By Adam Wakefield

As of last year, according to the PewResearchCentre, 37% of South African adults reported owning a smartphone, not too far behind the global median of 43%. Among those who own a smartphone, 46% are between 18 and 34-years-old.

This is further exhibited by Statistics South Africa’s 2015 General Household Survey stating that approximately 53.5% of households in South Africa access the Internet from anywhere. This is accompanied by another statistic in the same report which states, on average, that 47.6% of households access the Internet through their mobiles. 

For those responsible for minors and other vulnerable persons, with the Internet all around them, what can they do to protect them from the perils of the online world?

Know thyself and know thy enemy

Digital marketing consultant and online safety activist, Jacqui Mackway-Wilson from Stay Safe Online SA, says protection starts by educating yourself.

“If you have children in your care, you need to become familiar with the world of technology and its associated threats and opportunities,” she says.

“Armed with the knowledge you need, your next responsibility is to have the necessary conversations with your children or those under your care to find out how much they know, to make them aware of the dangers, and to give them the tools that they need to navigate this new world.”

Mackway-Wilson feels it is unrealistic to try and keep those under your care away from technology. The benefits of access, in a structured way with age appropriate limits and supervision, outweigh the potential threats.

The key is to keep communicating with those under your care, which Mackay-Wilson cannot overemphasise.

“Involve yourself with their activities online as you would with their activities offline – for them, it is mostly a seamless experience and they don’t differentiate between ‘online’ and ‘in real life’ as you would,” Mackway-Wilson says.

“If your child plays an online game, ask to play against them. Learn how it works. Stay connected to your child. Isolated, lonely children are vulnerable and make easy targets for a myriad of evils.”

Always communicate 

Rianette Leibowitz, founder of SaveTNet Cyber Safety NPC and a cyber safety activist, says much can be done to ensure that young and vulnerable minds are kept safe, especially given the way threats like cyberbullying can demean value of self.

“Have a relationship and ensure that they know that their value is not determined by what is being said online. They need to understand how to deal with cyber related issues and that they have a safe place to go to if something had to happen,” Leibowitz explains.

This extends to choosing responsibly, on their behalf, what movies they can watch, the games they play and the apps they use.

It also includes taking note of suggested app age restrictions, with an app as widely used as WhatsApp having a 16-year-old age restriction, and Facebook’s being 13-years-old. Leibowitz says if either platform, for example, is being used by a minor, their legal guardian or parent is liable.

Leibowitz also stresses the importance of adult’s keeping tabs on their own online presence. “Set a good example and be a responsible digital citizen. They might be able to Google and see what you posted today in a couple of years from now,” she says.

“Be a friend on Facebook with the aim to keep watch, and never to comment. Take note of the myriad of apps available to help set boundaries and keep them safe from adult content and more.”

Leibowitz recommends taking a look at certain programs such as Kaspersky Lab’s Safe Kids, which SaveTNet have teamed up, to assist with children and vulnerable persons’ use of the online space.

Next week, we will end off the series with the right to privacy, the importance of understanding it and the risk of over-protection.

Have you or someone you know been a victim of online bullying or other online threats? Let us know in the comment below.