Many parents are worried about the impact of social media on their children’s lives. The Gazette spoke to Rianette Leibowitz, cyber safety activist and CEO of SaveTNet Cyber Safety.
Leibowitz says SaveTNet Cyber Safety aims to save lives by creating awareness of responsible digital engagement for the youth, their parents and schools, with the support of national and international parties involved.
“The alarming statistics of young people committing suicide because of cyberbullying and related online issues, urged me to start the organisation,” she said. “I speak at schools around South Africa to share the positive opportunities and the dangers of digital space.”
Is Instagram dangerous for our children? And Facebook? In fact, do all social media platforms pose a threat?
Social media is an exciting highway, which offers many destinations and off ramps to choose from. However, as with a real highway, the cyber highway also has drunken drivers and people without licences. Most of the time, young people are the ones without licences, while online predators and cybercriminals could be seen as the drunken drivers.
Social media are not dangerous, but it is what people do on the platforms and how it is used to facilitate crime that becomes the problem and threat.
This is why we need to take note of the Terms and Conditions and Community Rules of the different platforms. Platforms such as Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram have age restrictions and users needs to be 13 years old before they can create an account.
Just as you wouldn’t hand the car keys to your 13-year-old, we should also not give access to social media platforms without the necessary information on how to be safe and be a responsible digital citizen.
How often should I check my child’s cellphone?
Kids younger than 13 years should legally (according to social media platforms age restrictions) not be using social media and could benefit from phones with basic functionalities like calling and text messaging.
Having a good relationship with your child is key and the number of times parents check their phones could be pre-determined, so children understand that parents are adding a whole layer of protection, instead of infringing their privacy and not trusting them.
Interact with your child, be involved with their online profiles and monitor their behaviour. If you see any alarming changes, investigate, discuss and give attention to the situation.
How can I track the websites my child visits?
The first place to look is in the “History” tab of the browser. Cyber savvy kids know this and will probably clear their history. Having the necessary security settings enabled on devices, ensuring your network is secured and enabling security settings on browsers are a good starting point. Consider kid-friendly Apps such as YouTube Kids.
Look at your “My Account” settings in Google to manage your security, personal information and privacy, account preferences and activity. In the “My Activity” section you will “rediscover things you’ve searched for, visited and watched on Google services.”
Whether you have watched a YouTube video on your mobile phone, tablet or laptop, it will show up in chronological order and may be an interesting exercise to see what your digital footprint looks like.
[Reference: The official YouTube Kids app is designed for curious little minds to dive into a world of discovery, learning and entertainment. This is a delightfully simple (and free!) app, where kids can discover videos, channels and playlists they love.
We work hard to offer a safer YouTube experience, but no automated system is perfect. If you ever find a video you’re concerned about, please flag it. This helps make YouTube Kids better for everyone. For more important notes about the app, visit https://itunes.apple.com/za/app/youtube-kids/id936971630?mt=8]
Is there an app that can protect my child against cyber bullies?
There are various parental control Apps with different functionalities and price ranges. While these parental control Apps add another layer of protection and helps parents to for instance, know the location of your child, it is important to still take other measures and not only depend on Apps.
Cyberbullying happens in various ways and on numerous platforms – from WhatsApp to Facebook and more – and it is the continuous spreading of rumours or hurtful messages shared on social media and digital platforms.
There are certain steps to take when you are being cyberbullied and it is important for kids to be able to identify when they are being bullied so that they can stop it as soon as possible.
What is cyberbullying?
The concept of bullying is not new and no matter your age you probably have been exposed to it at some stage.
Bullies are no longer just causing trouble on the playground. Their devastating impact now exceeds barriers through digital media. A study by Unisa, published in 2014, focused on the “Online safety of high school learners in Gauteng” and involved interviewing 1 467 learners. The study found that 97,7% learners had access to the Internet, 87% using cellphones to interact online. With so many young people able to connect, imagine the power of the communication shared. Imagine how their connectivity is being used for good and, sadly, bad.
What is a digital footprint?
Everything we do on the internet and on digital platforms leave traces or marks, which form our digital footprints. Every time we visit a site we leave clues about what we like, our interests and more. Think of what you have shared on Facebook by checking in at places, using hashtags and tagging friends. Google your name to see what images, news, social media messages and more appear – you may share a name with someone and be quite surprised about the search results.
What are the immediate dangers of social media?
Some obvious dangers in using social media include:
- The difference between private and personal information
- Human trafficking
- Profiles being hacked
- Webcams being hacked
Webcams have become one of the regular communication tools used for Skype or Hangout meetings. We are constantly taking photos and videos and making FaceTime calls. Webcams are also used for security at homes and offices with remote access and control.
Not everyone realises that webcams can be hacked as well.
Consider the following:
• Cover your webcam on your laptop when not in use.
• Look at the App Permissions before you download/purchase an App. Many ask permission to access your speaker and camera, and if not needed for the App you have to wonder why they would need access to it.
• Rather close your laptop or ensure your devices are not connected to the network when not in use, for instance while sleeping or getting dressed.
• Change the password on security cameras after they have been installed.
How do I educate my child about the dangers?
Conversation and open communication is key, as we need to talk about acceptable online behaviour. By doing this we can better ensure young people understand the risks of not only being a victim of risks like cyberbullying, but also of not being the actual bully. As parents you could also:
• Be a Facebook friend, with the intention to observe (not to comment);
• Teach children to not respond to messages which could be seen as bullying or harassment;
• Take a screen grab or photo of the messages as evidence and discuss the interaction with the child offline;
• Set a good example when posting messages to friends or on social platforms. Your kids will be able to see it if they Google your name;
• Talk about child sexual abuse images, the dangers of taking compromising photos and also the risks of sharing such images;
• Report pornography immediately. A place to start is the Film and Publication Board’s website http://www.fpbprochild.org.za/ReportAbuse.aspx
• Watch and discuss video tools and movies on YouTube as a family. Films such as Disconnect and The Cyberbully Movie will give you as parent better insight and help to steer the discussion to ensure your children are well aware of the dangers.
•Ensure schools are taking cyber safety seriously and arrange a talk by SaveTNet for parents, learners, teachers and the Governing Body.
•Have digital rules at home (for the whole family) like “device-free dinners”, phones kept out of the kids’ rooms when they go to bed and relevant security settings on all devices.
•Contact SaveTNet.com (firstname.lastname@example.org) if in trouble.
How can my child protect their reputation on the net?
Everyone needs to think carefully before they Like, Tweet, Share or Post on any digital platform. It can never be erased and could impact more people and brands than you think. Although it is fun to share details of daily life with online friends, we must consider how much personal information we share (directly and indirectly) and how it could impact me in the future. It may be cool to post a silly picture today, but it may not be as funny when you apply for a job.
How do I protect my child against online dating and stalking?
These are two different cyber concepts:
• Online dating is not new and there are many success stories to share. When it comes to the youth, it is risky because they don’t always take the necessary precautionary steps to confirm the identity of the person they are talking to and to confirm whether the information shared is putting them at risk.
• Cyber stalking is repeated use of melectronic communication and devices to threaten, alarm or irritate someone.
A study done by Unisa, published in 2014, focused on the “Online safety of high school learners in Gauteng” and was completed with 1 467 learners that were interviewed. The study found 40,7% of these learners had experienced stalking and waited to see what would happen before they reported it. This is dangerous, because stalkers then have more time to groom the person and collect enough information to use to intimidate the child.
It is important parents encourage their kids to speak about it and reach out as soon as they start experiencing grooming, stalking or anything that makes them uncomfortable.