Though online threats are plentiful, we are becoming more aware
Communications regulatory authority has received 718 notifications on illegal or harmful online content during the third quarter of this year. This is 33% less than the same period last year. This situation shows that the societal awareness of online threats is rising, though the problem still persists.
Scope of threats ranges from blackmail to data theft
Various social media give more avenues not only for offensive or illegal content to spread, but also for cybercriminals to exploit. According to Dr. Vilmantė Pakalniškienė of Vilnius University, people often make the criminals’ work easier by not paying enough attention to their online habits.
“There is a wide diversity of threats online. The problem goes beyond offensive online content – often, users themselves share too much, carelessly post photos, give out their phone number, address, other personal information that criminals might then use,” explains Dr. V. Pakalniškienė.
In Lithuania, criminals regularly manage to trick young girls to send them naked pictures, only to use them for blackmail, requiring money for not publishing them. Sometimes, even the photos sent to an acquaintance can appear on public social media channels or sent out to the victim’s friends and acquaintances. Many victims are also attacked by sexually explicit messages or photos; certainly, instances of using personal data to extract money occur regularly.
Children are the most vulnerable online
Pornographic content, abusive information, hateful or discriminatory messages, or online blackmail targets not only adults, but also children. According to Dr. V. Pakalniškienė, children are among the most vulnerable internet users and are the most easily affected.
“Children tend to be more open online than adults, they quite eagerly accept strangers to their social networks, send them pictures without thinking that they can become objects of abuse. They also tend to fall for false information, trust strangers who might be manipulating them. There are multiple instances when a stranger has managed to persuade a child to send them naked pictures and then demanded the child to send more, threatening to otherwise release the ones already sent. Such tendencies show that the virtual space is not yet safe for children,” claims the expert.
A negative experience can have long-lasting effects
Speaking about the impact of such negative experiences as above, Dr. V. Pakalniškienė observes that children who have experienced bullying or other types of harmful behavior online may become aggressive, begin bullying others, avoid friendships, or skip school. They might also stop trusting others both online and in real life, feel constant anxiety and even fall into depression, begin contemplating suicide.
The parental role in ensuring children safety online is crucial
According to Dr. V. Pakalniškienė, parents who wish to protect their children from online threats should help their children develop the skills necessary to use the Internet safely.
“We notice that parents very rarely set out any guidelines on how their children could and should use the Internet safely, they do not take interest in what their children post online and with whom they communicate. Parents also spend less and less quality time with their children and often give their kids tablets or smartphones to calm them down or occupy them for a while. Parents should develop a strong bond with their children from early on, communicate closely and openly. When such a bond exists, the child will not be afraid to turn to their parents when troubled or concerned. Parents should also note that children model themselves after their parents and keep in mind that if their own behavior contradicts the lessons they teach their children, these lessons will never be effective. In other words, parents should educate their children about safety online by example,” stresses Dr. V. Pakalniškienė.
5 tips for parents on how to begin teaching children Internet safety
1. As soon as is reasonable, begin talking about various potential online threats, set out some rules on how to safely use the computer and the Internet (i.e., with whom to communicate, what information to never share)
2. Help the child set the appropriate privacy settings on their social media
3. If possible, create a special child’s account, so you could monitor their activity if needed
4. Use parental control software and tools, that allow to filter out harmful websites and block access to them
5. Agree with your children that they would not communicate with strangers and would inform you about any messages they receive from strangers