Safer Internet Day is tomorrow. The internet is the most fantastic tool. I can’t imagine how anybody would do without it at all. But the internet and social media can also be a risky place. It also provides a unique tool for bullying, like nothing we’ve seen before. It can be vicious, it’s immediate, it’s global and frequently permanent in a way that we’ve not seen historically. I want to see young people being safe and enjoying their time online, which is why I’ve worked for many years in cybersafety presentations for schoolchildren, because self-protection is critical. The AFP and state and territory police deliver ThinkUKnow. There have been 17,031 presentations to 127,449 students across Australia. What a great job. Thank you to every local police officer who’s delivering those presentations. Volunteers delivered 22,493 presentations to parents, carers and teachers.
When I look at the ThinkUKnow resources, I find I can use a number of their overheads in my cybersafety presentations to school groups, parents, community groups, because education is a key to managing online risks. ‘Cyberbullying—what it is’ is one of the overheads I use from ThinkUKnow, as well as ‘The effects of cyberbullying’, ‘Why people cyberbully’, ‘How young people can help their friends who are being cyberbullied’, and ‘How to stay in control’. What ThinkUKnow tell a young person is: ‘Don’t start it. Don’t start cyberbullying. Think before you hit “send” or “post” when you’re posting something mean. Don’t be part of it. Say no if someone tries to involve you in cyberbullying, and don’t let it get out of control. Talk to someone—a trusted adult, the kids’ helpline, parents, police or a teacher.’ Cyberbullying ruins lives and costs lives.
I read an article in The West Australian which said that children as young as three are addicted to smartphones and tablets. Seventeen per cent of children under three and 36 per cent of preschoolers have their own smart device. The Child Health Poll by the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne said that, on average, children spend 32 hours a week on devices and 43 per cent use devices at bedtime. I read a global report from DQ Institute that said that kids aged eight to 12 spent 32 hours on devices per week for entertainment and 15 per cent of those had accessed pornography online, 11 per cent actually met online strangers and seven per cent had sent or received sexual content.
I say to the parents: ‘What do you know about what your children are doing online? What social networks and apps and games are they using? What are the risks of these? Do you talk to your children about what they’re doing and what they’re seeing online? Do you know about Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube, Musically, WhatsApp, Skype, Twitter, Periscope, happn, Messenger, Pokemon Go, Tinder and Kik? Do you know much about the age restrictions on games like Call of Duty, Minecraft, Candy Crush and Clash of Clans?’ There’s a wonderful new ThinkUKnow resource called the SOS Guide to Cybersafety for parents, and I would encourage parents to look at this and use it.
I want to congratulate, again, Sonya Ryan, who established the Carly Ryan Foundation. We now have Carly’s Law, and that’s as a result of much work by Sonya. It’s a law that targets online predators who have the purpose of delivering sexual harm and sexual activity with a child. That’s what it’s aimed at. That’s what caused Carly’s death, and it was done online. A man was pretending to be a teenager. He was actually 50-plus-year-old online predator, Garry Francis Newman. I thank Sonya for all her work, and she isn’t stopping, which is really good.
I look at the ThinkUKnow Top Tips page. It says:
Start the cyber safety conversation with your child and let them teach you about what they do online.
… take an interest in how your child uses technology. Why not have a go and trial the apps yourself—
the ones that I’ve mentioned and the ones your children are using—
Speak with your child about respectful relationships—
and that includes online relationships.
Create a Family Online Safety Contract.
In the SOS guide there’s a basic family contract. There’s one in the guide that you could actually visit at the ThinkUKnow website—thinkuknow.org.au—and have a look at that as well. It’s a simple contract in which the family decides how the devices are going to be used, what they’ll agree to and what rules they have as a family. One of the other tips is ‘Know what your kids are doing online, who they are friends with and who they may be talking to.’ That’s all part of thinkuknow.org.au.
I also believe very strongly that in this place the platforms really need to take far more responsibility for what’s happening. I read recently that Facebook is used by 95 per cent of young adults. Eighty-nine per cent of all internet searches are done on Google. Between Facebook and Google, that’s two-thirds of all online spending, as well, especially in the ad space. Google and Apple together provide 99 per cent of mobile phone operating systems. When you look at this reach, and the responsibility that goes with that market power and market dominance, it really is an issue where I believe the platforms need to take far more responsibility.
I also want to talk about some of the experiences of young people. When I do presentations and talk to them, I ask them questions. One of the questions I ask them is whether they’ve ever been bullied online in any form. Irrespective of the age of the class, there is always a proportion of young people in each class who put their hands up. Those proportions vary in relation to what age the young people are and sometimes where that school is.
My second question can then be, ‘Can you talk to your mum and dad about the things that you’re seeing and doing online? Can you talk to them about whether you’re scared, whether you’re worried, whether there’s content sent to you that upsets you or scares you?’ A proportion of the young people say yes, and a proportion in each class say no. I also encourage them to find their trusted adult, if they can’t talk to mum or dad: that important person in their life who’s going to help them with what they’re doing online when they come across things that they’re not sure about or that keep them awake at night.
The third and most worrying question for me, which helps to drive me in what I do, is the question about how many of them have been to meet in person people they’ve only first met online. It’s really concerning to me that it’s very unusual, in the hundreds of presentations that I’ve done, to have a class where no children put their hand up. I always get young people who have the courage—it’s a silent survey, so no-one else can see what they’re saying—to put their hands up. More and more of these young people are actually going to meet, in person, people they’ve only met online. That’s the very issue that Carly Ryan faced, because the person she thought was Brandon Kane was Gary Francis Newman. He was the online predator.
With young people accepting friends online—so many of them, to be on Facebook, are supposed to be 13. But I had a young eight-year-old who was very happy to admit to me that he had 250 friends on Facebook. I know that a proportion of those people are pretending to be a different age. They’re using a different profile photo. And they are deliberately befriending that child for a number of reasons.
So I want to say to all parents, please get involved in this space. Please have wonderful conversations and talk to your kids and listen to your children. They can tell you so much about online, about devices and about what they’re doing, but they certainly need the guidance of parents in what they come across. The contract that’s in the SOS document is really useful. And I cannot stress to parents too much: have the conversation early. When you hear about the three-year-olds who have smartphones and iPhones and devices—they’re very young to have a conversation, but there still needs to be a conversation about how this device will be used, when it will be used and what it will be used for. It’s something where the younger generation has something to teach older generations, and certainly we need to help them to be safe and happy in what they do online. So please get involved.