digital knowledge. digital culture. digital memory.

21.7.07

Internet safety - are your kids safe online?


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The reality

Internet safety is not really a hot topic for parents and educators in Fiji - but it should be. Like the streets of Suva, the Internet is home to schools, galleries and museums, sports, silly fun, libraries, shops, and everyday people having everyday conversations. And also like the streets of Suva, the good things on the Internet share space with foul language, crime, violence, prostitution, and just plain bad people. While adults may fend for themselves on the mean streets online, children deserve and need the protection of their parents and educators.

One study carried out on Internet using girls in New Zealand in 2001 drew chilling conclusions.
The girls were age 11-19 and all living in New Zealand when they completed the survey.
  • 68.5% were using the Internet most days.
  • 33.5% have had a personal face-to-face meeting with someone they met on the Internet.
  • 60% had done at least one potentially unsafe behaviour. (35.5% gave out personal information e.g. address/phone no., 26.5% sent a photo of themselves to someone they met, and 14.5% had posted a picture of themselves on the Net.)
  • 95.5% use the Internet at home, yet 75% state that their use of the Internet at home is only occasionally (37.5%) or never (37.5%) monitored by an adult.
  • 44.5% use the Internet at school, yet 58% state that their use of the Internet at school is monitored only occasionally (28.5%) or never (29.5%) by an adult.
  • 22.5% report having felt unsafe or threatened while using the Internet (most commonly from sexual threats)."
[The Internet Safety Group, Girls on the net, 2001]
Understanding the dangers

Parents and educators need to be aware of the three classes of threats faced by children online.
  1. Content threats - Content threats involve children being exposed to inappropriate or undesirable information, images, or digital audio/video recordings online. Such content ranges from pornography, violence, culturally objectionable ideas, or just plain incorrect information. For example, a child searching for information on "galleries" for a school project will find nudity and pornography.
  2. Social threats - Social threats involve children being exposed to phishing attempts (attempts by online criminals to collect personal information about Internet users), the growing problem of cyber-bullying, or worst of all, online sexual predators. For example, adults have posed as children in chat rooms in order to gain children's trust.
  3. Technical threats - Technical threats include inadvertently downloading computer viruses and spyware that can harm your computer and your data, leak personal information to online criminals, or allow criminals to take over your machine. For example, some computer viruses allow attackers to take control of your computer including reading all of your files and emails.
The solution

There are many software packages available claiming to keep kids safe (see here for a partial list), and parents and educators should utilize these as appropriate. However, and I cannot emphasize this too much, there is no substitute for a combination of supervision, education, and "street smarts".
  • Supervision - Supervised kids are safe kids. Parents should be actively involved in their children's Internet usage. See my three step home Internet safety program below.
  • Computer literacy - While a degree in Computing Science is not necessary, a fundamental understanding of computers, mobile phones, and the Internet can help children, parents, and teachers avoid many basic problems online. These would include: not visiting untrusted websites, not downloading files from untrusted sources, not opening email attachments from untrusted sources, not plugging your USB stick into untrusted computers, keeping your computer up-to-date with software patches, and operating and updating your anti-virus software, to name just a few fundamentals.
  • Information literacy - Information literacy refers to your ability locate information online, navigate to it, and ultimately evaluate its usefulness. This is a subtle skill that allows children and adults alike to see the difference between a fact and an opinion online, compare the information in two similar websites, understand the difference between a real person and a Hi5 persona, and how to find an expert on a subject. Information literacy also includes understanding how information can be properly used in order to avoid violating copyright law and charges of plagiarism at school.
  • Online street-smarts - Just as kids can learn to react safely to the pitfalls of urban living, parents and teachers can prepare children to react safely to the dangers of the Internet. Once shown how, even young children can identify chain letters, spam email, and even most common phishing scams. See my three rules of online street smarts below.

Further reading
Fortunately, the Internet is rich with resources on Internet safety. Here are few places to start:
  • NetSafe (http://www.netsafe.org.nz/) A New Zealand non-profit organization dedicated to providing Internet safety education.
  • The Family Online Safety Institute (http://www.fosi.org/) An international organization focused on Internet safety. FOSI manages a self-regulated Internet content filtering scheme formerly known as The Internet Content Rating Association.
  • i-SAFE Inc. (http://www.isafe.org/) A US organization promoting and coordinating a variety of Internet safety activities.


Photo by: richardmasoner

10 comments:

Wilson said...

A very important issue which i think should be highlighted to parents in Fiji.

I know personally that most adults with kids don't really 'get' the internet, and instead leave it to the 'whizkid' to operate the computer, not knowing that their child is in danger as soon as they log online.

I reckon this should be an article in the Fiji Times.

Get an interview! :P

thrashor said...

this is a misunderstood issue. i believe that fijian families would take internet safety quite seriously if they were aware of what is out there.

dtabureguci said...

Vinaka Chris for starting off discussion on this. Our mag is also doing a story and we have been asking around educators and relevant NGOs in the Pacific.

I am perceiving a low level of awareness, so it's great that this topic has been raised for general discussion across Pacific societies. Let's hope in due course, the mainstream media in the islands take it up as a cause.

For at the end of the day, it is the ordinary folks in the Pacific who will have to be aware of the good and the bad that comes with the Internet.

cheers:))

thrashor said...

D - I will look forward to reading the story in Islands Business. Internet safety is primarily an issue of awareness - so spread the word!

Wiki_Babe said...

Internet is becoming fast and furious and the expectation for internet of tomorrow is increasing. The youth of today have access to information such as educational materials, sports, online games, chat rooms and also pornography but we want the best for them. How can we protect our youth from new threats and issues on the internet but also keeping in mind not to put restrictions on the new tools, new technologies and amazing features of the internet. Do you see any connection between violence against women and ICTs (internet porn etc)? While we see the potential of women accessing ICTs, it can also facilitate the exploitation of women. New ICT tool on the internet attract sexual predators who have access to women's videos and images who can harm or make use of their vulnerability. Guess we need to examine the challenges women/youths face and how important it is to involve women/youths in the information society so that they have knowledge of the negative and positive impacts of ICTs. Would you by any chance have the research questions conducted using girls in NZ around 2001? I tried clicking on the link (Girls on the Net) but I think it’s not available?

thrashor said...

wiki_babe: Hvad segir thu? (I couldn't resist - studied Old Norse in Canada.) The updated link for the NZ girls on the net research is http://www.netsafe.org.nz/research/research_girls.aspx I believe the survey questions are there.

Wiki_Babe said...

Thanks Chris. I've just browsed through the survey questions and will get in touch with Internet Safety group regarding their survey. This would be good for the Women in ICT Special interest group - in terms of looking at internet security issues for Youths - particularly girls who are more vulnerable as internet can facilitate exploitation of women....Would be great to do a similar survey in Fiji...What do you reckon?

thrashor said...

wiki_babe: i believe there is a lot of will to conduct this sort of study in fiji. i expect the results would shock many parents and educators. all that we need is someone to spear-head the effort.

Ronald Daniar said...

Kids like to interact but sometimes teachers and parents don't provide them with the media they need.

Try to use http://think.com This site is founded by Oracle and it is really safe. You can suggest to your school to register.

Try also http://kigose.com to do safe search on the internet and also to teach children to respect copyright policy

Regards

pirate_@_bay said...

Copyright?? I have the right to COPY.....anything n everything b'coz i'm a pirate_at_bay. XD.