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SA youngsters under threat from cyber bullies as online shaming and revenge porn also on the rise

By Sameer Naik Time of article published Mar 27, 2021

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South African children are not only having to protect themselves from bullies on the playground, but now they have to do it online too.

Over the last few months, South Africa’s kids have come under threat with more than half of the country’s kids falling victim to cyber bullies.

This is according to a survey conducted recently by digital identity, privacy and social media protection company, Digimune. The company surveyed 200 parents to gauge their views and concerns around children and digital threats.

The results of the survey revealed that 51.5% of the children whose parents took part in the survey had been cyberbullied.

The survey also found that 54% of children have accessed inappropriate content via digital platforms.

South African children are also increasingly becoming victims of online shaming and revenge porn, according to the survey.

Simon Campbell-Young, co-founder and VP global sales at Digimune, said the drastic increase in cyberbullying in South Africa can be attributed to an increase in online presence in South Africa.

Simon Campbell-Young, co-founder and VP global sales at Digimune. Supplied image.

“The reason is because there has been an increase in connected societies,” Campbell-Young told The Saturday Star.

“More people are getting online, especially the youth. Also crime surges where prosecution and policing is relaxed or ineffective. Clearly, there is also a lack of good cyber education and defensive tools in the country.”

Campbell-Young said the increase is also due to the world moving to a more digital space due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“There has been a 100% increase as more and more family members spend longer periods online. Parents are also allowing their kids to spend more time online, which has been an overspill from the last 12 months, in terms of online education.”

An increase in access to devices such as smartphones and tablets among children is another reason for the increase.

“The virtual world creates anonymity and distance, which gives the impression of safety. The reverse is actually true.”

According to Campbell-Young, cyberbullying or cyber harassment takes place over digital technologies.

“It can happen via social media, messaging platforms, gaming platforms and mobile phones, where people can view, participate, or share content. It is recurring behaviour aimed at intimidating, provoking, or shaming those who are targeted.

“Cyberbullying is when someone posts, sends, or shares negative, harmful, false, or mean content about someone. With cyberbullying, the targets may not know who is targeting them or why. The bully can hide his or her identity using anonymous accounts and pseudonymous screen names.”

The survey revealed that 35% of South African children have been victims of cyberstalking, 36.5% of children have fallen victim to online shaming, and 43.5% of children willingly share their personal information on online platforms.

While the numbers are staggering, Campbell-Young believes the figures could be a lot higher.

“It is likely that this data is an under-representation, due to a combination of children’s reluctance to tell their parents about an attack and the sophistication of cybercrime today.

“Far from ad hoc, brute force attacks using rudimentary technology and techniques, cyber criminals harness the latest tech, bide their time and are strategic about their activities.

“The theft of personal information or hacking into social media platforms are good examples of this. Because criminals go on to sell this information on the dark web, it is in their interest for you, or your child, to be oblivious to the theft of information or the hack.”

Campbell-Young said they had come across several cases of South African children being cyberbullied in the past few months.

“We have had a number of cases locally and abroad where kids have had indecent imagery of themselves uploaded onto social media platforms. Also online group chats, abusing another pupil or individual. There are so many cases. The recent case at Bishops, regarding rape, is a prime example.”

Campbell-Young said online shaming and revenge porn is also becoming an increasing problem in South Africa.

“This has grown astronomically, as imagery can be easily shared” said Campbell-Young.

“Also due to so much content available to kids these days, the lines are becoming blurred between ‘what is acceptable now’ versus ‘what was acceptable then’.”

He believes that education is key to helping kids avoid becoming victims of cyber threats.

Dharmesh Singh pleaded guilty to attempted extortion in the Durban Regional Court.

“It’s important for parents to understand this landscape themselves. A lot of parents feel overwhelmed within the cyber space. Parents need to be able to monitor devices, monitor content, but also have an advanced threat notification solution.

Campbell-Young revealed that identity theft is drastically increasing in South Africa too.

“It is one of the fastest growing cybercrimes locally. Your digital footprint extends across the web, permanently exposing your digital assets such as your ID, email, credit card, bank details.

“These items are sold across the web, specifically on the deep and dark web. Hackers use these credentials to build profiles, which are used in cybercrime. Using your personal credentials, unknown to you, to open accounts, mobile contracts, is now commonplace.”

Essential signs to look out for to identify and tackle the scourge of cyber bullying;

• Your child does not go to school or is uncomfortable about attending classes.

• They no longer have an interest in or want to take part in regular sports and other activities.

• They avoid group gatherings or visits with friends.

• They feel sick or complain of constant headaches or stomach aches.

• They appear anxious or nervous when they receive an incoming message or e-mail.

• They stop what they are doing or act suspiciously on the computer or device if you walk past.

• They either spend much longer than usual online or stop using their digital devices completely.

• They display sudden, unexplained changes in behaviour.

• They have trouble sleeping or lose their appetite.

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