Advice on safety issues from our partners
Below are some issues that we know can often be concerning to parents. We work closely with a number of child safety organizations in South Africa and we’ve included advice from these partners in the sections below.
- Sexually explicit and violent material
- Exposure to vulgar language
- Sharing too much personal information
- Meeting strangers online
- User-generated content and child sexual abuse imagery
- Malware, spam and phishing
Sexually explicit and violent material
Surfing the World Wide Web can be fun and educational, but sometimes children can be exposed to sexually explicit and violent material, especially on social networks and websites featuring user-generated content. Sometimes this exposure can influence the behaviour of young people and prompt them to try things that can harm them and others around them. Social networks play a big part in our day-to-day lives and it is important to have regular, open and honest discussions with your children about their experiences on the Internet and the things that they stumble across. Parents, speak to your kids about the potential dangers of the online space, and ask them to tell you if they ever feel unsafe, or if they ever they are exposed to content that makes them feel uncomfortable.
Some video-sharing websites, such as YouTube, have a feature for users to ‘flag’ content that users feel is inappropriate. YouTube moderators then analyse the video in question and take it down if it is inappropriate. On local social networking platforms such as MXit, users can alert the network to inappropriate content by typing a “.rat” command when they are in a chat room. This allows MXit’s moderators to see the last 30 strings of the conversation, and react appropriately. Alternatively, users can visit MXit’s Tradepost and find a counsellor under MXit Reach > Ask Doc. If a user prefers offline counselling, it is advised to talk to an adult that they trust or else chat to a counsellor at Childline on the Toll Free telephone line (08000 55555).
Here are some useful tips for parents who want to protect their children from being exposed to inappropriate content on social networks:
- If your child is a regular user of a social network, it is advised that you also sign up to that network and add your child as a follower, contact or friend. This will allow you to monitor how much time they spend on the platform.
- Always spend some time exploring and navigating your way through the particular network that your child uses, in order to understand the interactions your child could be engaged in.
- Check your child’s contacts, friends, or followers regularly and if you see the profile of someone who makes you feel uncomfortable, discuss it openly with your child.
- Be frank and open: have regular, open and honest discussions with your child about the potential dangers that lurk in such environments, and ask them to tell you if ever they feel unsafe, or if ever they receive pictures that make them feel uncomfortable.
- If you notice that your child’s use of a particular social networking platform suddenly drops, check to see if they have a secret phone or profile (it could simply mean that they are out of airtime, but check nevertheless).
- Blocking/restricting your child’s access to social networks and the Internet are not advised, as this could mean they will gain access away from parental supervision and guidance, thus exposing them to further harm.
For more information, visit the Film and Publications Board (fpb) website at www.fpb.gov.za or call 0800 148 148 (Toll Free).
The Internet and other information communications technologies have created unprecedented opportunities for the fulfillment of some crucial rights that children and young people have – the right to information and the right to have their voices heard on important matters. Yet these technologies have also made young people more vulnerable to being cyberbullied or exploited by others.
Cyberbullying is the use of the Internet and electronic communication media to hurt and harm another person. This can include tormenting, threatening or embarrassing the bullied party through any one, or a combination of social media/networks, email, SMS, picture messaging, etc. Some messages can really hurt and harm, such as name calling, sharing confidential information, or even taking pictures that expose another young person in some way and sharing these with others without their permission. Parents need to bear in mind that cyberbullying is not confined to ‘computer time’ as many children in South Africa today have access to the Internet directly from their cellphones. This means that they can be harassed at any time of day by anyone who has access to them via the Internet (like friends, followers, or contacts on social networking sites).
It is every parent’s duty to ensure that their children are safe online, as they are in the ‘real’ physical world. To do this, parents always need to be one step ahead of their children and need to understand the dangers that the children may face both online and offline and also what they can do should a child be in danger – be it physical or psychological.
To prevent your child from being a victim of cyberbullying:
- Know what websites your children are visiting or socialising on. Find out about their terms and conditions of use and what safety and security policies they have in place.
- Build an open relationship with your children. Listen to them, and do not overreact when children decide to confide in you; always offer a solution or word of comfort and act appropriately.
- Be aware that your child might be the bully – even if it is unintentional; always remind your children that harmful words and actions, once said and done, cannot be taken back.
- If there is evidence of cyberbullying, keep a record of it and, if necessary, report it to the appropriate authorities. You will need electronic evidence and live data to lodge a complete report.
If you have been a victim of cyberbullying, contact Childline SA and talk to an experienced counsellor about it. You can contact Childline on the Toll Free number 08000 55555 or visit UNICEF’s website for more information.
Exposure to vulgar language
It’s not an easy task trying to protect your children from exposure to vulgar language. Whether it’s at school, in public, via television or online, profanity happens in the moment and there’s little one can do to prevent it or stop your kids from being exposed to it. Some websites and social networking platforms have established profanity filters built into them to protect users. For example, on MXit, users can alert the network to inappropriate behaviour or language by typing a “.rat” command when they are in a chat room. This allows MXit’s moderators to see the last 30 strings of the conversation, and react appropriately. However, most do not have this function. In some cases, teachers, parents, guardians and care-givers have to rely on manually creating installing such filters on their home or public access computers.
Advice you can give to children:
- Be a responsible user – do not spread gossip or rumours about people. A nasty message can stop with you.
- Do not say things online in anger or frustration. Don’t use your phone or computer to get back at anyone. Once you say something, you can’t take it back when it is online.
- Remember, when you post online, you post to the world!
If as a child user you have been exposed to vulgar language, report to it immediately to an adult, or else chat to a counsellor anonymously at Childline via the toll free telephone counselling service on 08000 55555.
Sharing too much information
The Internet is a powerful form of communication, not only because it allows people to communicate with friends and family virtually for free, but because it has the power to change people’s lives for the better. However, the medium has also been used to harm others, especially children. Children are trusting (as they should be), and are often unaware of anyone that might have ulterior motives.
This is especially true with their personal information – signing up to services such as social networks and shopping services often means that users have to enter their information such as real names, location, age, address and telephone numbers. While there is nothing wrong with doing this per se, children need to understand that this information can be used against them if it ends up in the wrong hands. There are always options to use ‘fake’ online identities or to hide phone numbers and email addresses to public viewers. Randomly giving out personal information online is not a safe thing to do – sometimes people ask for personal information so that they can misuse it – for example they may steal your identity – or find you and harm you in some way.
Sharing too much information is not only limited to contact details and can include passwords and other secret login codes. Some people in relationships share personal passwords as a way of demonstrating their love and trust. However, if the relationship ends, their partner might log into their accounts to send out harmful or inappropriate messages on their behalf.
Here are some tips for children on what information to keep safe:
- Make sure the privacy settings of your website and social networking sites are set-up in such a way that only people you have accepted as friends or contacts can see your information.
- Never reveal your mobile number, especially to strangers.
- Never use your real name – some online services and social networks allow users to register under a pseudonym or ‘handle’.
- Do not tell anyone where you live or where you go to school.
- Do not reveal the personal details of your friends.
- If you feel uncomfortable with a conversation in a chat room, leave the chatroom or block the person who is trying to chat to you.
- Keep all your passwords and personal identification numbers (PIN) to yourself and never allow anyone access to your phone or computer in your absence.
- If you share a phone or use a public computer, never ‘remember passwords’ or leave your social network profile on auto login.
- Keep your online relationships online, DO NOT meet offline.
If you are unsure, ask your parents, caregiver or chat to a Childline Counsellor on 08000 55555 (Toll Free) or see these helpful videos.
Meeting strangers online
Ever worried about some of the people your child calls ‘friends’ online? Sometimes children think it is great to have lots of friends on social networks and often accept ‘friend’ requests online without giving it too much thought. You need to ask your child – do you really know this person, and are they who they say they are? Just as you would not let your child stay over at a friend’s house without knowing the family, so the same rules should apply to online friendships. Growing up, our parents used to tell us every day to never talk to strangers. In the same way, we need to tell our children (every day if we need to) that they should never engage with people that they don’t know, and in particular, they should not be engaged in private online or offline chats with a strangers.
A number of local online social networks have a number of safety settings to help keep your children safe:
- The only way that a person can chat or engage with another on most networks is if the user approves him or her as a friend / contact / follower.
- Most chatrooms have a function to block a person if a user does not want to interact with them. In MXit, parents can block the chatroom feature altogether (See Mxit > Info > Chat Zone Block).
- Most social networks have a minimum age of 13 years for users to register. This is to protect vulnerable users who may not be emotionally mature enough to engage with these sorts of platforms.
- In compliance with South Africa’s Child Protection Act, MXit does not allow adults to engage with children or teenagers. All chatrooms are split into the age groups 13 to 17, 18+ and adult, to ensure that the interaction in the chatrooms is age appropriate. Most private chatrooms are password-protected, which means access is by invitation only.
- Most chatrooms are moderated around the clock – with extensive moderator presence available in all Teen Zones in MXit for example.
Children: remember, don’t ever share your personal details or agree to meet with people in the real world. Sometimes it seems like you know someone you met online after chatting to them a few times, but they are still strangers.
User-generated content and child sexual abuse imagery
Sometimes users take nude images / videos of themselves with cellphones for personal use. However, often this content ends up in the wrong hands. For example, your phone, laptop or computer might be stolen or hacked. These sorts of photos or videos can spread like wildfire through mobile or social networks. There have been many cases where children have been expelled from school or university, or people have lost their jobs, because of photos they or their friends posted online. And it can be as serious as getting a criminal record – if the subject of such images and videos is under the age of 18, possessing and distributing them constitutes child sexual abuse imagery and is a punishable offence.
The Film and Publication Act, defines child sexual abuse imagery as any image, however created, or any description of a person, real or simulated, who is, or who is depicted or described as being, under the age of 18 years:
- Engaged in sexual conduct;
- Participating in, or assisting another person to participate in, sexual conduct; or
- Showing or describing the body, or parts of the body, in a manner or in circumstances which, within context, amounts to sexual exploitation.
Obligations of Internet access and Service Providers (ISPs)
Child-oriented service providers, including chatrooms, on mobile cellular telephones or the Internet, have to ensure that their services are not used for the commission of crimes against children (such as child sexual abuse imagery), ensure display of safety messages, provide mechanism to enable children to report suspicious behavior on chat rooms to the South African Police Services (SAPS). A further requirement is that they provide information concerning software or other tools which can be used to filter or block access to content services and contact services, where allowing a child to access would constitute an offence under the Film and Publications Act. Any person who fails to comply with these provisions shall be guilty of an offence.
Parents, help your children to understand why they should never forward or post pictures that could cause them embarrassment, even if their friends are doing it. Anyone who comes across material that is classifiable as child sexual abuse imagery is encouraged to report it to the FPB using the Toll Free number 0800 148 148, or visiting the FPB’s website for more information: www.fpb.gov.za
Malware, spam and phishing
For every great and wonderful thing online there are sadly also some very horrible things as well. Malware spam and phishing are some of the significant downsides to the online world. What are they?
Malware is software that you download, usually (without knowing), that tries to damage or disable your computer. Malware can come in many forms, often in links to sites that you might think are safe, or that you know. Spam also takes different forms but is usually content that you get as messages, emails, posts. It is usually sent to all sorts of people from companies and places you don’t know. It is some kind of effort to get you to buy something or visit a website. It is annoying and wastes your time and can also take you to unsafe sites. Phishing is where you get messages from someone pretending to be someone or something they are not. It might be someone pretending to be from your local bank saying you have won something, when in fact it is a person trying to steal information about you. It is important to know what each of these things are so you can avoid giving away information about yourself or family, or losing money or being exposed to things you don’t want to see.
To help you avoid these follow these basic rules:
- If you get a message that sounds too good to be true it probably is. If a message says you won a competition you didn’t enter – delete, delete!
- If a message asks for personal information as part of a “security check,” show to an adult, no reputable company sends out messages just asking for your details, so delete, delete!
- Trust yourself, if a message seems odd, you didn’t ask for it, it offers you free stuff in exchange for information about you. Delete, delete!