Be cyber smart

By Petro-Anne Vlok
03 November 2014

There’s no doubt the Internet has made researching your school assignments and chatting with your buddies much easier and fun. But if you’re not careful it can be a dangerous place.

The situation in SA:

A Survey by Mariska de Lange of the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU), found that 40 per cent of the school kids surveyed have met up with someone in real life whom they’ve only chatted to online. Thirty per cent of them also said the person they met wasn’t who they thought it would be.

So who are they? Well in a word they’re cyber creeps or predators – older men pretending to be teenage boys who try to ensnare young girls. They usually target girls with low self-esteem, who are usually overweight and come from broken homes. They groom these girls and make them feel so special and loved that by the time they disclose their real age, their victims are so in love with them they don’t care about the age gap. Scary stuff!

How to tell if a cyber creep stalks your friend:

- Your friend never checks her online messages in front of you or other people.

- Whenever your friend gets a message she seems fearful.

- Your friend becomes withdrawn and secretive.

How to help your friend:

An expert on cyber security, Professor Rossouw von Solms from NMMU, says that in some cases your friend may be so infatuated with the cyber predator that speaking to them won’t help.

“The best is to tell your friend’s parents,” he says. “Your friend might be angry with you, but it’s worth being a tattletale if it protects her from someone dangerous.”

Otherwise, you can tell a trusted adult, like your school councillor or a life orientation teacher.

Tips to enjoy the Net safely

- Don’t tell someone something online that you wouldn’t tell a stranger on the street.

“That is my number one rule to kids,” Von Solms says. “Unless you know the person in the ‘real world’, don’t tell them anything personal.”

- Don’t put too much personal information online.

It’s a no brainer that you shouldn’t put your full name, address or telephone number online, but neither should you put stuff like where you go to school, your favourite hangout spots on a Friday night or where you practice netball or rugby after school. “These guys are experts at profiling you,” Buswell warns. “And don’t rely on website’s privacy settings. It easy to get around them.”

- The moment you feel threatened or uncomfortable, break off all contact. Also, don’t keep this to yourself – tell an adult you trust.

- Do your research.

Before you meet someone in the real world, do some snooping. Do your friends know this person? Do a Google search on their name or run his or her photos through Google images.

- Be careful what you write.

Before you write something online take a moment and think: “Would I want my mother to read this?” Your mom might not be on Facebook or Twitter, but many universities and potential employers are. One day when you apply to university or for that dream job, that inappropriate wisecrack you wrote might come back to haunt you.

- The same goes for photographs.

Don’t upload a photograph of yourself that your mom would be ashamed of hanging in the living room.  What you put online stays there forever.

These organisations can help:

Rape Wise – 011 421 3284 or their 24-hour hotline 083 943 0173

Childline – 0800 055 555

SA Depression and Anxiety Group – 0800 21 22 23

The South African Police – 10111 or 08600 10111

What does the law say?

- Sexual grooming of children (anyone under the age of 16) is illegal.

- Making or distributing child porn is illegal.

- In South Africa the age of consent is 16 – if anyone older than 16 has sex with someone younger than 16, even with their permission, it’s statutory rape.

- Whether it’s done in cyberspace of in the real world, stalking is illegal.

-       Petro-Anne Vlok

EXTRA SOURCES: justice.gov.za; nmmu.ac.za; news.cnet.com; ftc.gov

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