For this ‘Cyber Savvy’ generation, the right and ability to use technology manifests itself in a myriad of ways with young people learning, communicating, socialising and gaming through, with and because of technology. However, with rights come responsibilities and as we promote the use of technology, it is important to highlight the responsibilities that must come in tandem with these rights. Technology is easily abused and misused and if we are allowing our children use of and access to these tools, we must ensure they are able to use them safely and respectfully.
Short Messaging Service (SMS) offers us a quick and instant way to send text messages and the number of free downloadable applications that are available to us are increasing with each new phone on the market.
Messaging applications can be downloaded to our Smartphones as well as our iPads and PCs and are attractive to young people to use, especially if their friends have the same Smart phone which means they can then download the same messaging application. There are countless applications to choose from but there are a few that most young people have in common which, to give you a better understanding, we have included further on.
There are also social networking sites that offer 24/7 communication with friends and family and these give us another mode in which to engage with other people. Young people are not using just one social networking site, they are using multiple platforms in which to communicate so the etiquette amongst users is in accordance with what they are using. There are rules applied to all sites but it is the users that dictate how they engage with the applications they use.
What happens when young people download applications that enable them to send a question anonymously and other people message their response? Often the responses are vile nasty comments that are broadcast for a mass audience to view and join in. As young people have messaging applications linked into their Facebook page, whenever message are left, all their ‘friends’ can see them.
The comments are made to purposely upset people and due to the anonymity and the perceived protection of not being known, the consequences of receiving unpleasant messages are not witnessed and there is a sense of detachment from the upset caused. Hurtful words are powerful and destructive and if we consider how we would feel if we were to receive hurtful comments, we can go some way to understand the impact this has on a young, vulnerable person who feels persecuted by such messages.
Online bullying is a real problem in today’s society and as research shows, statistics are critical.
Since the social networking site entered our lives in 2004, it has acquired over 699 million* active users daily and with the average Facebook user having 130 friends*, it seems we are living our lives online.
Most young people have a Facebook profile and many are also younger than the required age of 13 and see nothing wrong with being younger than the age stipulated when you join. So – does it matter? The answer is yes it does. If users under the age 13 are communicating with someone older, the content of conversation may be above their level of maturity to deal with and this can only lead to problems. Not only this, by allowing them to fake their age to access the site, you are sending out the message that to falsify information is acceptable.
Whilst Facebook is a fantastic way to keep in touch with friends and family, it is also a platform for some people to bully and even stalk people they communicate with and young people feel they are out of their depth. Even worse, belonging to the online community appears to give young people a sense of distance and desensitisation. But cyber bullying is not acceptable on Facebook or anywhere else online. Although young people need to take responsibility for their own protection, as parents, we also have a responsibility to our children. A few basic tips to share with your child would be:
A Latvia based site that was created by two brothers in 2010 for Android phones. The premise was to post questions on the message board to elicit replies of a positive nature – all sent under a shroud of secrecy as each post is anonymous. Unfortunately, young people are using this social media platform to send messages to ‘friends’ which are deemed to be offensive and telling them to do harm to themselves. This was not the purpose of the site. Young people have fm linked to their Facebook site and every time a message is posted, others can view it and respond with unpleasant messages and before long, a long trail has been posted causing upset and distress to the person the message was sent to. To eliminate the improper use of Ask.fm:
This is a free downloadable texting application that can be used on Windows, Androids, iPhones and BlackBerry phones so its reach is quite wide. The ‘application store’ on phones from which you access Kik, rates Kik as only being advisable for 17 years old and above, yet young people are able to bypass this. Not only is Kik being used to send messages, it is also used to send pictures which is yet another platform on which inappropriate messages can be sent. Young people, who use Instagram to upload pictures, are using this as a platform to publicise their Kik username, which is a necessity to enable someone to chat with you.
A recent review featured on iTunes reported the following: “This application is quick and fun, but too many paedophiles asking me for nude pictures…but it is safe as long as you don’t talk to strangers”. There are some safeguarding tips if you want to prevent under 17’s using Kik; visit www.besmart.com and go to ‘how to restrict apps by rating’ which will take you through what you need to do to safeguard your child from downloading Kik on to their phone.
Launched in 2010, users are able to text, send pictures and share everything that other sites allow you to share allows. It is also free to download and all that is required is an email address to subscribe to the service. If used on iPod Touch, it “converts” to a mobile phone that allows you to text and make “free” calls. It is worth acknowledging that iPod Touch is wi-fi enabled thus allowing unlimited contact with others and is not just a device for gaming and playing music. Viber also has the capacity to send pictures as well as tagging yourself to your location. Used inappropriately, they can have devastating consequences.
Of concern, is the fact that once you have downloaded the application, it searches through your contacts and identifies other users of Viber that extends your connections to a wider audience than you first envisaged (www.icybersafe.com).
This site has been available since 2008 and the premise of the website is that you can chat with complete strangers and identify yourself as “you” and the person you are chatting with as “stranger”. As the age restriction is set at 13 on Omegle, there is nothing to prevent a young person as signing in as someone who is over the age of 13. Omegle can be linked to Facebook and matches you with strangers with similar “likes” that you have clicked on and Facebook users could potentially see your Omegle activity on your profile, however, as with Facebook, Omegle allows you to chance your setting to “Me only” (www.besmart.com).
BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) is an instant messenger application on BlackBerry phones that is internet-based that allows you to chat with others who have a BlackBerry phone and it is the immediacy of messages that is appealing. You can have group discussions as well as a one-to-one conversation and as with other text messaging services, you can send pictures, videos, audio recordings and users share their BlackBerry PIN on social media sites in order to be located.
Was founded in 2009 and as well as chat and instant messaging, you can exchange pictures, music and videos via mobile internet or by connecting to Wi-Fi and is available on most platforms. Whatsapp was not created as a platform to send unpleasant messages but it is useful to know that this application is used frequently by young people and no messaging application is exempt from being used for the wrong purpose.
The application includes eBuddy chat and eBuddy XMS and is available across many platforms such as Android and Blackberry. The ability to chat simultaneously or instant message with friends is a positive feature as every message is run continuously so that you do not miss any messages. As the data is sent via the internet and not via SMS, it is free of charge to use and appealing to young people for that reason.
Whilst Twitter is classed as a social media site, it has been used to send unpleasant messages, called tweets. With 58 million tweets sent daily and over 500 million users, nasty messages can quickly reach a mass audience causing distress to the person who receives such a message.
Founded in 2007, Tumblr is a social networking site where you can post text, links, pictures and music and offers similar options as other sites of this nature. Users write or post to what is called the Dashboard and it allows users to upload the usual items and as with other applications and social networking sites, Tumblr can be connected to their Facebook and Twitter accounts so posts can be viewed wherever you may be.
If you are concerned about any of the above sites, which only represents a small proportion of what is available, visit https://www.saferinternet.org.uk which has information on parental control filtering and advice on blocking specific websites that you do not want your child to visit.
Another tip to control access to sites that you do not wish young people to visit that is effective, is to turn off your wireless router through the night when you are not able to keep an eye on what they could potentially be accessing via their PCs. Whilst this may appear extreme, it is another way in which we can safeguard younger children.