I was 19 when I first created a Facebook account. I barely understood what it was, and had all of 5 friends. I didn’t know what I was doing and didn’t pay too much attention to what I was sharing, in fact, a couple of weeks in, I remember my brother calling me and furiously asking why I was telling millions of Facebook users that I was single. I told him I wasn’t exactly “telling” them, it had just been on my profile… which unfortunately was accessible to millions of users.
Since then, Facebook’s privacy settings have improved greatly, or I just understand them better. Either way, I have better control about what I choose to share about myself, and with whom. On the other hand, I had my first Facebook account at a time that not only was Facebook very strict about their “no under 18s without adult approval” rule, but people actually gave their real ages. These days it is clear people don’t always give their real age.
There has never been a more chilling reminder of this than when we attended Namibia’s first National Conference on Child Online Protection held at the Hilton Hotel (18-19 May 2016) and one of the speakers showed us a video of a young man, Coby Persin, who has a fake Facebook profile that he uses to see how much personal information girls will share with strangers, and how quickly they will share this information. The video shows girls mostly ranging from 12-14 giving out their home addresses, or agreeing to meet with Coby within a couple of days of chatting.
The internet has made our lives easier in many ways: We have access to information and communications with our loved ones, literally at our fingertips. It has however, also opened us up to a number of evils like cyber bullying, increased child pornography and online sexual grooming. Today’s youth think nothing of sharing “sexy” images of themselves with the general public. Even when shared privately (with a boyfriend or close friend), they can still be used as blackmail, extortion, or acts of violence when things go sour in the relationship.
It is hard enough to keep our children safe offline, imagine how much harder it is online. For every new measure taken to combat cyber crimes, cyber criminals will probably find ten new ways to evade justice. One would think Namibia is such a small country we are not affected, but this is a global problem, because, like one of the speakers pointed out, child pornography acts could be initiated in India, reproduced for mass “consumption” in Belgium, then distributed in Namibia. So no one can afford to turn a blind eye. This is everyone’s problem, and we each have a responsibility to ourselves, and to each other to encourage and promote safety online, especially for our children, whose photos often times are found online without their knowledge. Their parents (and/or whoever else posts these pictures) mean no harm, but there’s always an invisible audience and irreversible damage can be done.
Namibia is one of 17 countries in the world that is part of #WePROTECT – Children Online, a worldwide cooperation that aims to stop the crime of online child sexual abuse and exploitation. We protect is an initiative of the UK government and you can find out more about it at http://www.weprotect.org.
Written by Mimi Mwiya