Most social media platforms and online games allow anyone to access somewhat anonymously the large online communities that attract stalkers, trolls, and sexual harassment. In this sense, to advise and protect minors, one must first recognize the risks and learn more about these groups, their motives and their methods.
ESET from the Digipadres initiative, which seeks to accompany parents and teachers in caring for children online, highlights these key risks:
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Sexual predators: When new friends online aren’t what they seem
Sexual predators contact children over the Internet with the aim of forcing them to perform certain activities of a sexual nature. They use platforms such as instant messaging, social networking and even online games, where they can remain anonymous, often pretending to be someone else, and are usually younger. Teens are often at greater risk because they are curious and seek acceptance. They often talk to strangers willingly, despite feeling dangerous.
Here are three of the psychological techniques they use:
Grooming (sexual harassment of minors) is based on establishing a romantic relationship with the victim with the aim of sexual abuse. Predators gradually build a relationship with minors to gain their trust. They can do this by giving gifts and compliments, behaving kindly, or demonstrating their understanding of their insecurities. Once children’s inhibitions are lowered, they are more likely to be forced to do what the predator asks, whether that’s by providing more information about themselves and their lives, or even sending nude photos of themselves, which can be used against you.
Sexual predators often use a method to collect bits of personally identifiable information about a child, known as phishing, which allows them to build a more complete picture of the victim.
Once the bullies have obtained bits of information about the child, whether collected through direct messages or their feedback, they can use it for further manipulation, such as reflection. As its name in English suggests, it is a way of imitating what they see in their victim. They can pretend they are the same age as the child, or share interests, likes, or interests – just about anything that helps foster emotional connection.
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Bullying and Phishing: It’s Easy to Hurt Others Online
Cyberbullying relies on writing offensive texts, spreading rumors and false accusations, threatening and blackmailing, disclosing private or intimate information about the victim, humiliation and ridicule, harassing and stalking, or pretending to be someone else who hurt someone. As in the physical world, all this is usually directed at one individual.
On the other hand, trolls cause network disturbances, create conflicts and generally provoke others. They feel good about strong reactions to their offensive, annoying, or fake posts. They make it impossible to have constructive, intentionally positive discussions.
When bullies and trolls post something on a social network, they don’t get an immediate reaction, which gives them a sense of impunity. Even more so when they use fake or anonymous profiles, so they can’t be traced from their posts and feel above the law. Also, unlike saying something in person and seeing the immediate reaction, writing hateful or silly comments and posts is much easier, because the online environment reduces the perceived need to empathize with others, says Camilo Gutierrez Amaya, head of research for the ESET Latin America Laboratory.
In the digital world, what makes matters worse is the dynamic of the group, because it is impossible to estimate the size of the crowd of witnesses viewing the post, which increases the anxiety of the victim. Additionally, content can spread quickly, resulting in more people knowing about harassment but doing nothing about it. Since users know that no one is seeing you reading the post, they often don’t feel responsible or involved in the situation to the point of fighting injustice.
“We understand digital violence as the act of a person physically, mentally and/or emotionally harming another person through digital media. It is violence, it is real and it violates rights. From the NGO, we encourage participation in safe and healthy digital environments, And choosing who to read, follow, like, what to say, and where. This is easier to implement than an adult’s site, and it is almost urgent to offer these tools to those who are still in the formative age. If we are close to our boys and girls, and accompany them with tips and examples of responsible participation on With the Internet, they will learn to respect and take care of themselves: to report accounts, file a legal complaint where appropriate, and timely withdraw from places that harm them. They will learn not to naturalize violence”, explains Silvina Tanton, educational mentor for the NGO Argentina Sepressegura.
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How do you accompany the little ones?
Look for signs that something is wrong: Watch for any signs that they may have been bullied online or in contact with someone who might be causing them harm. There are questions that help guide you, for example: Do they seem to have frequent emotional problems or sudden mood swings? Was your social media profile deleted all of a sudden? Are they pretending to be sick to avoid going to school? Likewise, changes in mood or behavior, as well as a lack of interest in family or friends, can mean that something is not right, although it is not necessarily related to the stated causes.
Stay up to date with their online activities: Don’t be intrusive, just make sure you have a general idea of how they spend their time on their device. Try to learn about the latest trends that are shaping children’s lives in the digital world. Do any of them follow an influencer? You can also follow it. Is there a new multiplayer game? Ask them to explain what it is. This gives you a chance to engage with current issues and perhaps have interesting conversations, share another point of view, and build a bridge across the generation gap. Remember that listening and showing genuine interest can be more important than speaking and directing. But ideally, try to strike a balance between the two.
Forming a Trusting Relationship When young people feel they can tell older people what’s on their minds, it provides them with a healthy perspective and a safe ground on which they can always rely. When this is not the case, they become more likely to be victimized by someone who wants to play that role for them. Also, a warm and open relationship allows for more honest conversations. Just as you strive to prepare your youngest for life in the physical world, you must also provide them with the tools to safely navigate the online world.
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