By Mulengera Reporters
Every year, on February 8, the world celebrates Safer Internet Day. Earlier this year, Uganda joined other nations to mark the 19th edition that was celebrated under the theme ‘All fun and games? Exploring respect and relationships online.’
The theme is relevant as it’s reflective of the young people’s role in promoting a safe internet while meeting their entertainment needs. It equally fosters respectful online communities and relationships.
Safer Internet Day helps shape this conversation by drawing attention to specific global internet content-related concerns which are consistent with the theme in the context of cyber bullying and online child safety besides misinformation and internet addiction among others.
In line with Uganda Communications Commission (UCC)’s mandate which is to protect consumers, this news feature highlights prevalent internet safety concerns in Uganda and suggests tips for consumers on how to overcome them while safely enjoying the full benefits of the internet.
ONLINE CHILD SAFETY: The internet provides a good place for learning, entertainment and cultivating meaningful relationships. It can also be a source of danger especially for children who are targeted by cunning cyber actors seeking to exploit their innocence and naivety. The consequences are often alarming and can include child trafficking, child pornography, sexting (which is the exchange of sexually explicit material) and cyberbullying among others.
TIPS FOR PARENTS: In order to placate their children while enhancing their internet-related safety, parents can reflect on the following:
- Remain positively engaged: Pay attention to the online environments of your children. Appreciate your children’s participation in their online communities and show interest in their friends. Try to react constructively when they encounter inappropriate material. Make it a teachable moment.
- Support their good choices: Expand your children’s online experience and their autonomy when developmentally appropriate, as they demonstrate competence in safe and secure online behavior and ethical decision making.
- Keep a clean computer: Safety and security start with protecting all family computers with a security suite (anti-virus, anti-spyware, and firewall) that is set to update automatically. Keep your operating system, web browsers, and software current as well and back up computer files regularly.
- Know the protection features of the websites and software your children use: All major Internet service providers (ISPs) have tools to help you manage young children’s online experience (e.g., selecting approved websites, monitoring the amount of time they spend online, or limiting the people who can contact them) and may have other security features, such as pop-up blockers. Third-party tools are also available. However, remember that your home isn’t the only place they can go online.
- Review privacy settings: Look at the privacy settings available on social networking sites, cell phones, and other social tools your children use. Decide together which settings provide the appropriate amount of protection for each child.
- Teach critical thinking: Help your children identify safe, credible web sites and other digital content, and be cautious about clicking on, downloading, posting, and uploading content.
- Explain the implications: Help your children understand the public nature of the Internet and its risks as well as benefits. Be sure they know that any digital info they share, such as emails, photos, or videos, can easily be copied and pasted elsewhere, and is almost impossible to take back. Things that could damage their reputation, friendships, or prospects should not be shared electronically.
- Help them be good digital citizens: Remind your children to be good “digital friends” by respecting personal information of friends and family and not sharing anything about others that is potentially embarrassing or hurtful.
- Just saying “no” rarely works: Teach your children how to interact safely with people they “meet” online. Though it’s preferable they make no in-person contact with online-only acquaintances; young people may not always follow this rule. So, talk about maximizing safe conditions: meeting only in public places, always taking at least one friend, and telling a trusted adult about any plans they make – including the time, location, and acquaintance’s contact information (at least a name and cell phone number). Remind them to limit sharing personal information with new friends.
- Empower your children to handle issues: Your children may deal with situations online such as bullying, unwanted contact, or hurtful comments. Work with them on strategies for when problems arise, such as talking to a trusted adult, not retaliating, calmly talking with the person, blocking the person, or filing a complaint. Agree on steps to take if the strategy fails.
- Encourage your children to be “digital leaders:” Help ensure they master the safety and security techniques of all technology they use. Support their positive and safe engagement in online communities. Please encourage them to help others accomplish their goals and make better choices. https://staysafeonline.org/get-involved/at-home/raising-digital-citizens/
CYBER BULLYING: UNICEF defines cyberbullying as “repeated behaviour aimed at scaring, angering or shaming those who are targeted.” Examples include spreading lies about someone, or posting embarrassing photos on social media, sending hurtful messages or threats via messaging platforms, as well as acts of impersonation.
While children are particularly vulnerable, there is considerable evidence of young people and adults being victims of online cyberbullying.
Cyberbullying can leave serious scars on the victim. It can feel as if you’re being attacked from everywhere and there’s no escape route. The effects can last a long time and may affect a person mentally (namely by way of feeling upset, embarrassed, stupid, even angry); emotionally (feeling ashamed or losing interest in the things you love) and physically (namely feeling tired, unable to sleep, stomach aches and headaches).
The sense of shame, betrayal and harassment can prevent people from speaking up or trying to deal with the problem. In extreme cases, cyberbullying has led to people taking their own lives.
MITIGATION/WHAT TO DO:
- Seek help: If you think you’re being bullied, the first step is to seek help from someone you trust such as your parents, a close family member or another trusted adult. If at school, reach out to your favorite teacher or counsellor.
- Block the contact: If the bullying is happening on a social platform, consider blocking the bully and formally report their behaviour on the platform itself. Social media companies are obligated to keep their users safe.
- Collect evidence: Save text messages and screen shots of the media posts in question to show what’s been going on.
- Delete app and/or stay offline: Consider taking a break to heal and recover from the bullying. However, getting off the internet is not a long-term solution as you did nothing wrong. It may even send the bullies the wrong signal by way of encouraging their unacceptable behaviour.
- Report to police: If you are in immediate danger, consider contacting the police or any other relevant authority.
Bullies often take advantage of personal information they have about their victims, including text messages, audios and videos. To deny bullies information they can use against you, adhere to the following:
Don’t just share – Think twice before posting or sharing anything online as it may stay online forever and could be used to harm you later.
Personal address – Don’t give out personal details, including your address, phone number or other details to people you don’t know or trust.
Privacy settings – Learn about the privacy settings and anti-bullying tools of your favorite social media apps.
MISINFORMATION & FAKE NEWS:
The internet has given everyone an opportunity to produce and share content online. However, this also facilitates the spread of false information, deliberately or inadvertently. Dissemination of misinformation or fake news can result in violence, financial loss, unfounded anxiety or serious risk to life and property.
How to avoid fake news
- Be vigilant and curious when looking at any piece of news or information from unofficial sources
- Verify any news stories/reports received before believing or forwarding them to other persons
- Not every piece of information encountered online is true, authentic, or created in good faith
- To counteract misinformation, the Commission recently set up a fact checking mechanism. To verify a suspect piece of information, take a screen shot and send to 0760 445256 (Whatsapp); Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Blog: https://ug-cert.ug/fake-news/. The UG-CERT Team will review, authenticate, verify, and publish the finding.
The UN advises that before one shares anything online, they should pause and ask themselves:
- How do I feel?
Misinformation is designed to provoke a reaction so that we share.
- Who shared this?
People often share without first checking if something is true.
- What is the source?
Tracing original source will help you decide it it’s trustworthy.
- When was it published?
Information can change. Make sure what you see is up to date.
- Why do you want to share this?
If you’re sharing to provoke a reaction in others, pause.
ROLE OF UG-CERT
The Uganda Communication Commission (UCC), with the support of the Government of Uganda and the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), set up the Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT) as part of efforts to promote online safety and protect consumers.
The CERT team works together with different partners to help protect internet services and consumers from, among others, child pornography, online bullying or harassment, spamming/phishing, online blackmail and extortion, copyright infringement, computer hacking, website defacement, online fraud and online impersonation.
Related incidents can be reported to the CERT through an email to email@example.com or the CERT website (www.ug-cert.ug) or UCC toll-free line 0800 222 777.
Elsewhere, help can be sought from www.besafeonline.ug website, an initiative of the Commission’s sister agency National Information Technology Authority – Uganda (NITA-U) to raise awareness on cyber security.
The website is a good resource for parents, guardians and schools for best practice information on how educate and guide their children on safe internet use.
On Safer Internet Day, and indeed every other day, stakeholders are called upon to join hands to make the internet a safer and better place for all and especially for children and young people. (The first national survey on Ugandan children’s internet behavior was first conducted by UCC in December 2019 and a detailed report can be accesses via this link: https://www.ucc.co.ug/wp-content/uploads/2022/12/Final_Report_Child-Online-Survey.pdf).