To mark SAFER INTERNET DAY on Tuesday 8 February, we invited youth worker Biz Adams of Fusion Western Sydney to explore how we put our values to work to make the internet a safer place for young people.
How can we make the internet a safer place for young people? It’s an issue as old as the internet itself.
Every parent worries about what their children are exposed to online, where they’re going, and what information they’re giving away.
Cyberbullying is a problem facing young people, schools and parents. Catfishing and predatory behaviour are growing concerns. We’re told to be worried about SnapChat, TikTok, Discord and apps with group chats. This all adds up to a lot.
And with most of us spending more and more time online, we’re asking how we can make the internet a safer space for everyone.
Through the lockdowns, Fusion kept working with vulnerable young people. And we were challenged to take the values of a regular youth centre and make them a reality online.
Why We Moved Online
This was a big shift in thinking for an organisation committed to getting young people away from screens and interacting with peers face-to-face. With social interaction and belonging essential to the mental health of young people, more screen time became vital.
Image: Fusion Western Sydney Online School Holiday Activity
What We Did
We were ready to try a new approach, after already testing ‘safe’ platforms like Facebook and YouTube livestreams, and interactive sessions on Zoom. For our Western Sydney team, this meant doing what Fusion has always done – going to the young people.
An Online Youth Centre
Using our team expertise in Discord, we created a dedicated server called the “Fusion House”. This online “youth centre” became a place where young people could come together to hang out, play games and talk. All this while being supported by a skilled team of youth workers. Just like at an actual youth centre, but online!
In the Fusion House You’ll Find…
- The Family Room – a video and voice channel where we play games and chat.
- The Yardd – we go for walks together in a program called Bush Bantz
- The Art Room – for the Art Program!
- The Minecraft Room – where a group of very passionate gamers, both leaders and young people, explore worlds they’ve built for each other.
- Text Channels – where the young people and team can chat via text, emojis, GIFs and images at any time.
The Most Important Channel – Verify Me
To ensure our Server is a safe space for the young people who join, no one can get in without first being verified. So, forms are signed and we chat to the young person and a parent to ensure they are who they say they are. Only then, can they access any of what has been posted, or get to chat to any of the Fusion House crew.
The Tiny Basement
Each young person gets a private text channel too, where they can chat with the team. This means that if they need to talk, they can either chat by text, or ask to meet in the “Tiny Basement” channel.
Small enough to allow only the young person and two youth workers in at a time, this space is safe from others jumping in or eavesdropping.
Misunderstandings and Disagreements Happen
Keeping a server like this open 24 hours a day has led to incidents, fights, misunderstandings, disagreements, and people being hurt at times. This is just like a real youth centre.
And like a real youth centre, it’s how our team reacts that makes the difference to our Discord Server being a safe or unsafe space. If a young person is treating another badly, they’ll get a time out that limits what they can do. We’ll chat to them privately to see what’s going on and hear them out, while also supporting those who have been made to feel unsafe.
These few incidents have shown us that the young people really value the boundaries and values of the Fusion House. They will step up to challenge their peers, call on help from the team, and welcome people back onto the server for a second, or even third chance. It often creates a moment to have a conversation that everyone can see, about how to do things better next time.
Values in Action
It’s our values of JUSTICE, MERCY, COMPASSION and RESPECT that are lived out in our responses, whether in person or online. Our security measures are important, as are the core values of how we treat each other, even those who make mistakes. And while the internet remains a worrying space, it’s where a lot of life is lived now. So, we’re not opting out anytime soon.
Fusion House makes it possible for us to do what we’ve always done – go to where vulnerable people are and carve out a safe space for them to thrive.
Biz Adams, Youth Worker
If you’re keen to find out more about how to create safe spaces for young people online or offline, we’d love to talk to you. Check out our training options or send us a message and we’ll connect you with your local Fusion centre.
Visit Fusion Western Sydney to find out more about their approach to supporting local young people to find their place and thrive.
If you want to be part of creating safe online environments for young people, visit the Office of the eSafety Commissioner for ideas and resources.