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Sunday April 21st, 2019 10:25AM

BBB: Parents need to re-address the importance of online safety

By Alyson Shields Reporter

There are a lot of dangers facing kids nowadays, and many of them are on the internet.

The Better Business Bureau said internet users of any age can encounter scam artists, malware, fake ads and websites, identity and personal information thieves and the like every day, but young internet users can face those predators and more, like cyberbullies. 

"Keeping your kids safe online is so much more than saying, 'Don't do this,' or 'Don't do that,' they have to truly be taught what to do and what not to do," said Dottie Callina with the BBB.

Callina recommended the website StopBullying.gov for more resources on how to combat both standard and cyberbullying, as well as information for both kids, parents and anyone interested.

"Some of the most common cyberbullying tactics are, obviously, posting comments or rumors about someone that are mean, hurtful or embarrassing , threatening to hurt someone, or telling them to kill themselves," said Callina. "Pretending to be someone else online in order to get personal information or false information about someone. They can start calling you horrible names based on your race, religion, any personal characteristic... they can actually create a web page about you, grab the name and go buy it... and start posting anything they want to."

Callina said the worst bullying offenses typically are because of nude photo sharing, lies and false accusations, bullying because the victim lacks socio-economic status, or suggesting self-harm or suicide.

"You're talking about people now that are nine, 10, 11, who are going to schooling and are being told they're worthless and they need to go home and kill themselves," said Callina. "Some of these kids don't ever even tell their parents."

Callina said cyberbullies also targeted victims for their sexual orientation and over jealousy.

The dangers of oversharing online

Cyberbullying isn't limited to the social aspects of the internet. Some online gamers have been also been targets of attacks like doxing, a form of bullying that shares private information publicly.

"If somebody says they don't like a certain game feature, or they don't like a certain gamer, people go in and they try to find that's person's information and they'll publicly post that person's address, email address and any social media links in the comments, so the person who made the original comment - possibly not to harm anyone - starts getting emails and threats from strangers, threatening to come to his home, assault him, block him from games."

While some sensitive information, like a home address, may be leaked because of cyberbullying, some young internet users might also share information with strangers they have befriended online. Regardless of how, Callina said this, along with things fake social media websites designed to be hidden from parents, can create a risk for children, most of whom lack the maturity to handle adult situations that range from identity theft, to interactions online that are sexual in nature.

"Children, they're not thinking clearly. You have somebody saying, 'Well if you really loved me you'd send me a photo of you in a bikini,' or less. So they think it's only going to this person, hopefully that would be the case. First of all, you shouldn't do it at all, but secondly, what happens if you break up with this person, or this person has no intention of keeping it to themselves? So they start sharing it on social media, everywhere. So now you're child is humiliated and embarrassed, but then they can bring in the bullying aspect."

Callina said parents need to educate themselves and step in before a situation escalates to the one described above, especially since a cyberbully or embarrassment might not be the final result.

"They absolutely lack the maturity and judgment to know how to protect themselves. When you do something like sexting, then you could have a stalker," said Callina.

And any information shared with strangers may cause more problems than humiliation. Callina said phony pop up ads often target children. "We call that 'malvertising,' where they imitate someone very popular, like Kylie Jenner and her lip care line... but people take advertisements, put it on social media where they know young kids are going to be, look here, click here, we just need this little bit of information, and all of a sudden your child is a victim of identity theft and you don't know how it happened. It's because they don't understand what happens when somebody becomes a victim of identity theft."

Callina said many young victims don't know for years that their identity has been stolen. 

Adults' actions can impact children's online safety

Both kids and adults on social media can fall for social media scams, like profile spoofing - when a current friend on a site appears to have made a new account and friends you again - but Callina said there's a different danger for young users. "That can turn in to, well, think of the worst horror story you can think of, of your child being lured away from your home. And even with games, there's just so much in there that can take a child away from being responsible on social media to being a possible victim of something you don't even want to think about."

In addition to educating your family on tricks, traps and scams, Callina encourages parents to create guidelines for the whole family. She suggested if you allow your children to have social media accounts to keep a log of their passwords.

"These kids, they've grown up with this. Older people like me, I'm still reading and learning about this, but they know it all. They can hide it from their parents. So whatever a parent, aunt, uncle, guardian, teacher can do to help these kids, then let's do it. And encourage kids also if they see bullying going on of any type, if they're afraid to report it to anyone at school to at least tell you as parents or guardians, maybe you can help a kid not get hurt in the worst way possible."

The internet is used for research, education and leisure, and it is not just at the liberty of predators. The BBB encourages consumers to protect themselves: ensure computers, software and any defense software is up to date before engaging in activities online and remember that if something seems too good to be true, it probably is. And Callina said that goes for both kids and parents.

More tips on internet safety from the BBB can be found here or by listening to the full interview with Dottie Callina above.

  • Associated Categories: Local/State News
  • Associated Tags: better business bureau, online, Internet safety, cyberbullying
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