Public Awareness Campaign: Child Exploitation on the Internet
Growing up in an era where the internet and video games take up more than 25% of a child's time made me realize just how integral technology has become to children's lives, and how vital it is that we increase our awareness on the dangers and benefits of technological advancement. Through this proposal, I intend to educate people, as well as myself, on how to handle the security risks that children are exposed to, online.
Reports about children being abused and brutalized, either on the internet, or in the real world, have become an integral part of the news today. Not a day goes by without such kinds of reports; and what is even worse is that hundreds of cases remain unreported, and the culprits are left scot free, with immense avenues to identify and devour more unsuspecting children (Byron, 2008). Such headlines have brought some kind of anxiety towards technology and have from time to time sparked heated, largely polarized debates, characterized by fear and panic that drowns out evidence. The end result is a clamor that distracts and shifts the nation's focus from the real issues, leaving children exposed and vulnerable, and more of victims than participants of technological advancement (Byron, 2008).
Technology is evolving so rapidly that parents are left stranded on one side of the digital divide, at times less knowledgeable about new developments. This gives rise to a situation where parents instinctively strive to protect their children offline, and assume that the children's technological expertise will help them protect themselves online, forgetting that knowledge does not necessarily imply wisdom (Thierer, 2007).
As technology evolves, how the internet is used also changes and so do the potential risks. Empirical research indicates that online platforms expose children to more risks, than they do benefits (Byron, 2008). A child using the internet today is exposed to the risks of cyber bulling, stranger danger, contribution to harmful and negative debates, and sexually inappropriate content at almost 45 percentage points higher than they would have been exposed to a decade ago (Thierer, 2007).
With the real world as dangerous as it is, parents may be inclined to keep their children indoors, occupied with the internet or video games, but if this is not accompanied by proper response and informative mechanisms, then it is literally useless and could be just one more case of 'jumping from the frying pan to the fire'. There is need to take control of the future generation. There is also need to preserve its rights, "and to take the risks that form an inherent part of its development by enabling it to play video games and surf the net in a safe and informed way" (Byron, 2008, p. 1).
Ongoing Public Awareness Campaigns
A number of campaigns aimed at increasing the level of public awareness are ongoing both at state and federal levels. The Cyber Peace Initiative is one such campaign (ITU, 2012). It seeks to educate young people and raise the community's awareness levels on online safety through combined youth programs. This it seeks to achieve by; i) establishing a youth-run internet safety focus group which empowers young people and children with mechanisms to readily identify and handle harmful content on the internet; ii) establishing a supporting parent focus group that carries out a door-to-door campaign equipping parents with the knowledge needed to guide, and support their children in the safe use of the internet; iii) the establishment of an educators safety group that raises awareness levels in educational facilities (ITU, 2012).
California's Cyber Safety for Children is another significant internet safety campaign formed through a partnership between the California Coalition for Children's Internet Safety and the Department of Consumer Affairs, with the aim of helping community leaders and parents protect the state's children from online exploitation (ITU, 2012). The initiative brings together education and business leaders, community organizations, law enforcement, government agencies, and parent groups, with a mission to "foster collaboration between stakeholders and experts" (ITU, 2012).
The 'Safety for Children in a Digital Era Campaign'
This proposal advances a public awareness campaign dabbed 'The Safety for Children in a Digital era' initiative, operating under the slogan 'Be safe, be aware, have fun', and supporting the need to educate children on the dangers of the internet. This campaign recognizes that children have rights, and that, if equipped with the right tools, they can be the best identifiers of their own problems (NSPCC, 2014). Our campaign intends to go further than just educating children, it seeks to foster accountability and responsibility by bringing to book the culprits as identified by children. To this end, our campaign plan is to first transmit information that boosts the campaign efforts and then increase public awareness through;
Promotion of quality content -- helping children to make constructive use of the internet by showcasing quality content, and then creating avenues for others to develop new features using our resources.
Advice and awareness -- equipping children with new literacy skills and advising teachers, parents, organizations, and the industry as a whole about mobile safety and the internet.
Policy and protection -- working hand in hand with other stakeholders, including law enforcement agencies, to prevent children from being exploited on online platforms, and bring to book those responsible for heinous acts against children online.
Internet Safety -- Preventing 'Online' Harm to Children
This campaign targets parents, school administrators, the government, and children alike. The success of any public awareness campaign is dependent upon the cohesion between the combined efforts of all relevant stakeholders (Wolak, Finkelhor, Mitchell, Ybarra, 2008). What each of the aforementioned players could do to prevent and deal with internet insecurity has been enumerated in the subsequent sections of this text.
Parents: Understanding Children's Learning
Literature on child development "indicates that age-related factors and understanding the ways in which children learn can provide a very useful guide to identifying and managing potential risks" posed by technology (Byron, 2008, p. 4). Brain development literature indicates that understanding the frontal cortex, the key part of the brain that mediates a child's behavior and experience throughout childhood, would effectively "help parents appreciate ways in which children's experience of the internet can present risks" (Byron, 2008, p. 4). The same approach used to manage risk for children in the 'offline' or real world ought to be applied to its virtual counterpart. In the offline world, parental monitoring decreases with a child's age; same goes for parental control (Byron, 2008). Taking the simple example of teaching a child how to cross the road safely; one begins by holding their hands across the road, then teaching them to think for themselves and make judgments as to whether or not the road is safe, and then finally letting them cross the road by themselves (Byron, 2008). The behavior of others and the environment in the form of road signs and symbols, guides them along.
This illustration demonstrates that parents need to change the way they approach this issue; they ought to make children understand the risks posed by technology, from the onset, and take advantage of the options available to build children's resilience to harmful material, "so that they may have the confidence and skills to navigate these new media waters more safely" (Byron, 2008, p. 5)
Technical tools such as Safe Search and other parental controls offered by internet providers such as Sky, TalkTalk, and Virgin Media could be used to restrict children from accessing inappropriate, harmful material online (NSPCC, 2014). However, these can only be effective if parents avail themselves at informative seminars and community meetings organized by public awareness campaign administrators, and gain knowledge on how to set the same up effectively (NSPCC, 2014). After all, being an effective teacher begins with keeping oneself on-the-know.
i) To Schools
The government could help in fostering e-safety by ensuring the reflection of its best practice in exemplar case studies across the school curriculum, or better still, by developing the concept of e-safety as a course on its own and incorporating the same into the school curriculum, right from the onset of a child's schooling (Byron, 2008). Children spend more than a quarter of a day's hours at school; school settings would, therefore, most definitely offer perfect grounds for building a child's resilience to inappropriate material, and instill accountability with regard to the same, at a tender age (Wolak, Finkelhor, Mitchell, Ybarra, 2008).
Moreover, state governments need to "take steps to ensure that new teachers entering the profession are equipped with e-safety knowledge and skills" (Byron, 2008, p. 8). Possible ways of realizing this include; making revisions to the statutory ICT test to include concepts of e-safety standards, and "providing guidance for initial teacher training providers on how to assess training e-safety skills against the professional standards for teachers" (Byron, 2008, p. 8).
Finally, the respective state governments ought to enforce the best practices of e-safety in schools by having all schools within their jurisdictions present snap-shot…