When we were young children, our parents impressed upon us the need for safety; don’t talk to strangers, look both ways before crossing the street, call me when you get to your friend’s house, etc. As we grew, our elders continued to look out for us by imploring us to not drink at parties and not to drive over the speed limit. As the landscape that children are growing up in continues to change and to evolve, these time honored warnings still hold water, but there is also a new threat to the safety of children and teens today, and that is internet safety. This new threat creates a problem in that most parents are in the unique position of never having had to face the dangers presented on the internet today. However, this in no way mitigates the dangers that are faced online, and therefore, it is up to our generation to be the educators when it comes these new, and oftentimes complicated, new age threats to safety.
Many parents consider themselves to be knowledgeable enough when it comes to protecting their children online. They make sure there is virus protection on their machines, tell their children not to give out any personal information to others, and limit screen time for their children. Despite these measures, there are many new threats that many parents and children have no idea even exist. With the advent of streaming media, whether it be watching television or movies on Netflix, or whether it be watching video game streams on Twitch, there are many opportunities for kids and teens to be unknowingly tricked out of their personal information. Even if this information is not volunteered, it is amazingly easy to obtain a person’s IP address, and from there, have their life open up in front of you. This information can include a person’s name, address, telephone number, and email address, and can obviously be used for all sorts of mischief. This is the true nature of cyber-bullying today, it is not limited to abusive comments on message boards anymore. Information gathering that was once thought to be in the domain of “hackers” is now only a Google search away from a prospective bully.
Now that the facts have been laid out, it is important to recognize exactly what can happen if this information is compromised. Suicides due to bullying on message boards and chats are news commonplace, but there are phenomena that are just as dangerous, and even as deadly, that are associated with these new forms of cyber bullying. The biggest threat is undoubtedly SWATting, which is when a person calls in a threat on another person, which results in a SWAT police team being sent to an innocent house, and can unfortunately result in mental and physical danger for the victim. It is important to note that this is the extreme case, and much of this bullying is confined to ungodly orders of pizza or Chinese food that can be rectified with a call to the store. The biggest issue with this type of situation is that neither parents, their children, nor the police know how to react when this kind of thing happens. It is very hard to explain to an officer that you are not hiding a hostage in your basement and that the whole thing is a drama created by a nameless, faceless internet entity. It can also scare parents to the point of not letting their children use the internet without supervision or knowing exactly what they are doing, which is also not the answer.
The solution is that those with knowledge must educate those without it. Parents should be made aware of these dangers, so that they are able to remain calm in the case that one of these situations should occur. Furthermore, law enforcement must also be made aware that this sort of thing may occur, so that they are not frustrated or taken aback by the reality that they find when responding to these cases. Communication is key, and a lack of it is what truly leads to dangerous situations. As internet safety becomes as much a part of our lives as physical safety has been in the past, education is key, and it falls upon us to provide it.
This article was written by Lucas Woodward, a writer for dusk magazine.