Category / Research communication

Conversation article: Children have been interacting in the metaverse for years – what parents need to know about keeping them safe

Professor Andy Phippen writes for The Conversation about the virtual worlds children access, and how parents can support using them safely.

Children have been interacting in the metaverse for years – what parents need to know about keeping them safe

Frame Stock Footage/Shutterstock

Andy Phippen, Bournemouth University

The metaverse sounds like it could be a scary place. Recent headlines have highlighted the dangers to children of the metaverse – a generic term for the range of online virtual worlds, developed by different tech companies, in which users can interact. Children’s charities have raised concerns about its potential for harm.

Recently, Meta – Facebook’s parent company – announced that teenagers would be able to use its VR Horizon Worlds app in North America. In this online environment, users are represented by avatars and spend time in virtual worlds, making use of virtual reality (VR) headsets. Some politicians in the US have already voiced their unease. It is certainly possible that Meta could extend this access to teens elsewhere in the world.

It would be no surprise if parents were concerned about this technology and how it might affect their children. In fact, children are already online in the metaverse – and there are steps parents can take to understand this technology, the risks it may pose, and what they can do.

Avatars and online games

Perhaps the most famous current interactive world aimed at children is Roblox, an online platform that allows users to create avatars, play games, make their own games, and interact with others. Young people play games developed by other users – the most popular is currently Adopt Me!, in which players adopt animals and live with them in a virtual world.

This mix of gameplay, interaction with others, and opportunity for creativity are all reasons Roblox is so popular. While it can be played using VR headsets, the vast majority of interaction takes place using more traditional devices such as phones, tablets and laptops.

Another emerging platform, Zepeto, has a similar model of allowing users to create environments, access “worlds” developed by others, and chat with others within these environments. Some young people will interact solely with their own group of friends in a specific world; other worlds will allow interaction with people they don’t know.

However, there is a rich history of platforms that could be considered, in modern terminology, to be “metaverses”. One is Minecraft, perhaps the most popular platform before Roblox. Launched in 2011, Minecraft is a block-building game which also allows for interaction with other users.

Before Minecraft, there were other platforms such as multiplayer online games Club Penguin (launched 2005) and Moshi Monsters (launched 2008) which, while smaller in scope, still allowed young people to engage with others on online platforms with avatars they created. These games also attracted moral panics at the time.

While new terms such as the metaverse and unfamiliar technology like VR headsets might make us fear these things are new, as with most things in the digital world, they are simply progressions of what has come before.

And on the whole, the risks remain similar. Headsets in VR-based worlds do present new challenges in terms of how immersive the experience is, and how we might monitor what a young person is doing. But otherwise, there is little new in the risks associated with these platforms, which are still based around interactions with others. Children may be exposed to upsetting or harmful language, or they may find themselves interacting with someone who is not who they claim to be.

Parental knowledge

In my work with colleagues on online harms, we often talk about mitigating risk through knowledge. It is important for parents to have conversations with their children, understand the platforms they are using, and research the tools these platforms provide to help reduce the potential risks.

Most provide parental controls and tools to block and report abusive users. Roblox offers a wide range of tools for parents, ranging from being able to restrict who their children play with to monitoring a child’s interactions in a game. Zepeto has similar services.

As a parent, understanding these tools, how to set them up and how to use them is one of the best ways of reducing the risk of upset or harm to your child in these environments.

However, perhaps the most important thing is for parents to make sure their children are comfortable telling them about issues they may have online. If your child is worried or upset by what has happened on one of these platforms, they need to know they can tell you about it without fear of being told off, and that you can help.

It is also best to have regular conversations rather than confrontations. Ask your child’s opinion or thoughts on news stories about the metaverse. If they know you are approachable and understanding about their online lives, they are more likely to talk about them.The Conversation

Andy Phippen, Professor of IT Ethics and Digital Rights, Bournemouth University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Conversation article: Social media now trumps traditional family networks in Libya – my Facebook survey reached 446,000 women

Abier Hamidi writes for The Conversation about her PhD research around HIV awareness in Libya…

Social media now trumps traditional family networks in Libya – my Facebook survey reached 446,000 women

Connected: Facebook is by far the most popular social media platform in Libya with more than six million users.
Prostock-studio via Shutterstock

Abier Hamidi, Bournemouth University

When I told my family and friends I intended to pursue a PhD researching HIV awareness among married women in Libya, my home country, the reaction was not encouraging: “You’d be lucky to even get members of your family to respond,” said one.

They weren’t being unnecessarily pessimistic but rather managing my expectations, considering I was not only researching HIV awareness in a conservative country often perceived oppressive, but I was also looking to recruit women.

Historically, Libyan women have been placed under severe social and cultural constraints that rendered them difficult to reach. Libya is shaped by and works within a patriarchal society where simply approaching women on such a taboo topic as HIV/Aids – which in Libya is often associated with immoral practices such as pre or extra-marital sex, substance abuse and homosexuality – made the research even more complex.

I knew that the lack of confidentiality and the fear of being stigmatised were going to be a problem. So I needed a method that would provide a platform whereby the women can respond to the survey without prying eyes.

This is where the power of online surveys comes in. Using an anonymous, self-completed questionnaire reduces the effect of the topic’s sensitivity and helps reduce people’s fear of the possible social stigma attached to those self-disclosures.

But online surveys have their limitations. In Libya, these include poor telecommunication infrastructure, especially away from the large cities, as well as the high cost of internet access and the relatively poor service there. But the fast-growing smartphone market is encouraging and facilitating internet use in the country. According to the most recent available figures there were 3.14 million internet users in Libya in 2023 – approximately 45.9% of the population.

My questionnaire included five main sections. I asked for some limited demographic information (age, city, educational level, employment status). There were also sections on HIV/Aids related knowledge, responsents’ perceptions of HIV risk, their attitude toward HIV and where they sourced healthcare information. I took particular care to ensure that I was gathering the maximum amount of information while remaining sensitive to Libya’s religious and social contexts.

Armed with approval from the university’s research ethics committee, I sent out a recruitment post with the questionnaire, mainly to family and friends in the Libyan diaspora in the UK and the US. The principle aim of this pilot study was to ensure that the wording, language and questions were understandable and that the mechanics of the survey functioned correctly. Within a month I’d received more than 168 complete questionnaires, which reassured me that sharing the survey with family and friends and asking them to forward the link to their various social and family networks would be the ideal approach for my main research on Libyan women in Libya.

What is ‘wasta’?

Libya has a population of around 7.1 million which is heavily skewed towards large networked tribes and well-established families, meaning the degree of separation across the whole of society is quite small. This has traditionally meant that the best way to get things done is by using these big family or tribal networks. This is known as “wasta”.

Wasta is a common practice of calling on personal connections for assistance. It’s a social norm in most Arab countries, defined by one academic as “a personal exchange system between members of society that is entrenched in the tribal structure of the country”. The concept has been tied to a tribal tradition which obliges those within the group to provide assistance in the same network.

I have a large family in Libya which straddles two different tribes, as well as family friends, so I was confident that wasta was the best approach to take. I sent the link to all the members of my wasta network through WhatsApp and asked them to forward it onto their friends and extended family. I also posted on Twitter and reached out to various Facebook pages. I only needed 323 complete questionnaires and I was confident that method would yield the best response.

Days went by and I only had a handful of responses. Much of the feedback I received from family members was worrying. People said they had exhausted their networks without much success. Clearly, recruitment using wasta wasn’t working. So I decided to fall back on my experiences of working in marketing and created a targeted post, aimed at “women, ages 18-65+ living in Libya, married, divorced, separated and widowed”. In direct contrast to wasta, this didn’t rely on who I know.

Social media has grown massively in popularity as a research tool in recent years. So, bearing in mind that Facebook is the most popular social media platform in Libya, with more than 6 million users, I created a Facebook page with the title, in Arabic: دراسة النساء الليبيات المتزوجات (Research on Libyan married women). I linked in papers I had published in the past (also in Arabic) and the recruitment poster below.

A graphic showing an Arab woman holding a Libyan flag with two young people.
The recruitment poster used by the author in her Facebook recruitment campaign.
Abier Hamidi, Author provided

I launched the post and the response was immediate, with replies and completed questionnaires and supportive comments coming in fairly rapidly to start with. But within a few days the response rate slowed down and still I wasn’t anywhere near my response target. Then I realised my mistake. The initial post targeting women who are married, divorced, separated or widowed hadn’t taken into account that the majority of women didn’t tend to include their marital status on Facebook. This meant I was only reaching a small percentage of my target audience.

I removed the status and the reach shot up. In six months, my post reached 446,906 women in Libya. The stats were impressive: 59,422 engagements, 1,549 reactions and 703 comments. I received more than 1,000 completed questionnaires.

In the end, this showed me that while for certain things, wasta can yield results, for an issue such as this, Libyan women wanted to ensure their anonymity and the confidentiality of their responses. Social media, which doesn’t mandate use of real names or photographs, was able to offer this in a way that extended family and friends, naturally, never could.The Conversation

Abier Hamidi, PhD Candidate, Faculty of Health & Social Sciences, Bournemouth University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Free workshop – Data management basics: Ethical and legal issues in data sharing

Data management is essential to make sure that well-organised, well-documented, high quality and shareable research data can be produced from our research projects.

The free introductory workshops on data management basics are intended for researchers and anyone who wants to learn about research data management.

The first session, scheduled for 4th May 10am – 11.30am: Introduction to data management and sharing, provides an overview of how to manage, document and store research data. This second session focuses on the ethical and legal aspects of data management.

In this free 90-minute online workshop, participants will learn about the relevant legislation, such as data protection legislation and the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). Participants will also learn about strategies that enable them to share research data. This includes carrying out an assessment of disclosure risk, obtaining informed consent, anonymising data and regulating access to enable data to be shared.

There will be time at the end for questions and discussion.

This event is part of our UK Data Service introductory training series: Spring 2023.

Register for this workshop here.

Training opportunity: Engaging with the media for impact – Wednesday 26 April

Explore how working with the media can help to raise the profile of your research and lead to impact in our upcoming workshop – Engaging with the Media for Impact.

This in-person workshop will take place on Talbot Campus from 2pm – 3.30pm on Wednesday 26 April.

Engaging with the media can be a great way to raise your profile and share your research with different audiences, which can increase the reach and potential impact of your work.

Take away practical tips on talking to journalists, tracking the impact of media coverage and finding the best ways to reach your target audiences. 

This session is open to all academic staff who are interested in engaging with the media – no previous experience is necessary.

This workshop is taking place as part of the Research and Knowledge Exchange Development Framework (RKEDF) and will be facilitated by Nathaniel Hobby (Senior Communications Manager, M&C) and Emma Matthews (Research Communications Adviser, RDS)

Book your place

BU researchers: We need your help!

Please help to develop BU policies and initiatives relating to research at BU by completing the  BU Vitae CEDARS survey 2023 (Culture, Employment and Development in Academic Research survey)*.

This is an important survey as it benchmarks BU against the rest of the sector. It will, therefore, help us to identify where we are excelling and where there is room for improvement.

Participating in this study will also influencepolicy. Your input will help us to understand where to focus our efforts and resources – it will give us the data to make the argument for you. (The results of the previous PIRLS and CROS surveys that CEDARS has replaced were used to develop new policies and initiatives, as well as training and development opportunities).

Please complete the CEDARS survey if you are research-active (whether on a full-time, part-time or part-time hourly paid contract). This includes researchers at all stages in your career, those who manage researchers, or are Principal Investigators, or contribute to research by providing professional services for researchers, (i.e. researcher developers, research officers or technical staff).

The survey is running from 20th March to 21st April. Your responses will be anonymous; you will not be identified or identifiable in any published results. It will take approximately 20 minutes to complete the survey. BU Vitae CEDARS survey 2023

If you have any questions regarding the survey, please email Rachel Arnold: rarnold@bournemouth.ac.uk

 

Thank you, the Research Development and Support Team

*CEDARS is a national survey that explores the views and experiences of researchers and those supporting researchers across the UK. It is based on the Concordat to Support the Career Development of Researchers, which aims to create the best culture for researchers to thrive. This survey replaces the previous CROS and PIRLS surveys.

Please find more information here on the ‘Concordat to Support the Careers of Researchers’ and what BU is doing to support researchers.

FHSS PGR Conference – extension to deadline of abstract submission

We are pleased to announce a one-week extension to the date for submission of abstracts, for the inaugural FHSS PGR Conference, which is being held on Tuesday 6th June from 09:30-13:30, in BGB.

 

The revised abstract submission date is Friday 21st April

 

We welcome abstracts for presentations or posters, from all PGRs in FHSS, no matter what stage of your studies you are at, focusing on the conference theme of ‘doing postgraduate research in health and social care’.  Do get in touch with the conference committee at FHSSPGRConferenceCommittee@live.bournemouth.ac.uk if you are unsure and want to discuss your ideas before submitting an abstract.

 

Don’t forget that we welcome the submission of posters that you have presented elsewhere over the last year – please submit a brief abstract, as outlined below.

 

You can submit your abstract by scanning the QR code, or following this link (https://forms.office.com/e/RK7uhNc7LT)

 

Best wishes

Tanya (on behalf of the conference committee)

Conversation article: Why children don’t talk to adults about the problems they encounter online

Professor Andy Phippen writes for The Conversation about young people’s social media use and wellbeing…

Why children don’t talk to adults about the problems they encounter online

iSOMBOON/Shutterstock

Andy Phippen, Bournemouth University

“I don’t listen to adults when it comes to this sort of thing”, a 17-year-old told me.

We were discussing how digital technology affects his life, as part of a long-term project in the west of England that I carried out with colleagues to explore young people’s mental health – including the impact of digital technology on their emotional wellbeing.

There is a widespread perception that being online is bad for young people’s mental health. But when we began the project, we quickly realised that there was very little evidence to back this up. The few in-depth studies around social media use and children’s mental health state that impacts are small and it is difficult to draw clear conclusions.

We wanted to find out if and how young people’s wellbeing was actually being affected in order to produce resources to help them. We talked to around 1,000 young people as part of our project. What we found was that there was a disconnect between what young people were worried about when it came to their online lives, and the worries their parents and other adults had.

One of the things young people told us was that adults tended to talk down to them about online harms, and had a tendency to “freak out” about these issues. Young people told us that adults’ views about online harms rarely reflected their own. They felt frustrated that they were being told what was harmful, rather than being asked what their experiences were.

Common concerns

The concerns the young people told us they had included bullying and other forms of online conflict. They were afraid of missing out on both online group interactions and real-life experiences others were showing in their social media posts. They worried that their posts were not getting as many likes as someone else’s.

But these concerns are rarely reflected in the media presentation of the harsher side of online harms. This has a tendency to explore the criminal side of online abuse, such as grooming, the prevalence of online pornography. It also tends to describe social media use in similar language to that used to talk about addiction.

It is no surprise, therefore, that parents might approach conversations with young people with excessive concern and an assumption their children are being approached by predators or are accessing harmful or illegal content.

Mother trying to talk to her daughter who is on tablet with headphones
Young people and their parents’ concerns about online safety may not match up.
George Rudy/Shutterstock

We have run a survey with young people for several years on their online experiences. Our latest analysis was based on 8,223 responses. One of the questions we ask is: “Have you ever been upset by something that has happened online?”. While there are differences between age groups, we found the percentage of those young people who say “yes” is around 30%. Or, to put it another way, more than two-thirds of the young people surveyed had never had an upsetting experience online.

Meanwhile, the online experiences reported by the 30% who reported being upset often didn’t tally with the extreme cases reporting in the media. Our analysis of responses showed that this upset is far more likely to come from abusive comments by peers and news stories about current affairs.

This disconnect means that young people are reluctant to talk to adults about their concerns. They are afraid of being told off, that the adult will overreact, or that talking to an adult might make the issue worse. The adults they might turn to need to make it clear this won’t happen and that they can help.

How to help

There are three things that young people have consistently told us over the duration of the project, and in our previous work, that adults can do to help. They are: listen and understand – don’t judge.

Conversations are important, as is showing an interest in young people’s online lives. However, those conversations do not have to be confrontational. If a media story about young people and online harms causes parents concern or alarm, the conversation does not have to start with: “Do you do this?” This can result in a defensive response and the conversation being shut down. It would be far better to introduce the topic with: “Have you seen this story? What do you think of this?”

Working in partnership with others, such as schools, is also important. If a parent has concerns, having a conversation with tutors can be a useful way of supporting the young person. The tutor might also be aware that the young person is not acting like themselves, or might have noticed changes in group dynamics among their peer group.

But, even if they are not aware of anything, raising concerns with them – and discussing from where those concerns arise – will mean both parents and school are focused in the same direction. It is important that young people receive both consistent messages and support. And schools will also be able to link up with other support services if they are needed.

Ultimately, we want young people to feel confident that they can ask for help and receive it. This is particularly important, because if they do not feel they can ask for help, it is far less likely the issue they are facing will be resolved – and there is a chance things might become worse without support.The Conversation

Andy Phippen, Professor of IT Ethics and Digital Rights, Bournemouth University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

BU signs up to Jisc agreement with the American Psychological Association

BU authors can now publish OA for free in select journals with American Psychological Association. Read on to find out more!

Authors affiliated with UK institutions participating in APA’s Jisc agreement may publish open access in hybrid journals published by APA at no cost to the author, provided that:

  • The article’s corresponding author is affiliated with a participating institution’s UK campus.
  • The article is accepted after August 1, 2022.
  • The article is an original peer-reviewed research article or review article.

All articles under this agreement will be published under the CC-BY copyright license. Upon publication, articles will be made immediately open access.

You can find further information on how to submit an article for consideration and other key information, such as maximum number of articles, here.

As a reminder, BU holds a number of agreements with key publishers, many of which allow you to publish open access for free. You can read more about them here.

If you have any queries, please contact the Open Access team.

Dr Yutaka Matsubayashi receives Academy of Medical Sciences (AMS) Springboard Award to support research

Dr Yutaka Matsubayashi has been named as a recipient of the Academy of Medical Sciences (AMS) Springboard Awards – the first time one has been awarded to a Bournemouth University researcher.

More than 40 Springboard Awards, totalling over £4 million, have been awarded to biomedical and health researchers in their first independent post to help launch their careers.

Dr Matsubayashi, a Lecturer in Systems Biology at BU, has received the grant to support his research investigating the mechanisms that orchestrate basement membrane formation – working towards the invention of future therapies.

The basement membrane is a scaffolding structure that supports almost all animal tissues, and the research has possible clinical applications for many medical conditions caused by basement membrane deficiency – such as kidney failure, skin fragility, and brain haemorrhage.

The grant will be used to employ a research assistant, and a network of collaborators inside and beyond Bournemouth University will also support the work.

The Springboard Awards provide up to £125,000 over two years and a personalised package of career support to help biomedical scientists to launch their research careers.

Dr Suzanne Candy, Director of Biomedical Grants & Policy at the Academy of Medical Sciences, said: “Together with our partners, we are fortunate to be able to support this talented group of researchers doing excellent science. Our strategic ambition is to help create an open and progressive research sector. By investing in these individuals and teams, we are broadening the range of people and disciplines engaged in biomedical and health research, across all regions of the UK, and globally.

“We look forward to supporting our award recipients and seeing how their research has a positive impact on the health of people everywhere.”

April Update for (PGR) Researcher Development, Culture and Community

Desk set up with plant, light, note pad, mouse, keyboard and computer screen.

Check out the April e-newsletter.

All ‘monthly update for researcher development, culture and community’ e-newsletters are available in a dedicated content area on the Doctoral College Researcher Development Programme Brightspace unit.

If you have any questions about the e-newsletter or would like to feature content, please contact Natalie [Doctoral College Programme Manager].