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Ex: Europe, Middle East, Education
  • French Youth:
    Online and Exposed

    Report - April 2020

The opinions expressed in this report are not necessarily those of the following individuals or the institutions to which they belong.

Chairs of the taskforce

  • Gilles Babinet, Vice-President of the National Digital Council and Digital Advisor, Institut Montaigne (co-chair)
  • Thierry Jadot, President, Dentsu Aegis Network France, MENA and Turkey (co-chair)


  • Raphaël Muller, Senior Official (general rapporteur)
  • Julien Chartier, Senior Official (rapporteur)
  • Théophile Lenoir, Head of the Digital Program, Institut Montaigne

Members of the taskforce

  • Michael Antioco, Professor and Head of faculty (marketing), EDHEC Business School
  • Justine Atlan, Executive Director, e-Enfance
  • Annie Blandin, Professor, IMT Atlantique
  • Olivier Bonnot, Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist, Nantes University Hospital and Nantes University
  • Clotilde du Fretay, Deputy Secretary General, AXA Prévention
  • David Giblas, Chief Innovation, Health, Digital, Data and AI Officer, Malakoff Médéric
  • José Giudicelli, Academic Delegate for Digital Education, French National Education, Corsica
  • Valérie Marty, former President, Federation of Parents of Students in Public Education (PEEP)
  • Anne Muxel, Research Director in Sociology and Political Science, CNRS (CEVIPOF/Sciences Po)
  • François-Xavier Petit, General Director, Matrice
  • Hugo Roy, Associate, Baker & McKenzie

As well as:

  • Joan Elbaz, Assistant Policy Officer, Institut Montaigne
  • Margaux Tellier, Assistant Policy Officer, Institut Montaigne
  • Paula Martinez, Assistant Policy Officer, Institut Montaigne
  • Julie Van Muylders, Assistant Policy Officer, Institut Montaigne

The opinions expressed in this report are not those of the following individuals or the institutions to which they belong.

  • Serge Abiteboul, Council Member, ARCEP [Regulatory Agency for Electronic and Postal Communications]
  • Imanne Agha, Prevention and Violence Policy Officer, National Education Ministry
  • Delphine Auffret, Program Director, Internet Sans Crainte
  • Erwan Balanant, Member of Parliament, Representative of the Finistère Department
  • Serge Barbet, Director, Liaison Center for Education and Media Information
  • Vincent Barbey, Deputy Director for Public Security and Road Safety, Interior Ministry
  • Laurent Bitouzet, Head of SIRPA, National Police Force
  • Alice Bougnères, General Representative, Alma
  • Manuel Bouvard, Professor at the University Center for Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Hôpital Charles Perrens
  • Thierry Dor, Associate, Gide Loyrette Nouel
  • Emmanuel Durand, Chief Executive Officer, Snap Inc. France
  • Deborah Elalouf, President and Founder, TRALALERE
  • Olivier Esper, Public Policy, Senior Manager, Google France
  • Cathy Excoffier, Deputy Director, CSR, Orange France
  • Elise Fajgeles, Policy Officer for the Fight Against Online Discrimination and Hatred, Interministerial Delegation for the Fight Against Racism, Anti-Semitism, and Anti-LGBT
  • Nora Fraisse, President and Founder, Association Marion Fraisse la Main Tendue
  • Edouard Geffray, Director General of Education, Ministry of Education and Ministry of Higher Education
  • Benoit Gobin, Assistant Principal, Lycée Le Corbusier, Aubervilliers
  • Jean Gonié, Europe Director for Public Affairs, Snap Inc.
  • Jérôme Grondeux, General Inspector of the National Education
  • Yohannes Hommel, Digital Technology and Social Media Advisor, Interministerial Delegation for the Fight Against Racism, Anti-Semitism, and Anti-LGBT
  • Jean-Marc Huart, Superintendent of Schools, Académie de Nancy-Metz
  • Julian Jaursch, Project Director, Strengthening the Digital Public Sphere Policy, Stiftung Neue Verantwortung
  • Vincent Laprévote, Professor of Psychiatry, Centre Psychothérapique de Nancy
  • Donatien Le Vaillant, Law and International Relations Advisor, Interministerial Delegation for the Fight Against Racism, Anti-Semitism, and Anti-LGBT
  • Wassef Lemouchi, Digital Policy Officer, Alma
  • Benoît Loutrel, Inspector General, INSEE and Author of the French report, "Creating a French framework to make social media platforms more accountable: Acting in France with a European vision"
  • Roch-Olivier Maistre, President, Audiovisual Council
  • Stéphane Martin, Director General, Advertising Regulatory Agency (ARPP)
  • Jean-Marc Merriaux, Digital Director for education, French National Education Ministry
  • Aurélie Pacaud, Attorney, Gide Loyrette Nouel
  • Françoise Pétreault, Deputy Director for Student Life, Institutions, and Socio-Educational Action, Directorate General for Student Affairs
  • Frédéric Potier, Interministerial Representative for the Fight Against Racism, Anti-Semitism, and Anti-LGBT
  • Elian Potier, President, Urgence Harcèlement
  • Hector de Rivoire, Public Affairs Director, Microsoft France
  • Raymund Schwan, Head of the University Hospital Center for Adult Psychiatry, Centre Psychothérapique de Nancy
  • Nathalie Sonnac, Member, Audiovisual Council
  • Xavier Vialenc, Director, image department, National Police Force
  • Sophie Vulliet-Tavernier, Public Relations and Research Director, CNIL
  • Jean-Sébastien Wallez, Part-Time Director, The Family

Emma is getting ready to start her research online for a presentation for her French class. She has just begun when her phone suddenly vibrates. She scrolls past several Instagram live streams, a reminder for her Italian lesson.... and a nude photo of a classmate, which she figures must have been posted without her permission. Disturbed, she closes the app and tries to get the image out of her mind by watching a YouTube video that a friend had shared with her. Finally she gets back to homework.

The wonders of social media are well known, as we stay connected with friends, expand our networks, access a plethora of cultural knowledge with close to no effort. Needless to say, the dangers are just as overwhelming, especially for teens and children. The problems of cyberviolence, inappropriate content, and privacy incursions remain a major point of concern for teens, children and parents. What are young people’s digital habits? What are the main risks they face? How can we make their online experience safe?

In order to answer these questions, Institut Montaigne collaborated with AXA Prévention and Dentsu Aegis Network, to carry out an opinion poll with 5,000 French respondents. It is partially based on a study carried out in the United States by the Pew Research Center. On the basis of this data, we developed ten proposals for teaching and supporting young people in their digital habits, and encouraging responsible behavior online.

Institut Montaigne, AXA Prévention and Dentsu Aegis Network carried out an opinion poll with almost 5,000 French respondents (children and teenagers aged 11 to 20, parents of teenagers, and a representative sample of the population) and three focus groups (parents of children aged 7 to 20, girls and boys aged 15 to 18).


Data Collection

We surveyed:

  • a sample of French people over the Internet on October 16 and 17, 2019,
  • a sample of young people (aged 11 to 20) over the Internet October 10 - 24, 2019,
  • a sample of parents of young people (aged 11 to 20) over the Internet October 14 - 24, 2019.


  • Sample of 1,001 French people representative of the French population aged 18 and over
    • The representativeness of the sample is assured by the quota method applied to the following variables: sex, age, level of education, and profession after stratification by region and size of town/city.
  • Sample of 3,005 young people aged 11 to 20 (quotas applied to sex and age) including:
    • 1,211 young people aged 11 to 14
    • 895 young people aged 15 to 17
    • 898 young people aged 18 to 20
  • Sample of 1,002 parents of young people aged 11 to 20 (quotas applied to sex and age of child)

Focus Groups

Data Collection

3 two-hour focus groups of 8 to 10 people that took place in Paris


A group of parents with children aged 7 to 20 interviewed on January 7, 2020.
A group of girls aged 15 to 18 interviewed on January 8, 2020.
A group of boys aged 15 to 18 interviewed on January 8, 2020.

Children and Teenagers Recognize Online Risks


Children and teenagers are generally aware of the risks that the Internet presents:

  • 94% of young people aged 11 to 20 state that protecting their privacy online is important to them (88% for adults)
  • 74% of them state that they sometimes or often realized they had encountered information that turned out to be fake
  • the availability of inappropriate content is considered "serious" by 89% of 11- to 20-year-olds
  • the same is true of revealing personal information, which is described as "serious" by 93% of young people polled.

Additionally, children and teenagers know of ways to protect themselves online: 63% of 11- to 20-year-olds say that they know how to protect their privacy on the Internet (74% of 18- to 20-year-olds), and 54% of them have already used tools to limit tracking of their online activity.

Algorithm: a methodical and finite set of operations that have to be followed in a particular order to solve a problem, and that can be coded into a computer program.

Filter bubble: recommendation mechanisms that tend to only offer users content that conforms to their areas of interest and opinions.

Cyberbullying: intentional, aggressive actions carried out repeatedly by an individual or group of individuals through electronic forms of communication against a victim who cannot easily defend themselves alone. These actions may be a continuation of mockery and bullying that takes place outside the virtual sphere, or vice versa.

Cyberviolence: a set of aggressive and intentional actions carried out by an individual or group using digital tools, against one or several people.

Deepfake: a technique that consists in modifying existing audio or video files with the aim of creating fake information or hurting an individual.

Fake news: false information intended to mislead which reverberates via the internet and social media.

Trolling: the act of defacing individuals on the Internet, with the aim of causing them gried. In French "fisha" is a type of trolling wherein social media accounts are created for the purpose of sharing nude images of teenagers, mostly young girls.

Revenge porn: the non-consensual distribution of a sexually explicit document concerning an individual, with the intention of hurting them.

Sexting: sending sexually explicit messages (text or photos) primarily via mobile phone.

Parents are Concerned About Access to Inappropriate Content


Overall, parents slightly underestimate their children’s access to inappropriate content:

  • 40% of parents think their child has been exposed to violent content, whereas 47% of young people say this has happened at least once,
  • 28% of parents think their child has been exposed to pornographic content (versus 36% of young people who say this has happened at least once),
  • 21% of parents think their child has been exposed to racist, anti-Semitic, or homophobic content (versus 31% of young people who say this has happened at least once),
  • 19% of parents think their child has been exposed to content encouraging them to engage in dangerous games (versus 30% of young people who say this has happened at least once).

Despite significant awareness-raising efforts by non-profit organizations and government authorities, there is a gap between what parents think is happening and what children are experiencing.

Cyberviolence and Cyberbullying are a Reality


Acts of cyberviolence affect more than one in two young people (56%):

  • 17% of young people say they have "received nude images they did not request" more than once
  • 13% of young people have frequently been the victims of "rumors" (13%) and even of "threats"
  • 5% of young people say that nude images of them have been put online without their permission

These phenomena particularly affect girls: our focus groups reveal that the most serious acts of violence most often concern sharing nude images of girls.

There are Several Options for the Protection of Minors Online

These are:

  • regulatory: the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR),
  • legal: the French "Computing and Freedoms" law of 1978,
  • educational: protecting the personal data of young people attending school, including issues of personal data protection in the educational system, the "Internet Permit for Children", a French national program aiming to educate children and their parents about how to use the Internet safely and responsibly.

At the same time, over the past several years a large number of platforms managed by government authorities supporting victims of online violence have emerged.

  • 3020: a hotline to handle bullying at school,
  • "Net Écoute 0800 200 000": the national toll-free number for children and teenagers dealing with problems in their use of digital technology,
  • La Brigade Numérique de la Gendarmerie: contact for the national police force, including instant messaging, available 24/7,
  • (0 800 235 236): a service to answer young people's health questions,
  • PHAROS (Platform for Standardization, Analysis, Comparison, and Direction of Identifications): a service for identifying illegal content and behavior online via

In addition to these various options, there are tools available directly on the platforms, such as the possibility to block users, or policies on hate speech of varying levels of strictness.

But This Is Not Enough

Despite — or due to — this multitude of options, more than 6 out of 10 parents say that they would not know which agency to turn to if their child were a victim of cyberviolence. The problem is therefore not a lack of options, but rather the complexity of those that exist.

So What Should We Do? Here Are Our 10 Recommendations

In detail Prevent digital risks on platforms and social media In detail

Allow young people to protect their privacy online by:

Proposal 1: Guaranteeing full protection of the personal data of young people

This requires incorporating the user rights provisions of the GDPR, adapting consent regulations, and strengthening the financial liability of websites or platforms in case of lack of protection or inadequate protection of minors’ personal data.

Proposal 2: Strengthening teaching about information technology, data, and digital technology

It is necessary to develop the information technology skills of young people so that they will be better able to grasp the threats of data capture, and the impact of these on online content circulation. We propose an IT education that starts before high school, as well as a specialized program in "Digital Technology and Computer Science" for the junior and senior years of high school. In addition, we also propose a gradual increase of the number of specialized teachers.

Train young people to think critically about online content by:

Proposal 3: Educating young people on media literacy

We propose strengthening the role of media education and critical thinking skills in the school system, starting with elementary school (4th grade) until senior year in high school.

In detail Support young people quickly and effectively if they have trouble online In detail

Help young victims of cyberviolence easily, responsibly, and effectively by:

Proposal 4: Creating a true one-stop resource in order to help young victims of (cyber)violence, including at school

Solutions for fighting cyberviolence do exist. However, more than 6 out of 10 parents say that they would not know which agency to turn to if their child were a victim of cyberviolence. In addition to establishing a one-stop resource intended to simplify reporting, it is necessary to clarify the jurisdiction and information channels of the various entities involved in order to provide a quick, appropriate, and proportional response to each case.

Proposal 5: Making fighting cyberviolence against young people a "national issue" for 2021, in order to involve all the responsible parties

It is necessary to have highly visible communication and awareness-raising campaigns on public television and radio and on platforms and social media, that mobilizes opinion leaders and celebrities with influence over young people. One of the essential messages to convey is that the Internet is not a zone of lawlessness and that people who share content are accountable for it.

Effectively protect young people from inappropriate content by:

Proposal 6: Protecting young people more effectively from adult content, relying on the essential role played by their parents

A clear and detailed framework of guidelines for access to sites and applications containing adult content should be established for those who produce and publish it. We also propose studying the feasibility of an optional age verification system upon purchase, that would result in an unmodifiable configuration of the operating system of the smartphone, tablet, or computer.

Proposal 7: Better understanding the effects of inappropriate content on young people

More medical and social science research is necessary, in addition to a detailed evaluation of sex education carried out by the French National Education Ministry, taking into account the effect of young people’s experience online and on social media.

In detail Make young people and social media companies take responsibility In detail

Encourage young people to act responsibly online by:

Proposal 8: Strengthening and adapting the legal and educational instruments for handling (cyber)violence against young people

We propose standardizing and developing laws regarding (cyber)violence committed by and against young people in order to take in account the connections between violence at school and cyberviolence, to include measures for emergency appeal to a judge, and to create additional penalties for minors who commit such acts.

Make platforms liable by:

Proposal 9: Increasing the liability of platforms regarding users who are minors, especially at the European level

This requires establishing a body of specific laws for protecting youth, that would become part of a general European law such as the Digital Services Act. This body of laws would cover all the measures for protecting children on the Internet. Concerning content, it would stipulate a system of penalties at the EU level to crack down on systematic violations that go beyond the context of a single member state, in addition to national penalties.

Proposal 10: Considering the systemic nature of the platforms by planning several auditing measures and leveraging the reputation effect

Requiring platforms and social media companies to conduct independent audits could guarantee that they fulfill their obligations and commitments to limit risks. In particular, these audits and stress tests could help to expand the knowledge and action of regulators, especially that of the future Authority for Regulation of Audiovisual and Digital Communication (ARCOM).


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