Cyberbullying and WhatsApp
It should come as no suprise, that WhatsApp is a platfrom people use to target and cyberbully others. Internet Matters, a UK based online child safety organisation, surveyed 2000 parents. The survey revealed, 8 out of every 10 parents expressed concern regarding closed messaging groups. Some use Group Chats to share hurtful images, or content about others. Parent can see what children post on WhatsApp by likning a mobile account to WhatsApp PC. This can be enough to prevent Cyberbullying.
Parents expressed some fear about the nature of a closed chat group. One of the fears highlighted, was a parents inability to access the content, what they were and how it would affect their child. Parents of children aged 11 to 13 were the most concerned overall. we regularly encounter children who feel bullied by classmates, when not invited to be part of a class WhatsApp Group.
While highlighting some negatives, Psychologist, Dr Linda Papadopoulos also outlined some positives. ‘Group chat can often be a source of upset for kids – from one child posting a picture that makes someone feel excluded to another not being included in a group at all.’ She further added ‘group chats also have the power to stop kids feeling isolated as it can give them an opportunity to stamp out poor conduct and stand up for one another.’
We do have a number of concerns over the use of WhatsApp by young children in National Schools. WhatsApp is a platform where children can engage in Cyberbullying. We are finding more and more, young children using WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger. The apps, themselves do not pose a risk to young children. However, who the children are in contact with and the type of content they share, does create vulnerabilities. What’s more concerning, is the access and exchange of adult material, inappropriate message content and graphic imagery.
WhatsApp Privacy Concerns and Malware
The concerns around the privacy of data shared using messaging Apps are justified. While the message exchange process is encrypted. The message content on the device is not. Incoming and Outgoing messages, text and content are stored in an unencrypted format on devices. This is what gives rise for privacy concerns. The message content is only as secure as the level of protection, the owner has installed on their device. Unsolicited, inappropriate or illegal content received, as a single message, or part of a WhatsApp group remains on the device. Even if it is deleted. Many Apps seek permissions to access SMS and media folders before instillation, thereby accessing potentialy sensitive content on the device.
Parents should consider their child’s ability to identify a Malicious App or link. The personal data of the owner of a device can be at risk, if a device becomes infected. There has been an rise in the amount of Malware unwittingly being passed on to others. The Malware may arrive in the form of a link, promoting discounted prices on goods, or links to images. Often with a personalised message to the recipient. This encourages the target to open the link. Malware can pass from device to device quickly.
Link WhatsApp Mobile to WhatsApp PC
For parents of children using WhatsApp we would recommend that you link the child’s account to the WhatsApp Web account on a PC. This allows a parent to monitor all incoming and outgoing content. It is very easy to set up. Go to https://www.whatsapp.com. Select WhatsApp Web. On your child’s device go to the Settings Menu and select WhatsApp Web. Use the phone to take a picture of the QR Code. This will link the mobile account to the PC account. Now any message the child receives will appear on the computer as well. This also enables parents to keep an eye on child’s contacts.
When we initially allow our children to explore the online world, it is incredibly important for parents to stay involved in their online life. There are many dangers and pitfalls for unsuspecting children. However, by teaching children what to look out for, encouraging an open conversation on content they could potentially receive or stumble across, it enables the child to develop a resilience, so that they are more cyber safety aware. Most importantly they learn that nothing is off limits, when it comes to discussing their experiences online.
A parent who is keeping a watchful eye on their childrens messages is not a breach of trust or privacy. The fear of the reprisal of a parent, can prevent a child from doing something online, which may have far reaching consequences in the future. However, no child should ever fear discussing their experiences online with parents, or another trusted adult. Always encourage children to discuss their experiences online. Communication and education are far superior tools to enable a child to explore the online world safely, than technology ever will be. regardless of the platform, Cyberbullying should never be tolerated.