Education is key to fight online predators

It is not about deferring youngsters from using these apps, rather about increasing safety and keeping an eye on these online criminals

The internet is now considered a huge social gathering for people from all around the world. Teenagers and young adults have now moved to applications and social networks that are lesser known to their peers, in order to speak freely without being judged. The topic of paedophilia and online predators has grown immensely over the past five years, due to these new methods of communication.

Thanks to applications like Twitter or Ask.fm, you can now create a username and interact with people anonymously, without anyone having a clue about your identity, including your age or gender. In fact, some of the applications that encourage anonymity are children’s games, where children can create avatars to interact with other avatars. Online predators and paedophiles have taken advantage of this anonymity and are now lurking in all nooks and crannies of the internet.

Paedophiles are found where children roam. Before the internet was born, those places were arcades or parks. Today, the internet has made it easier for paedophiles to pretend to be children or teenagers themselves, in order to contact young people.

Special Agent Greg Wing, supervisor of the Chicago Field Office Cyber Squad, states: “The younger generation wants to express themselves, and they don’t realise how vulnerable it makes them.” He then goes on to say: “For a paedophile, that personal information is like gold and can be used to establish a connection and gain a child’s trust.”

Is the problem in these social networks the option of anonymity or is the problem the lack of education in internet safety?

In my opinion, both of these are wrong and need to change. Instead of telling the younger generation to take care of themselves on applications that make them feel free to express themselves, why not educate and increase the investigations of these online criminals? There should be a balance between telling young people how to take care of themselves online and tightening the grip on these online predators by adding sensors that find trigger words or phrases to stop them from reeling in more victims.

Since the internet is a vital part of our present and future lives, schools should organise monthly, if not weekly, conferences to teach students awareness regarding these attackers and how to deal with them. Every city should have a local help centre in case of an online attack by a paedophile, as well as a landline for young adults to use in case of abuse. Governments should strengthen their firewalls and assign “trigger words” to alert them whenever a case of anonymous paedophilia is found.

By Yara Ayoob, a media student at the University of Sharjah

The International Government Communication Forum (IGCF), held in Sharjah, is an annual forum that shares global best practices in fields of government communication and aims to build a platform for better communication between governments and their citizens.