Rosie Thomas OAM has been hungry for creating positive change ever since she can remember and its what inspired her to launch PROJECT ROCKIT – an Australian movement against bullying, hate and prejudice – with her sister and 15 years ago. Now it’s grown into a youth-driven movement which has impacted at least half a million young Australians.
In her role as CEO, Rosie serves on the Global Safety Advisory Boards of Facebook, Instagram and Twitter and is passionate about engineering a kinder digital world and making sure young people’s voices are heard. Rosie is a highly energetic change-maker (brace yourselves) and has been honoured with an Order of Australia Medal in 2019, recognising her service to young people and her work against bullying.
Here Rosie Thomas gives us her thoughts in her own words about this year’s Safer Internet Day:
This year’s theme for Safer Internet Day is ‘Together for a better Internet’ and I’m reflecting on the evolution of online safety and how much it has changed over the last 12 years. In 2006, the (cyber) bullying organisation, PROJECT ROCKIT, I launched with my sister was just starting to take-off. We had just finished high school and could see the impacts (cyber)bullying was having on our peers – extinguishing their opportunities and smothering their development. We wanted to change that.
We wanted to create a program that would actually reach young people. Over the past 15 years, PROJECT ROCKIT has grown to become Australia’s leading youth-driven movement against (cyber)bullying, hate and prejudice. We’re putting young people at the heart of the conversation, supporting them to identify the challenges as being part of the solution. We’ve trained dozens of young leaders to create and run school workshops, and helped half a million young people challenge (cyber)bullying.
Reflecting on the last 15 years, and how our organisation has grown with support from our partners
In 2012, we were excited to partner with Facebook Australia on their first big anti-bullying campaign, Be Bold Stop Bullying, which set out to put young people at the centre of the conversation to address bullying online. This was the beginning of a nine-year partnership that’s gone on to directly empower more than 11,500 young Australians to tackle cyberbullying.
Since this first campaign, our partnership with Facebook has grown and evolved to keep up with the changes we’ve seen in the online world. Recognising the changing landscape of social media, we launched our Digital Ambassador program. With support from Facebook, we set out a big goal to train 10,000 Young Australians to become online leaders.
Through support and allyship, they utilise strategies to safely connect and tackle online hate. Digital Ambassadors recognise their power in the online world and use that power for good. They use their unique strengths to stand up, challenge the status quo and reclaim technology.
The program provides youth-driven training focused on building peer networks to create supportive online communities. Together with ongoing online resources, Digital Ambassadors are equipped with the tools to spark their own school-based social action and are empowered to build a safer, kinder digital world. And we know this program is working. 90% of young people were ready to challenge (cyber)bullying compared to 60% before the program.
Reclaiming technology as a tool for positivity
We spent 2019 travelling to every State and Territory, training up thousands of Digital Ambassadors who shared their powerful ideas for tackling online hate and building a kinder online community. These ideas for change extended beyond just the issue of bullying and addressed global challenges, such as racism, climate change and LGBTIQA+ rights.
Some of these school-based ideas included launching an Instagram account to promote positive body image and assembling a youth action group to harness the power of technology to tackle climate change. As students spoke, it was clear that they were so full of passion and a drive for positive change.
“Don’t talk about us, without us.”
Bringing policymakers, technology partners and industry groups into the conversations with young people has positively changed the debate on how to tackle cyberbullying. When we talk about young people and don’t include them, especially online, they end up becoming a homogenous group defined by their age or generation. It erases all of the intersections of their identities and experiences in their world – yes age, but also gender, sexuality, ethnicity, socio-economic access, personality. These are the levers that impact our experiences growing up so if we ignore them, it’s a missed opportunity.
With the support of Facebook, we have brought young people to the table of many conversations that shaped how technology and policies can be built with them in mind. Beyond regular roundtables, design jams and listening sessions, in 2018, we were invited to serve on Facebook’s Global Safety Advisory Board, a small group that provides expertise, perspective and insights that inform Facebook’s approach to safety.
For us, we saw this as an important opportunity to make sure young people’s voices – their feedback, experiences and ideas – can be included in shaping the arguably the worlds’ most influential social media platform. We are not spokespeople for Facebook, this is a working relationship that is full of integrity. It is robust and it is authentic.
This partnership has seen our young team travel around the world from across Australia, to Indonesia to New Zealand, running events for young people and providing honest, authentic feedback from PROJECT ROCKIT students.
Now, PROJECT ROCKIT is teaming up with Facebook for a ninth year with plans to transform an additional 16,000 Digital Ambassadors in 2021 alone! Our team is in the process of developing an innovative, digital-first solution to provide a COVID-19 safe adaptation of the Digital Ambassadors program.
So this Safer Internet Day, we’re proud of the work we’ve achieved in giving young people a voice on how they want to tackle cyberbullying. As we head into our ninth consecutive year partnering with Facebook , we look forward to expanding our impact even further. Together, this partnership has tangibly made a difference to the lives of thousands of young Australians.
For more on Project ROCKIT take a look here.
For more from Women Love Tech about cyberbullying, take a look here.