Emerging Challenges in Digital Safeguarding: The Silencing Effect

2 minute read
By Smoothwall

The rise of technologies like generative AI is transforming the very nature of digital spaces. This ever-changing landscape poses a challenge to DSLs, who are required by KCSIE to understand online threats and protect students from them. With this in mind, Smoothwall’s Emerging Challenges series provides quick guides to key digital trends that safeguarders need to know. 

This article covers The Silencing Effect (TSE) - a significant obstacle to safeguarding that requires a proactive approach from DSLs and other school leaders.  

What is The Silencing Effect?

The Silencing Effect (TSE) is a phenomenon whereby individuals (particularly women and minority groups) begin to self-censor in response to online harassment, trolling, or intimidation. This self-censorship may take the form of avoiding digital spaces or concealing their emotional distress. 

While TSE disproportionately affects marginalised groups, it is becoming clear that children are also falling victim to this trend, both because they spend a significant amount of time online, and because they may not have the confidence or skills to express their feelings. 

Worryingly, as technology allows perpetrators of online abuse to make their attacks more tailored and personal, TSE is expected to become more common. 

It can be particularly challenging for DSLs to discern when The Silencing Effect is occurring, as young people tend to navigate online spaces in a discreet manner. In addition, individuals experiencing TSE will often make a concerted effort to hide their distress due to fears of repercussions, or uncertainty about when such incidents are serious enough to report.  

It is therefore imperative that leaders learn to quickly recognise the behaviours associated with student experiences of The Silencing Effect, and identify ways to intervene and minimise negative impacts. 

How to recognise and remedy TSE

  • Look for warning signs, which may include:

    • Changes in behaviour patterns 

    • Social withdrawal 

    • A reluctance to engage in online and offline spaces 

  • Utilise advanced monitoring systems 

    • Digital solutions offer a proactive approach to identifying and mitigating risks associated with TSE. For example, they can detect early warning signs of harassment, enabling swift intervention before situations escalate and TSE takes hold 

  • Conduct regular mental health check-ins:

    • Establishing a confidential, low pressure and simple process by which students can record how they’re feeling and raise any concerns can encourage vulnerable individuals to reach out for support 

To learn more about the latest online safety trends impacting schools, along with practical steps on how to recognise and address them, download our free whitepaper: Student Digital Wellbeing: UK State of the Nation Report 2024

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