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New CDT Report Looks at Strategies Teens Use to Be Safe Online

(WASHINGTON)–The Center for Democracy & Technology (CDT) today released new research examining how young people between the ages of 14 and 21 feel about unwanted messages online and how they keep themselves safe.

CDT Research Fellow Michal Luria, the study’s author, found that many young people in America regularly receive unwanted messages online, but actively resist them using a variety of strategies. 

“The major takeaway is that teens have thoughtful strategies to keep themselves online and want to be trusted to use them and ask for help when they need it rather than be subject to 24/7 monitoring online,” says Aliya Bhatia, a policy analyst at CDT’s Free Expression Project. “If lawmakers want to help kids, they can start by listening to them.”

“Lawmakers’ proposals to mandate parental surveillance will undermine teenagers’ independence and autonomy and actually hinder their development,” says Bhatia.

To strike the right balance between keeping them safe and preserving teens’ access and autonomy, Luria writes in Tech Policy Press, “More control and agency over interactions should be handed to them. We can do this in many ways. Tech companies building online messaging services can reinforce teen autonomy by ensuring all accounts are set private by default, delete messages, and get timely responses to their user reporting requests.”

“The research also shows that young people online rely on signals when assessing the risk of an unwanted message. Thus, ensuring services indicate when an individual sends a message a teen has never interacted with, or has no mutual friends with, will go a long way,” says Luria.

Click here to read the full study.

Read more in Tech Policy Press.


The Center for Democracy & Technology (CDT) is the leading nonpartisan, nonprofit organization fighting to advance civil rights and civil liberties in the digital age. We shape technology policy, governance, and design with a focus on equity and democratic values. Established in 1994, CDT has been a trusted advocate for digital rights since the earliest days of the internet. The organization is headquartered in Washington, D.C., and has a Europe Office in Brussels, Belgium.