Johannesburg - On average, South African children first encounter hardcore pornography at the age of 11, and the biggest social problems in schools across the country are cyberbullying and sexting.
Emma Sadleir, the country’s leading social-media legal expert, says that she sees people who have failed in the online world every single day.
“We see people going to jail and getting sued because they said something that they shouldn’t have said online.
"We see children punished for sending nude pics of themselves. We deal with suicides as a result of cyberbullying and revenge pornography. We see exactly how things can go wrong, very quickly, online,” she says.
“None of the people who end up in our offices would say that they didn’t know how to use their phones very well.
"Using your phone well, however, is not just a matter of using it a lot. Getting your online life right relies on common sense, but also on a basic understanding of the law, neuroscience and psychology.”
The internet does not forget
One of the basic principles of the internet is that nothing posted goes away.
While you might delete content on posts that you don’t like, Sadleir says the minute it has been shared or seen, it exists in cyberspace and may come back to bite you.
“It is impossible to delete content once it has landed online or on social media. Even if you delete the content from your Instagram account, many people may have taken a screenshot of it or downloaded your images.”
Where to get help
. Google yourself – if you find content referring to you, ask the person or website to delete it.
. Childline offers counselling and advice – call 080 005 5555 toll free.
. Call the Film and Publication Board’s hotline on 080 014 8148 toll free to report sexually explicit content.
. Report an incident at a local police station.
. Speak to a trusted older person.
. Take a break from your phone and online life, and meet with real friends in real time.
The internet and the law
All of the laws that apply in real life also apply online. Social-media users must remember that online life is still real life.
This means that whatever you post online can be scrutinised under the law.
All South African laws – including defamation, privacy, data protection, harassment, dignity, hate speech and all sexual offences – apply to your online life as well.
Because social media is a public, permanent platform – just like a newspaper or magazine – once one other person has seen that content, the content is regarded as published.
So, if you retweet, share, repost, forward or send on someone else’s content, it can be assumed that you have looked at the content and decided to publish it (that’s how the law sees it).
Even if you are not the original publisher, you made the decision to share it and are therefore equally liable.
If you are younger than 18 and create content that is deemed to be “sexually explicit” (such as a nude picture of yourself), you are guilty of engaging in child pornography.
Also remember that this does not have to be pictures or a video, it can be words or even a drawing.
Here’s an easy rule when it comes to content of this nature – if your mum doesn’t like it, don’t post it.
“Despite visiting schools constantly and telling children that sexting is illegal, we end up with several sexting cases on our desks every day. Sexts always go public,” Sadleir says.
One of Sadleir’s cases involved a boy who asked a girl for a nude picture 57 times. He begged: “Please, it’s my birthday” and “Please, I love you.”
She sent him the pictures and, within three minutes of receiving them, he had forwarded them to all of his friends.
The girl attempted suicide. Sadleir tracked the boy down and he’s going to have some very interesting conversations with the police.
If you have been sent nude pictures, Sadleir says, it’s crucial to inform a trusted adult.
“Pornographic videos and photos of kids regularly go viral and end up on every kid’s phone in South Africa. Delete all of it. It is not your fault that you have received it, but you must handle it properly when you do.
"Don’t show it to another child, don’t store it on your device and don’t send it to others.”
Bullying has been around for ages, but doing it from a screen to someone you can’t see has made it so much easier and the effects so much worse.
Sadleir says the increasing severity of bullying has led to more severe consequences, including potential criminal convictions for bullies and an alarming rise in the number of victims committing suicide.
“The Protection from Harassment Act is a seriously magnificent law. It allows for protection orders to be issued against those who harass or bully others online or in the real world,” says Sadleir.
Everybody thinks they can spot a predator online. You can’t. Paedophiles are nasty, but they are not stupid.
“They are very good at pretending to be who they say they are. They also have a lot of patience,” says Sadleir.
Here are her tips for avoiding dodgy people online:
. Don’t add a friend on a social-media platform unless you know them in real life;
. Have strong privacy settings on all your platforms;
. Turn off location services;
. Do not share personal information; and
. Don’t meet someone you met online in real life.
An app that reports carjackings, one that can help architects design cost-effective buildings, an app for selling insurance or one that turns your cellphone into a printer – these are just some of the ideas readers have come up with.
Samuel wants to design an app called Jacked, which, using GPS, will provide other motorists with your location, as well as a description and photo of your vehicle.
“Once your vehicle is stolen or hijacked, there is a button that sends an alert for motorists to be on the lookout using the picture provided. It will also provide your last known whereabouts.
"There is another button that can be used to alert authorities that you need medical assistance,” he suggests.
Abraham wants to design an app that allows cellphones to become mobile printers.
“What about a cable – like your charger cable – that you can plug into your phone and then you can plug the USB part of the cable into a printer?’ he suggests.
If you like these ideas, or have ideas of your own, go to http://consumer.huawei.com/za/ to get help with designing your application.
Penguin and City Press are giving away two copies of Sadleir’s new book Selfies, Sexts and Smartphones.
If you want to win a copy, SMS your name and address to 34217 with the keyword SELFIES. SMSes cost R1.50
TALK TO US
Do you talk to your teenager about his or her cellphone use, or do you just leave them alone with their phones?
SMS your comment to 35697 with the keyword HUAWEI. SMSes cost R1.50