Online platforms have fast become the virtual space which resonates well amongst youths. It is a vast and free space where they absorb, create and disseminate content, sometimes without much thought or self-regulation.

As digital natives, they prefer to consume more online content as compared to traditional media such as television, print and broadcast. Among the more popular social media platforms freely available to the masses now are YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, Snapchat and Clubhouse, to name a few. These platforms carry an enormous amount of unfiltered content which are compelling but sometimes troubling. If disseminated or consumed wrongly by youths, it may either lead them down the wrong path or influence them towards unhealthy and anti-social behavior. On these platforms, anyone regardless of age can create and publish content with just a few clicks of the button and the reach of online content is both far-reaching and permanent.

Youths have their own thoughts and voice when it comes to expressing themselves, with most yearning for originality and simply want to be heard. As much as the youth wants to leave an impression, they are also impressionable. Many become victims of peer pressure and blindly follow bad trends and behavior shared on social platforms for the fear of missing out(FOMO).

Online platforms work very differently as compared to the more traditional mediums in terms of content creation and dissemination. Regulation of digital content has time and again proven to be a challenge.

“The biggest challenge we often face is the preconceived notion held by most youths that there should be no regulation of online content. That’s a fantastic concept but it fails to address the realities in life which is filled by people with different values and principles. Inevitably, the social problems we face offline takes on a virtual form online.”

“Where there’s bullying, there’s cyberbullying and other problems like sexual harassment, grooming of children by pedophiles, doxing and defamation by those hiding behind anonymity and even young victims of conmen and scammers. Digital or online content still requires regulation because of these issues.” said Communications and Multimedia Content Forum of Malaysia (Content Forum) executive director Mediha Mahmood.

She added that this is where self-regulation comes in and it should be strongly advocated and practiced by all social media users, be it content creators or consumers. Self-regulation can easily be done with the help of the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Content Code (Content Code), which is a set of guidelines drawn up by the Content Forum to promote good practices and standards of content amongst content creators and consumers. The onus is now on everyone who creates and craft content for mass public consumption, to practice self-regulation based on the Content Code. This is to ensure that a safer online environment can be created for all. Self-regulation also helps consumers be more aware and wary of the online content being offered, and allows for better control of the type of content consumed.

This is a pressing issue which should be addressed early on by raising awareness among youths on the importance of self-regulation, especially now, in this technological era where almost everything is done online.

Youths these days do not only make online payment for transactions but also make new friends online via dating and friendship apps. There have been numerous cases where youths have been scammed on dating sites, or even hooking up with bad company. What is seen as harmless texting on social networking sites can ultimately result in life- threatening situations, especially when youths are too trusting and post every single private detail online.

Information like where they live, if they live alone or even by tagging their live locations make it easy for predators to stalk or follow them. Aside from this, youths are also at risk of falling into depression or having suicidal thoughts just through consuming the wrong content on social media. It could be something as simple as seeing their friends on social media having a better life than theirs or being subject to verbal abuse and body shaming by others. These may seem trivial to most but may be life-threatening for some.

Without self-regulation, the content published online by youths with ill-intent will end up hurting other youths who simply just want to be cool and get in trend with what others are doing. Although content posted by others cannot be controlled, but consumers can instead block that content and make a report through self-regulation practices. Without awareness of what they can and cannot do online, youths may inadvertently or even intentionally hurt others and could also find themselves at risk of breaking the law. It is always important to remember that anything illegal offline is also illegal online.

“Self-regulation is a far more effective and efficient tool to use as compared to relying solely on enforcement or regulations made in the offices of law makers. It is encouraged for all players in the industry, from content creators to content consumers, to play their respective roles and the youths are no exception,” she said.

As youths are seen as the key content creators of our generation and the future, it is crucial that they always think of the effect their content have on others and the consequences of their actions. The expectation is for our youths to be mindful and aware of the content they create and consume. Online content providers and consumers must be ready and equipped with self-regulation tools to enjoy the freedom they get from creating and consuming content while ensuring that the online environment remains to be a safe one.

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