New study: Who Is Exposed to Harmful Online Content?

25 Mar 2021

In a new study published in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence, we examine the risk and protective factors of adolescents' exposure to harmful online content. The study was authored by N. Kvardová, H. Macháčková and D. Šmahel from IRTIS and K. Subrahmanyam from California State University.


Online settings have become an important social context for adolescents, and they present both risks and opportunities for youth (Livingstone & Helsper, 2010). One risk that is of concern is that of harmful online content that depicts and advocates detrimental attitudes and behaviors (Ofcom, 2018), such as those that relate to self-harm, eating disorders, and hate messages. Such content is frequently encountered by adolescents; in the European context, 8–17% of adolescents reported that they were exposed at least monthly to diverse types of harmful content on the internet (Smahel et al., 2020). Extant research suggests that adolescents’ exposure to harmful content is related to lower subjective well-being (Keipi et al., 2017) and engagement in risky behavior in the offline context (Branley & Covey, 2017). Despite the relative frequency and negative outcomes, the factors related to viewing harmful content have been scarcely investigated. The current study investigated the role of individual risk factors (i.e., emotional problems, sensation seeking) and social protective factors (i.e., quality of family environment, social support from friends) related to adolescents’ exposure to harmful online content and tested whether the family environment and support from friends might help to buffer those at risk for such exposure. To better determine whether general, contextual variables may influence these relations, this study included adolescents from three European countries — the Czech Republic, Finland, and Spain.

Please cite the study as:
Kvardova, N., Smahel, D., Machackova, H., & Subrahmanyam, K. (2021). Who Is Exposed to Harmful Online Content? The Role of Risk and Protective Factors Among Czech, Finnish, and Spanish Adolescents. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 1-17. DOI: 10.1007/s10964-021-01422-2

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REad the full study here

Adolescents experience with harmful content online

Percentage of adolescents aged 1216 who had seen the harmful content at least monthly, by country

Results from the EUKids Online IV project.
See full findings

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