrash out the biggest challenges keeping young people safe online?


Harry Potter saying "I love magic"

The event? Facebook’s Global Safety Network Summit, a day-long series of conversations around building safety and compassion online. Being a massive #cybersafetygeek, I was pretty pumped to be there!

Spending time in Washington D.C. I couldn’t help but feel like the vision we dreamed up over ten years ago, when we started PROJECT ROCKIT, has never been more relevant:

A world where kindness and respect thrive over bullying, hate and prejudice and all young people are free to realise their potential.

Our goal at PROJECT ROCKIT is to create spaces – on and offline – where all young people have access to respect, acceptance, creative expression and real social leadership.

But how do we help young people to build resilience in a digital world?

Panel of cyber safety experts speaking to an audience

Emily Frith (Director of Mental Health at the Education Policy Institute), Me, Rick Fernandes (Executive Director of the Fred Rogers Center), Dr Sameer Hinduja (Co-Director of the Cyberbullying Research Center) and Caroline Millin (Facebook Safety Policy Programs lead across Europe, Middle East and Africa)

This was the question that my fellow panelists and I were tasked with. Here’s how it went.

There is no shortage of literature around fostering resilience and wellbeing in young people so instead I want to share with you three ideas that I think don’t get enough airtime in the digital age.

So, how does PROJECT ROCKIT build resilience and wellbeing in young people?

  1. Build Character
    Let’s help young people identify who they are not what they are. The goal of wellbeing isn’t to be stable, it’s to be well, really well. Having a strong and positive understanding of who you are and what you stand for is so important when developing resilience in young people.HOW CAN WE EXPECT YOUNG PEOPLE TO STAND UP IF THEY DON’T KNOW WHAT THEY STAND FOR? 
    When we have a positive view of ourselves and a sense of duty, we’re more likely to bounce back. It might be helpful to start the conversation here.
  2. Allow young people to fail.
    Historically, young people have developed resilience offline by failing. I mean, that’s how we develop our elasticity and bounce-back skills, right? Through risk and practice?
    But for so many grown-ups, the digital space is wrapped up in so much fear and apprehension that young people don’t have room to fail.Young people report back to us that when grown-ups talk about social media, there’s a lot of messages around “fear and shame”.  Maybe we need to stop telling young people that “you can never make a mistake online, because it will be there FOR-E-VER! The young people we work with say:“ADULTS WANT US TO BE RESILIENT BUT HOW CAN WE LEARN HOW TO BOUNCE BACK IF WE’RE NOT ALLOWED TO STUFF UP?”

    At PROJECT ROCKIT we practice failure with young people in a controlled, safe workshop environment so they’re prepared with the skills to act if nasty stuff really does go down.

  3. When it comes to resilience, social media is not the enemy
    For so many of the students we work with, particularly marginalised youth in regional and remote parts of Australia, social media can be the glue that connects them to their community.
    This is particularly true for our young LGBTIQ P-ROCKers who tell us that without social media they would otherwise feel isolated, like they are all alone.We see that when the community attitudes towards social media are negative it tends to lead to social exclusion and a fragility in young people. On the other hand, when community attitudes towards social media are positive, it tends to lead to social inclusion, self esteem and empowerment.

It was a great honour working side-by-side so many inspiring individuals and organisations. I am in awe of the incredible work of those at the coal face. Those who are exposed to the darkest cavities of humanity.

Take the National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children who work tirelessly to help find missing children, reduce child sexual exploitation, and prevent child victimization.

And then there’s the Tyler Clementi Foundation, an organisation set up in memory of the smart and talented Tyler, who at 18 years old ended his life due to the cruelty and humiliation he experienced online.

These people are my heroes. A big thank you to the people behind the screens; the team at Facebook. The engineers, researchers, academics and safety experts that devote their professional lives to make the digital space a safer and kinder world for all of us. Thanks so much for having us! 💪🏽

And yep, we do believe that kindness and respect Trumps bullying, hate and prejudice.