Forever friends? Negotiating online relationships

Saturday 18 October, 14.00 until 15.30, Frobisher Auditorium 2, Barbican Technological Innovation

Social media is now an indispensable, inescapable part of growing up. But for all the benefits of instant connection and discussion with friends, potentially from across the globe, there are also well-publicised concerns about teen peer pressure on social-media sites. From tragic cases of teenage suicide linked to online forums to the excesses of viral crazes such as Neknominate, the ease of connection and immediacy of expression on social-media sites seem to have changed the way that young people form and develop relationships in the digital age.

But the negative stories are also balanced by positive stories of far-reaching friendship networks, from young people across the globe sharing particular interests (from manga to plane spotting) to sympathy and support when really needed. The story of an11-year-old boy who attempted suicide after being bullied because he was a fan of My Little Pony shows both the worst and best of peer pressure and friendship in a digital age. After news stories about the child’s attempted suicide, other My Little Pony fans (‘Bronies’) rallied round on social media, including raising $48,000 to help with medical bills.

Where does this leave parents and adult authority as young people form hundreds of ‘friendships’ on social-media sites? Where does free expression for teenagers end and adult authority begin in the world of social media? Should parents expect – or want – social-media moderators to sit in loco parentis, watching over their children’s discussions online and stepping in when things get out of hand? As teenagers grow into adulthood in a default digital world, what is the role of parents, social-media sites and wider society in helping them to form relationships that they can take into the adult world?
Watch the debate:

Listen to the debate:


Reg Bailey
chief executive, Mothers’ Union; Independent Reviewer for Government on the commercialisation & sexualisation of Childhood

Mark Birbeck
internet software and big data consultant

Marc Goodchild
co-Founder,; partner, The Little Big Partnership; adviser on digital policies, Children’s Media Foundation

Daniel Lloyd
consumer lawyer; member of the employed bar; co-author, Blackstone's Guide to the Consumer Rights Act 2015 (forthcoming)

Rebecca Newton
chief community & safety officer, Mind Candy Inc.

Dr Shirley Dent
communications specialist (currently working with the British Veterinary Association media team); editor,; author, Radical Blake

Produced by
Dr Shirley Dent communications specialist (currently working with the British Veterinary Association media team); editor,; author, Radical Blake
Recommended readings
Are Online Relationships Healthy For Young People?

Are cyber-relationships the same as flesh-and-blood relationships?

Jim Taylor, Psychology Today, 27 February 2013

“Let’s talk about online relationships” a guide for parents and carers

Children find internet communication and social networking fun and safe most of the time. But things can go wrong. As a parent or carer you can help protect your child by talking together about online relationships.

Anti-Bullying Alliance

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