Friday, April 11, 2008

Would a good young people's website be allowed?

This week, following the Byron report on children in a digital world, we've seen media panics about pro-suicide pages on the internet, about pro-anorexia pages and about sites that appear to promote plastic surgery and diet pills to young girls.

The motivation of the people who run these sites worries me as much as anyone else and I'd rather they weren't there. But instead of foaming at the mouth, perhaps we ought to be asking ourselves why young people are logging on to them. The reason is simple: these sites seem to be saying something that makes sense to them, however warped or distorted they may seem to you.

There are very few 'nice' sites that talk to younger people in ways that make sense in the context of the lives they're living - that's one of the reasons they prefer social networking and self-generated content sites to conventional information/discussion sites. When it comes to young men and their health, which is our concern at the MHF, the picture is particularly grim. There's next nothing that talks to this group about their health in the way that they want.

Apart from our site, there's nothing much for the older male either for that matter but the older surfer is better able to pick and mix and be a little more judicious. One of the reasons that the government funds the MHF is that it knows that we know how to talk to men. The same approach is needed for younger men and boys.

The MHF could do it. (If you don't blow your own trumpet who else will?) But we struggle to get the funding to do the work we already do despite its clear benefits. There are probably other organisations and groups with the expertise who will say exactly the same thing.

Even if the government or an enlightened corporation were to stick their hand in their pocket, would the media tolerate it? In the 90s, the Health Education Authority decided to commission a sexual health guide written to appeal to the 16-25 year old. It was a dose of reality too much for the media and the government - a particulary useless Conservative one, admittedly - disowned it and withdrew it from publication.

Would a website that spoke equally frankly to young people meet the same fate? It would be interesting to see.

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