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Coronavirus Updated: 27 Apr 2020

In the age of COVID-19, protect your children on the Internet

Children and young people are particularly susceptible to the risks of the Internet. These risks are even more pronounced as the coronavirus imposes social distancing, causing our children to spend more of their day online than normal. Here are some suggestions that will help keep children safe when they are on social media.

Risks of falling prey to cyber criminals — ‘crackers’ (hackers with malicious intent) — are exacerbated when young people are the ones trawling social media where the threats tend to lurk. This is especially true during the current days of isolation caused by the coronavirus crisis, a time when social media platforms are undergoing intensive use.

Given that children are generally naive, have a lack of real-world experience, and that social media has become the one outlet they can use to socialize with classmates and friends, it is possible that they are picking up online habits that could jeopardize both their security and that of their families.

This is why it is crucial to teach them how to safely use the Internet and social media platforms. It is important that that you have oversight so you can advise them and help them understand they mustn't make private information — about themselves or the family — public.

The risks of sharing personal information

It is important to remember that the Internet isn't always everything it seems to be. It is not unusual to hear about the common online problems adults face: technical support scams or  the risks around sexting. Still, children and young people can also suffer online identity theft and extortion. The major threats to children and their families are:

  • Digital kidnapping, which  is the technique cybercriminals use when they create a false profile using photos and personal details published online by the minor or his/her friends or family; the profile is used to foster trust with other children or young people.
  • Grooming is when an adult deceitfully works on creating a relationship of trust with a minor (often by passing him/herself off as another child) ultimately for some sexual gratification.
  • Cyberbullying is bullying over social media and instant messaging platforms.
  • Damaged digital reputation, which can negatively impact a minor’s future personal and/or professional relationships.

This is why it is so important to avoid sharing personal information in group discussions during video games, instant messaging, social networking, etc.

What information should not be shared?

  • Telephone number. Telephone numbers can be used by other young people to harass our children or by ill-intentioned adults to contact them. The best advice is to never give out your telephone number online.
  • Home address or name of school. By protecting physical locations, you are taking steps to ensure that strangers are never in a position to meet your children in person.
  • Location. When we are away from home, sharing our location can let the wrong people know that we are away from home, letting possible delinquents know when are house is unprotected.
  • Compromising photographs, both of our children or other people. Young people and children need to understand that posting something on the Internet is akin to making it available to the whole world. Therefore, compromising photographs of themselves or other people could be a threat to everyone’s privacy.
  • Photos of gifts, especially if they are expensive. This kind of information, together with addresses and current locations, can given hints to possible assailants about purchasing power and the best time to access your household.
  • Comments on certain topics that can be misinterpreted and give an untrue perception, possibly harming our real world reputation.
  • Passwords. A frequent bad habit is the reusing of  the same password across various platforms: sharing a password to one platform could then mean inadvertently sharing the password to other platforms.

How do you prevent this information from being shared?

First, it is important to know the minimum age and additional criteria required to create a user account on various social network platforms; usually these requirements are specified in the terms of use, for example for Tik Tok or Instagram.

It is also important to follow these recommendations:

  • Include multi-factor authentication as a security measure for accessing these platforms.
  • Keep close watch over what permissions the apps we use give in order to ensure private data that we should protect is not shared.
  • Do not share private information with other people. Not even with best friends. Prevention is the best approach because once your data has been shared, control is out of your hands.
  • Set a good example for the young people in your life. Try to engender an environment of trust so that they feel comfortable sharing their concerns  or experiences of online threats with you, putting you a position where you can help.

Remember: we are better protected together, especially in such hard times. You are the best defense!

If you want to find out the best ways to protect yourself online during the COVID-19 crisis, read the following articles: