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E-society266

Changes in Ideas about Safety on the Internet

Gunta Kavia, Sakaru Pasaule, Latvia

Two European Union projects, Net-Safe and Hotline Latvia, both of which were part of the Safer Internet Plus programme, were concluded at the end of August. This is an international programme which is aimed at focusing the attention of children, young people, teachers and parents on Internet safety, and it is being implemented with financing from the European Union in 25 other EU member states, too. Latvia is one of the most recent, but apparently also most active project participants.


Next year the Secretariat of Special Assignments Minister for Electronic Government Affairs of Latvia will be entrusted with organising a working meeting in Rga for delegates from the member states of the Insafe network of which the Net-Safe project is part.  A new project application has been completed for European Commission financing for the next phase of the project.  The new project, Net-Safe Latvia, will merge the two existing projects, also helping with the Helpline activity that allows people to call a phone number to report on possible violations on the Internet and to receive consultations.  The projects will be implemented by the aforementioned secretariat in partnership with the Latvian Internet Association, the National Inspectorate for the Protection of Childrens Rights, and the Ministry of Children and Family Affairs.  The project is also supported by the Ministry of Education and Science, the National Police, and other state and local government institutions.

RESEARCH ABOUT INTERNET SAFETY

The increased level of interest and understanding among children and adolescents in the area of Internet safety is made evident by the many people who have visited the Internet site www.drossinternets.lv, which was set up by the Net-Safe team of the secretariat.  There have been meetings with students, teachers and parents at events aimed at promoting the idea of safety on the Internet seminars, competitions, discussions and various attractive events during city festivals (in Talsi, Gulbene and Jelgava this year).  There are colourful, entertaining and informative Drossinternets.lv tents and creative workshops.

This great level of interest is clearly related to the fact that the Internet is now used in more than half of Latvias households.  There is also a great deal of information about safety on the Internet.  Still, the www.drossinternets.lv portal is seen as one of the most popular sources for such information among students and teachers alike.

The results of the two-year Net-Safe and Hotline projects are reflected both directly and indirectly in a recent research study, Safer Internet for Children and Adolescents, which the organisers of the project commissioned from the SKDS market and public opinion research centre.  Respondents were selected proportionally to regions of Latvia and the age of respondents (children up to the age of 13 and adolescents aged 14 to 18).  There were interviews with students, parents and teachers, and the results of this years study could be compared with one that was conducted two years ago.

According to the Central Statistical Bureau, the percentage of Latvian households with Internet access has increased quite swiftly, from 31% in 2005 to 42% in 2006 and 51% in 2007.  It has also been found that the numbers are far higher among families with children.  This, of course, means that where electronic homework used to be done by students mostly at school, this is now far less true just 19% of students reported doing so in 2007.  The reason for this is that most families with school age children have purchased a computer, which is so necessary as a contemporary educational resource, and in most cases they have also purchased Internet services.  Among all respondents in this group, 77% had such equipment and services at home.  This, however, also means new challenges, temptations and threats on the Web, particularly at such times when no adults are at home.

THREATS ON THE INTERNET

According to the Net-Safe study, 38% of children and 20% of adolescents believe that the Internet creates threats for them.  Children were approximately as likely this year as in 2006 to give that answer (36% in the previous study), while adolescents were less likely to say so (34% in 2006).  One wonders what these statistics really mean.  It probably shows that the Internet environment has not become less dangerous, but the level of information among adolescents about the dangers has increased, and that means that they find it easier to avoid the threats.

On the other hand, it is also true that students (particularly in the 14-18 age group, but increasingly also among younger experts) who do impermissible things on the Internet are far more likely now than in the past to do so purposefully, with the desire of firing up emotions and finding out what will happen.  That most often has to do with pornography (42% of respondents).  Young people not only view pornographic materials purposefully, but they are also well aware of where on the Net such resources can be found for free.  Sadly, the youngsters who visit sex sites with such bravado seldom think about the fact that not only is the content harmful in and of itself, but this also nearly always, albeit without kids knowing it, opens up the door to viruses, spy programmes or even greater problems with computer security.  This is true even with anti-virus protection in place.

Unlike the vastly experienced teens, a child in the first grade often encounters something like this for the first time in his or her life, and that can create long-lasting psychological shocks.  Most of the respondents in the latest research said that this was the way in which they learned their first lesson about safety and the lack thereof on the Net.  Without any plan to do so, kids wander around the game portals on the Internet, focusing on various sparkling pictures which so very much tempt one to look at what they are hiding.  There have been cases when children have found unpleasant pictures of naked people, as the questionnaire for the youngest children put it.

Sadly, there are many sites on the Internet which do not warn that pictures can be opened only by people who are 18 or older.  Net-Safe project director Liene Kalna says that she knows of a little boy who, without any preparations at all, found such a picture on the Internet.  He started to suffer nightmares, and he required intensive psychological treatment.

All told, 35% of children up to the age of 13 admitted in the survey that they have seen these unpleasant pictures of naked people.  Even more children 51% -- said that they have seen pictures or games in which someone beats or attacks someone else.  More than 10% of the children admitted to having received unpleasant or offensive texts from strangers (14% said that these were seen as a threat).

The Net-Safe study also shows that when young people use the Internet, they encounter emotional or spiritual violence (17%), or pushy moral and emotional humiliation (11%).  Some (9%) have disclosed personal information.  Some of the Net-Safe observations, as well as unofficial information, suggest that there are almost certainly far more young people in Latvia who have experienced emotional influence, even if that has not created the psychological terror that was true in an infamous case at the Nordic Gymnasium.  There are surely also more kids who have disclosed personal information.  The question is what kind of information was disclosed and to whom it was disclosed.

One can only hope that there are few young people who are naïve or thoughtless enough to find themselves in the situation faced by the hero of the On the Internet You are On Stage social campaign which was conducted by Net-Safe and Hotline Latvia in the summer of 2008.  I believe that such examples must be cited again and again, until the information is as deeply lodged in young peoples minds as is the fact that 2+2=4.  NEVER SEND YOUR PERSONAL DATA (name, surname, address, to say nothing of personal code or credit card numbers) OR ANY INFORMATION ABOUT YOUR FAMILY TO STRANGERS!!!  Do not talk about these things to people with whom you are chatting on the Internet, and not even to a boy or girl who you like after viewing a photograph on Draugiem.lv, particularly if you have never met that person in real life.  Please remember that any stranger can mislead you about his or her identity.  I know that young people are weary of such warnings, but God forbid that any of the dangers might ever occur in real life.

There is evidence of something else, however.  There was recently a fraudulent scheme which made malicious use of the popularity of the Ziedot.lv portal, which raises funds for various needs.  Someone used the name of Ziedot.lv to send out an E-mail solicitation for funds for young people who supposedly were badly injured in a car crash.  It is perfectly enough to transfer just one lats via an Internet bank for the scheme to begin and for your banking information to fall into the hands of dishonest people.  The Draugiem.lv brand is also used for similar manipulations, with people being asked to donate money.  Of course, that does not mean that all such requests are malicious, but before becoming involved, people must check out the source of information as thoroughly as possible.

DEALING WITH HARMFUL AND DANGEROUS CONTENT

If we compare the data from the 2008 and the 2006 survey, we find that the level of information among children and adolescents about illegal Internet content has increased from 76% to 86%, and youngsters tend to be far more knowledgeable about these things than their parents are.

It is also significant that this year 53% of children (34% in 2006), but only 36% of adolescents (20%) said that they know what to do if they find illegal materials on the Internet.  It turns out that children are far more likely (61%) than adolescents (29%) to talk about the situation to parents, grandparents or other family members.  Children are also more likely to seek the help of a teacher (31% and 14%) or the police (24% and 15%).  In both age groups, 17.1% of respondents said that they would use the Hotline by writing an announcement for Drossinternets.lv.  The so-called red button at that portal works quite effectively, and the police have launched four criminal investigations with the help of information that has been received that way.  True, some 40% of adolescents and 17% of children said that they wouldnt talk to anyone. 

Asked where they would like to get information about safe Internet use, 65.5% of children and 49% of adolescents said that they would like to get such information from a teacher.  It is important, however, that there is a comparatively high level of trust in the Drossinternets.lv portal (28.2% and 36.7%).  A total of 22% of respondents recognised the achievements of the Secretariat of Special Assignments Minister for Electronic Government Affairs of Latvia in providing information to students, and an even higher share of respondents said that they will continue to trust that source of information.  These last two sources of information, in truth, can be grouped together, because the people who designed the portal are employees of the secretariat.  It is a three-person team Net-Safe project director Liene Kalna, her assistant, Ieva ickovska, and Hotline project director Agnese Krie.  May the next phase in the project be successful for them!  I hope that support for safety on the Internet will be given by the 5,115 participants at seminars at which these issues were discussed, as well as by responsive teachers and parents, those who have been inspired by project competitions, and also those who have not yet been inspired at all.

 

Source: magazine Sakaru Pasaule, 2008


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23.06.2017


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