The challenges of Child Sexual Abuse Online and Digital Parenting — in conversation with Arnika Singh, Co-Founder- Social Media Matters
As our lives have shifted online and which requires us to interact digitally, these incidents of cybercrime have only grown! To understand how this affects young people and what we can do to be safer online especially in these times, we spoke to Arnika Singh, the co-founder of Social Media Matters, an organisation working on making the internet a safer place particularly for vulnerable groups like women and children.
Read about the conversation we had with her below :
With the popularity of films like Social Dilemma, do you think we care more about our online privacy now?
These films and documentaries have certainly created more awareness about these issues and people do want to know more, but we have learned from field experience that nobody is bothered about online safety until something happens to them.
In a class of 50 students where people are happily sharing their photos online, if one account gets hacked, impersonated or someone’s intimate pictures are shared, only then are they concerned about online safety.
In our workshops we found that after every session many students would take us in a corner and share their experiences of accounts getting hacked, impersonated or personal information being leaked. This was always in discourse but just hidden behind the curtains.
Why is that?
No one wants to talk about how their pictures got shared this way as there is a fear of your peers, parents and society in general. Also, few people have probably reached out to them and told them that I am here to support you.
What is the impact of being bullied or harassed online?
One thing that every victim wants is confidentiality. Most are very scared that their personal pictures are up on the internet or social media, and that thousands would have already seen them. There is so much peer pressure that they are unable to think about any mechanism to handle the situation. So, they look for a confidant who can really help them through this without involving friends or family.
What is your advice to children and young adults when they are victims of cyber crimes?
- Learn about safety mechanisms online: There is ample information that can help you control your data. We are continuing with our workshops to sensitise people about online safety and improve their online experience.
A study carried out by Social Media Matters on the perceptions of online vulnerabilities amongst the youth found that only 47% people know about grievance redressal mechanisms online, out of which only 17% actually use them. Its time we reclaimed our Privacy, find tips on how you can be safer on platforms here.
- Report incidents to the platform: If you want the platforms to take action you have to report it, so that platform is at least notified. Even when one goes to file an FIR or reach out through any helpline, the first thing they will ask is whether you have reported it on the platform.
Reclaim Your Privacy has shared step-by-step instructions to report harmful, violent or explicit content shared without your consent, on all platforms. Check it out here.
- Reach out to mentors or organizations: In the case of an incident, approach somebody that you can trust to help you, like a mentor in your school/university or agencies like Social Media Matters.
- Don’t victim blame: One thing we should remember is that we should not do victim blaming. If this happens to you, you should not go into the thought process that I did something wrong. The internet has both good things and bad. We all create our own paths and are learning about what you should and should not do.
- Build resilience: We need to start building resilience among younger children now. At Social Media Matters, we’ve started initiatives like “Digital Parenting” through which we encourage parents not to ban their kids from getting on social media. This will only create a curiosity amongst children who will find ways to access it regardless of restrictions. Parents should speak to their kids about both the good and evil that they will experience on the internet. Talk to them about the impact it can have on them and assure them that if they come into trouble they will be there for them. Mentoring them will help them identify what is wrong and right for them.
Its hard to talk about these incidents with our parents because of stigma. Both parents and young people often are hesitant to start conversations on this. What is your advice to approach these situations?
Hear each other out without judgement: Increasingly, many young girls and boys want to be present on social media but aren’t allowed by their parents. If they are permitted, they often can’t even use their real pictures because if a family member sees it then, they’ll be in big trouble. If this is the starting point for young people, how can they share such information with their parents? If they bring this up, the very first thing parents say is to deactivate their accounts. This kind of mentality translates into victim blaming. If parents want to have a conversation around this, the ice has to be broken
Parents should be the first source from which they learn about these things: Children can discover things like pornography or graphic material on the internet even if parents directly tell the child to stay away from this. At a certain age, children will have certain desires to try and explore this space. Parents need to understand that it is better to talk directly to them about this or rather than them discovering this on the internet.
Explore these topics with your children at a younger age: As parents we are happy to give our child access to mobile phones and tablets at a very young age. By the time they turn 13 or 14, when they are out on their own to explore the spaces, then parents realise that now they need to control the online activities of their children. But now it won’t happen as it is too late as they have left them on their own on the internet for more than ten years. So, they need to start having this conversation at a younger age.
At Social Media Matters we have curated some episodes for parents and children of different age groups. They’ve been created keeping in mind certain issues which parents wanted us to talk about.
You can check out some of the episodes over here.