Education the key to online safety

Posted in Cyberbullying and Online Safety, Uncategorized by ginas876 on May 23, 2010

When Sydney teen Nona Belomesoff was murdered after meeting up with the person she first befriended on Facebook, the first reaction from police and parent groups was to either restrict access or teach them to be cybersmart.

Of course the latter makes sense, especially as kids and teens tend to let their guard down in the online space. Police said doing something as simple as keeping photos you post private, can ward off predators. A photo on a social networking site speaks volumes about the person who posts it.

In The Sydney Morning Herald article ‘Police warn teens about Facebook’, published on 20 May 2010, Detective Superintendent Peter Crawford explained why:

“It’s not just the issue of the photograph. If someone is prepared to put their photograph, then they are generally also putting a lot of other information about themselves on the internet.”

At the same time, Social Media Strategist, Laurel Papworth called for parents and schools to educate kids and teens about online safety rather than being quick to immediately ban or restrict access. Her view, which is also my view, is that there is value in being part of social networking and teaching kids and teens about both the positive and negative aspects. Simply taking the computer out of the kids’ rooms would enable parents to keep an eye on what they’re doing online and who they’re talking to.

This debate is interesting, particularly around the area of restriction. The Australian Government is trying to restrict access to what they deem ‘objectionable content’ from the Australian public, in a bid to keep people safe.

This begs the questions, is internet censorship the answer or is education?

If internet filtering is introduced in Australia, the Internet Service Providers will block – at the URL level, any site deemed to have child pornography and “other prohibited material” and enable content to be filtered by the user – eg parents can choose to restrict access to all RA content.

The issues with this, as highlighted in the working paper by Alana Maurushat and Renee Watt at the University of NSW is that there is no actual way the Australian Governement can guarantee that objectionable content is blocked.

For instance, ISPs  must block content  such as child pornography on the URL level which does not enable it to be blocked from sites  such as Bit Torrent, encrypted channels, chatrooms, MSN Instant Messaging and mobile phones. There’s also no guarantee that sites which would be of benefit to the Australian public such as Breast Cancer sites, won’t be accidentally blocked due to the content it may contain.

Maurushat’s and Watt’s recommendation in this instance is for Australia is, as Laurel Papworth stated above – to take computers out of kids’ rooms and bring them into the spaces where parents can keep an eye on them while also installing a personal filter. They also recommend that more research is conducted into cybercrime, particularly around prohibited materials and information security. A joint effort between parents and schools to educate kids and teens about online safety would be a far better way to keep them safe than attempting to filter content using technology that isn’t up to scratch and can’t guarantee safety anyway.


Browne, R. (2010) ‘Moving farewell for Facebook victim’, The Sydney Morning Herald. Accessed at

Kwek, G. (2010) ‘Facebook ban not the answer: strategist’, The Sydney Morning Herald. Accessed at

Maurushat, A., Watt, R. (2009) Clean Feed: Australia’s Internet Filtering Proposal, University of NSW, Faculty of Law Research Series.

Timson, L. (2010) ‘Police warn teens about Facebook’, AFP, The Sydney Morning Herald. Accessed at


Predators and the art of trapping minors online

Posted in Cyberbullying and Online Safety by ginas876 on May 7, 2010

With social networking sites such as Facebook and Skype, making it easier for people to connect and meet online, comes a new breeding ground for sex offenders.

There was an interesting article ‘How I drew pedophiles into my internet trap,’ published in The Sydney Morning Herald on 23 June 2007, which exposed just how easy it was for a child to be preyed upon online.

Investigative journalist Martin Foley posed as a 14-year-old student on Skype to report on just how easy it was for sex offenders to find and communicate with a  minor. He was especially disturbed by the fact that within seconds of posting his profile, he was bombarded with  “requests for lewd photographs and offers by the predators to perform sex acts by webcam,” from all around the world.  The men were not deterred by the fact they were chatting to a 14-year-old girl, many of whom wanted to meet her in person.

To combat  this issue , the Australian Federal Government has proposed new laws which include penalties of up to 25 years jail for pedophiles who use the internet to prey on children or to be part of child pornography rings.

According to The Sydney Morning Herald article, ‘Online sex offenders to face more jail time,’ published on 4 February 2010, increasing child abuse online coincided with sophisticated technology and the ease with which predators can communicate with minors.

Under the new laws, the Australian Federal Police will also have the power to “confiscate encrypted computer hardware used to store child pornography.”

But is this enough to combat online child abuse?

A report released by the Internet Safety Technical Taskforce in the US interestingly found that  minors most at risk were those who “often engage in risky behaviors and have difficulties in other parts of their lives.” And the “psychosocial makeup of and family dynamics surrounding particular minors are better predictors of risk than the use of specific media or technologies.”

So it’s not the technology placing children at risk as the Australian Federal Police Commissioner Tony Negus was quoted in the article mentioned above, but it’s the circumstances of the children and their family dynamics.

This is why I’ve always thought parents and schools play a major role in educating children on the dangers of the internet and teach them how to stay safe online. Parents should continute to educate themselves about the technology their children are using and how this could pose as a risk for their children. Community service announcements reinforcing these messages are also important, and is something which is rarely seen on Australian television.

That, along with messages that remind children to be aware of the information they’re giving online, at the point of when they’re completing an online profile could all act as further safety measures that need to be in place to keep children safe.


AAP (2010) Online sex offenders face more jail time  Accessed at

The Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University (2008) Enhancing Child Safety and Online Technologies: Final Report of the Internet Safety Technical Taskforce to the multi-state working group on Social Networking of State Attoryney’s General of the United States. Access at

Foley, M (2007), ‘How I drew pedophiles into my internet trap’, The Sydney Morning Herald. Accessed at

Online child encounters – is it time to hit the panic button?

Posted in Cyberbullying and Online Safety by ginas876 on April 19, 2010

As more children and teens are reported as being involved in dangerous encounters with adults they meet online comes news that Facebook’ is refusing to add a child safety button on their site.

The button, according to The Times article, “Police attack Facebook in dispute over child safety”, enables users to report concerns instantly to police or charities while online. Known as the Child Exploitation and Online Protection button (CEOP), it’s already been added to Bebo and MSN sites.

Facebook says there have been no instances where children have been lured into a dangerous situation because of their site and their reporting mechanism provides enough protection. But surely, it wouldn’t hurt to add a button to see if it makes a difference?

It may have prevented the abuse of a child like Alicia Kozakiewicz , who at 13 talked to her online friend everyday. Little did she know that this friend was actually a 38-year-old man. Scott W. Tyree lured Alicia to a meeting spot where he then picked her up in his car and drove her to his home where he tortured and sexually assaulted her for 4 days.  She was rescued and over the years has become a powerful advocate for online safety campaigns.

The Canadians have taken a different approach. They’ve asked kids to come up with their own public service announcement to teach others about online safety. What better way to teach kids about the dangers of cyberspace than to give them the power to contribute to a solution? Sponsored by Microsoft, these short videos were created by the Boys and Girls Clubs of Canada as part of the CanTech Digital Arts Contest.

Just like the public service announcements created by kids in Canada, the child safety button on Facebook is really about giving the power back to the user – in this case kids. And there can’t be any harm in that.


O’Neill, S. (2010), ‘Police attack Facebook in dispute over child safety’, The Times. Accessed at

Park, M. (2010) ‘Internet horror tale teaches lesson in safety: State girl, 13, agreed to meet acquaintance only to be assaulted.’ Accessed at

Cyberbullying: The dark side of being connected

Posted in Cyberbullying and Online Safety by ginas876 on March 30, 2010

There’s never a moment in our lives where we can’t connect with someone in an instant. The Internet, and namely, Web 2.0, has made it possible for us to keep our friends, family, and even strangers, abreast of what’s happening in our lives at the click of a button. Every day we text, tweet, update our status on Facebook, and email to keep connected.

However there’s a dark side to social media, especially for adolescents and teenagers.  Cyberbullying is increasingly becoming a problem, particularly among teenagers and adolescents.

Cyberbullying is defined as being a “form of aggression” that occurs through computers via email, instant messaging, social network sites, or mobile phones via text messaging [‘School Bullying Among Adolescents in the United States: Physical, Verbal, Relational and Cyber’, Journal of Adolescent Health, Wang 2009].

There have been many reports of cyberbullying over the last few years, resulting in teen suicides.

Take the 2006 case of 13-year-old schoolgirl Megan Meir.

Megan committed suicide after being told by her “friend” Josh, that he didn’t want to be friends with her after establishing a friendship and ongoing correspondence via MySpace. Little did she know that Josh was in fact her neighbour, Lori Drew, the mother of a teenage daughter who was harassing Megan online to find out what she thought about her own daughter.

Just recently, there was yet another report in The Sydney Morning Herald, of a schoolgirl who committed suicide after intense bullying by her schoolmates over three months.

According to the article, ‘Girl who killed herself experienced unrelenting bullying’, published on 30 March, 15-year-old Phoebe Prince was repeatedly bullied at South Hadley High School, Northampton, Massachusetts. This behaviour followed her outside the schoolyard, to also include “vicious mobile phone text messages.”

According to a Newspoll survey, one in five young people in Australia are victims of cyberbullies.

So what can we do to prevent this? And who should be held to account – parents or the school? This is currently being debated but it’s clear that both need to intervene as soon as it’s brought to their attention.

Dr Marilyn Campbell, School of Learning and Professional Studies, says they’ve learnt a lot about bullying over the last 20 years, and the same principles can be applied to cyberbullying.

These include:

  • Awareness raising: Educating teachers, parents, and students on cyberbullying and its consequences
  • Whole School Policies: Schools promote that they’re ‘bully-free zones’ and outline consequences of cyberbullies
  • Supervision: Encouraging parents to supervise their kids while using the computer at home, perhaps even keeping the computer in a common area in the home rather than the kid’s bedroom
  • Programs: Teaching net-iquette to schoolkids and actively encouraging schoolkids to speak out against bullying.

    The more teachers and parents band together to raise awareness of cyberbullying and its consequences, the closer we will be to resolving the issue.


    Campbell, M. A. (2005). Cyber bullying: An old problem in a new guise? Australian Journal of Guidance and Counselling, 15, 68–76.

    Wang,J, Iannotti, R.J., and Nansel T.R., (2009), School bullying among adolescents in the United States: Physical, verbal, relational, and cyber, J Adolesc Health 45, pp. 368–375

    Williams, F (2010) Bullies without borders: Keyboards give cowards a launchpad for attacks, social trends reporter, Herald Sun, 24 February 2010. Accessed at:

    (2008) MySpace suicide: new law outlaws cyberbullying, The Sydney Morning Herald, AP, 1 July 2008. Accessed at: