There will always be the danger of your child being exposed to age-inappropriate content.

What harm can happen to kids?

It’s 11am on a lazy Saturday and you’re checking Facebook when your 13-year-old daughter snuggles in next to you, sees your phone and announces she wants to have her own Facebook account. Now what? Before you give your child a brand spanking new tablet and a data bundle, consider what risks are out there in the cyber world.

There will always be the danger of your child being exposed to age-inappropriate content. Check out the privacy settings and statements of the various social media platforms yourself so you know how to best make use of these.

With social media now a worldwide phenomenon, anyone can plug in anywhere, at any time. Hazel Booth looks at how to avoid the threats that lurk on social media sites.

Achieving anonymity online is easy and with that comes the chance of cyberbullying. According to a study done by Unisa’s Youth Research Unit in 2012, cyberbullying increased by 40.3% in just two years. It can take the form of malicious comments or content, or your child’s account could be hacked. Make sure your child is aware that this behaviour needs to be reported.

Cyberstalking is more sinister: a stalker targets vulnerable individuals purely to exploit them, so never allow your children to meet with a stranger.

Paedophiles and child trafficking rings have been known to make use of social media platforms to befriend children, winning their trust by offering a gift or “holiday” in order to gain access to that child. They then expose children to adult content and force them into an inappropriate relationship. The US Trafficking in Persons 2014 report indicated that in Africa and the Middle East, between 2010 and 2012, sexual exploitation accounted for 53% of trafficking victims. It also indicated that the practice of forced marriage, or ukuthwala, is being used increasingly to force girls into sex trafficking.

Possibly the worst threat is how ISIS has used social media to recruit young people to join their ranks. In 2014, CNN reported on three teenage girls who left the US and flew to Germany with the intention of heading to Turkey and eventually Syria. They had been in touch with ISIS recruiters on social media and gradually converted to Islamic fundamentalism.  One of the parents noticed his daughter’s passport was missing and contacted the authorities. The girls were located in Germany and set back to Denver.

UK chief spy Robert Hannigan said such extremist groups make use of social media platforms to engage with their target audience. They spread their message by making use of popular hashtags and do not show the full extent of their brutality, and so they gain support.

Keep kids safe online

Managing editor at DigiKids Catherine Jenkin advises the following:

Have a chat: Talk to your child about their online behaviour, which apps are safe to download, what rules you have for their data usage or sites that are a no-no. By involving them, they will set boundaries in which they are personally invested.

Set an example: “Children do, and always will, learn best by example. And yes, they have snuck a look at your WhatsApp history while you were in the loo, even when you think they haven’t,” she says.
Check in: Establish an open device policy so you can check your child’s device at any time. If you’re wondering if it is an invasion of their privacy, keep in mind that protecting your child is part of being a parent.

Say goodnight: Determine a set “bedtime” for both the child and the device. Lying in bed on a phone late at night is not healthy, so let your child know it needs to be given to you before bedtime.

Get connected: Monitor the device by connecting it to a Google account. The browser history, Location information and YouTube watch and search history can be accessed in Google Account Settings from the Gmail account.

Manager of Digitisation and Digital Services at UCT Libraries, Janine Dunlop, asked some hard questions in an article on Parent.24. The age restrictions for Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are 13, while Whatsapp and YouTube are 16 and 18 respectively. However, is your child mature enough at 13 to handle the sometimes adult content on Facebook? Will she be able to handle the social pressure when her friends trade “likes” on Instagram for popularity while her posts are ignored? Age restrictions do not relate to emotional maturity and social media platforms can instil confidence or nurture neediness in children.

If your child devotes more time to being online than interacting in normal social situations, coupled with the ability to delete, block or unfriend someone online, they miss out on the practical experience of working out friendships and relationships face-to-face. Encourage interaction in the real world too.

Help your child to understand to stand up to peer pressure online. Kids must know it’s vital not to post personal information and that they can report any user who makes them feel uncomfortable or scared.

Defamation don’ts

As avid consumers of social media, adults are not exempt from the pitfalls of being plugged in. Social media law specialist and legal consultant Emma Sadlier explains that any content you post online is known as User Generated Content (UGC). By posting UGC, certain media laws will apply to you. One such law is the law of defamation which is defined as any statement made about a person which could lower their reputation. You may argue that you have the constitutional right to freedom of expression, however, Emma says, the right is limited as it cannot infringe on the rights of others, violate copyright or constitute hate speech. If you wouldn’t put your name and face next to that comment on a billboard, then you should not post the same content online.

Careless comments

In 2013 FHM writers Montle Moorosi and Maxim Barashenov were dismissed over comments they posted about corrective rape on Facebook. The Hawks fired spokesman McIntosh Polela after his ill-considered tweet about prison rape relating to Molemo Jub Jub Maarohanye’s murder conviction.

In 2011, the issue of Sedick & Another and Krisray (Pty) Ltd (2011) 32 ILJ 752 brought before the CCMA saw employees dismissed for “bringing the company name, director, management and staff into serious disrepute in the public domain”. The employees aired their grievances regarding management on Facebook. Although made on their private Facebook pages, it was published in the public domain. Thus, the employees’ privacy was not infringed upon when management saw the comments online and approached the CCMA.

“Anything you post online can make its way into the public domain and people need to be mindful of this,” warns Nerushka Deosaran, an IT law specialist.

Play it safe:

Think twice before posting content as it can be shared widely and is difficult to remove. Refrain from posting negative comments about working conditions or colleagues, or inappropriate images or commentary about risqué behaviour. As a rule of thumb, ensure your posts reflect the kind of professional image you wish to have.