Child with smartphone

Research investigates children’s right to be heard through social and digital media

Technological University Dublin for the Ombudsman for Children’s Office look at positive uses for new media
Image: Shutterstock via Dennis

23 September 2021

New research conducted by the Technological University Dublin for the Ombudsman for Children’s Office (OCO) has looked at ways children can use social media to raise issues and influence policy makers and service providers.

Digital Voices: Progressing children’s right to be heard through social and digital media investigated opportunities to mobilise social and digital media to diversify how children can be heard.

The research looked at the barriers to mobilising social and digital media to advance children’s right to participate in decision-making, and at how these barriers can be overcome. It highlights good practice and makes recommendations on core actions to advance the use of social and digital media as ways for children to express their views and be heard by public bodies in Ireland.




Digital Voices involved a consultation with 155 young people aged 8 to 17 as well as interviews with civil and public servants, youth workers, NGO representatives, educators and industry specialists.

Children who took part talked about the wide range of benefits that social and digital media bring, including: ‘Communication and being in touch’ and ‘The internet as an Information Space’.

As well as the benefits, the children recognised the barriers and challenges in the digital environment, including cyberbullying and unwanted communications. Overall, they are confident about their ability to express themselves online and believe the internet is a good place for young people’s voices to be heard.

Prof Brian O’Neill who led the TU Dublin research team, said: “Digital Voices is about bringing a new perspective to children and young people’s involvement in public decision-making. The young people and the many professionals we consulted were convinced that there is a huge opportunity for us here to mobilise youth voices in a very positive way through their digital participation.

Digital Voices confirms what the 10,000 children who contributed to the new EU Strategy on the rights of the child told us: that they are active citizens and that social and digital platforms can be a key instrument to achieve greater participation,” said Valeria Setti, European Commission Coordinator for the Rights of the Child. “There is a political momentum for bringing the participation of children in democratic and political life to the next level. In 2022, the European Commission will launch a new EU Children’s Participation Platform, and the outcome of the Digital Voices research will certainly help inform our decisions”.

Digital Voices suggested a number of action points to mobilise social and digital media:

  • Convene a digital participation expert group
  • Develop a charter for children and young people’s digital participation
  • Develop a digital participation toolkit
  • Establish a dedicated digital participation space
  • Initiate demonstrator projects to pilot new and innovative forms participation in decision-making processes

The Ombudsman for Children Dr Niall Muldoon said the research and recommendations are a call to action for stakeholders and Government when it comes to protecting children’s rights online: “Taking this agenda forward will require leadership, collaboration and coordination. Digital Voices presents all of us who have a responsibility to advance the realisation of children’s right to be heard with a stimulating opportunity to diversify how we fulfil this responsibility.”

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