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.
What is VSCO?
Parents in Cork expressed outrage today, following the discovery of a number of young Cork girls sharing images on a image sharing platform called VSCO. The self-generated, or user-generated content was described as inappropriate by those who viewed the imagery. VSCO is an image sharing site. It is frequently used by professional photographers, as it offers superior methods of photo and video editing for their content. The platform is in existence for some time. It boasts well in excess of 40 million users. The concept of the platform is to encourage photography. VSCO has a predominantly artistic look and feel, to the majority of the images you find posted on the platform.
Walking with your family through the crowded streets this December, you are all taking in the incredible festive atmosphere of Christmas, the shops and markets, enjoying the beautiful aroma of freshly cooked food for sale, the glow of the lights and smile on people’s faces passing by. You might all pause to laugh, as your child’s device suddenly starts to play “Here comes Santa Clause”, the chosen festive notification alert.
Suddenly your attention is drawn to the look of horror on your child face, as they unlock their phone only to discover someone has Air Dropped a sexualised image of an erect penis to their phone. Fear and anger quickly envelops you as you look around at the many faces passing. The dark realisation that somebody in this festive crowd, has just exposed your child to this image and is probably looking at you right now, watching your reaction and that of your child’s. The child has just become a victim of “Cyber Flashing”
It is incredible to see how Children of the Digital Age has developed and transformed over the last three years. When we started out in 2015, the issues both children and parents faced online, were limited almost to a few Apps and Social Media Platforms. Now there are so many other avenues of Online Safety, we all need to be mindful of.
The genuine support we have received from friends and family has been incredible. The interest, feedback and support we have received from our Followers on Facebook has often guided us on the matters we address on the page.
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It will have come as a shock to many this week, to see a young 24-year-old Dublin woman charged with the defilement of a child, a teenage boy. This is something we have not really seen in Ireland up to now. A very young woman, who if convicted of the alleged offence, will be registered Sex Offender. The reported allegations involve a student from the school she worked in, who was under 17.
“I’m convinced the devil lives in our phones and is wreaking havoc on our children”. You could be forgiven for thinking that this was the ranting of a technophobe, however the harsh reality is the comments were made by Athena Chavarria, who worked as an executive assistant at Facebook and is now at Mark Zuckerberg’s philanthropic arm, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. This is a woman who works at the forefront of the emerging technology our children are accessing, yet she lives by the mantra that the last child in the class to get a phone wins
This is a message which parents should heed. When the people who make these devices are so upfront about, their efforts to protect their own children from device addiction and harmful content, from a consumer point of view the manufacturer is telling us, these devices are bad for your children. For a long time, we have watched the endless parade of people spouting the familiar tale of the educational benefits of the devices. Any rationally minded person looking at children using devices, will quickly notice the content being absorbed everything but educational.
Devices are designed to be addictive. Unlike a book, once you come to the end of a page you have to you cannot proceed any further unless turn the page. This is called a Stopping Cue. Reading a Newspaper, once you reach the back page, it’s finished. However on digital devices, the eternal scroll down feature used by countless platforms, has removed Stopping Cues. This impacts a person’s ability to regulate their own self-control. How do you stop, when there is always new content, only one swipe away?
Addiction to Smartphones
We are also impacted by the type of content. Upon seeing content you like on the device, Dopamine a hormone associated with pleasure, is released. When children are separated from their devices you sometimes see a sudden burst of rage or upset, this is being acknowledged as a form of withdrawal. The child now becomes preoccupied, about when the device will be returned to them, and will experience a feeling of anticipation. The feeling anticipation then turns to excitement, once the device is returned. Anticipation combined with the reward of Dopamine released in the body, can eventually lead in to, what is called a reward seeking behaviour, or an addiction cycle.
If the content activates an emotion like anger, sadness, displeasure or the feeling of absence from the device, hormones associated with Stress, Cortisol and Adrenaline are released in the body. It is incredibly important to understand these hormones can cause a person to feel anxious, over time this can lead to Mental Illness. We are now seeing children presenting with Anxiety Disorders in Ireland. The constant release of Cortisol and Adrenaline, which are associated with the fight or flight response, can cause physical damage to the organs of the body over time.
Digital Candy or Crack Cocaine
Chris Anderson, is the former editor of Wired. He is now the chief executive of a robotics and drone company. He is also the founder of GeekDad.com. “On the scale between candy and crack cocaine, it’s closer to crack cocaine,” Mr. Anderson said. “We thought we could control it,” Mr. Anderson said. “And this is beyond our power to control. This is going straight to the pleasure centres of the developing brain. This is beyond our capacity as regular parents to understand.”
There are now a whole generation of children, who by the time they hit their twenties, will possibly have accumulated damage to their organs from the over release of Stress hormones, which has the potential to shorten their lifespan. The Addiction cycle experienced by children on their devices, works on the exact same principle as a form of drug or alcohol addiction. If children are losing their ability for self-control at a very young age, how will this impact them in later years when they are exposed to addictive substances?
The overall consensus with many Silicone Valley Tech executives, is the impact technology is having on children is overwhelmingly, a negative one. These devices were not originally designed to be child only devices. They were devices designed for adults, to be used by adults, who were targeted with programs developed to keep the adult user active on the device and the platform. The mistake we made, was we permitted children to access an adult device.
“I didn’t know what we were doing to their brains until I started to observe the symptoms and the consequences,” Mr. Anderson said. “This is scar tissue talking. We’ve made every mistake in the book, and I think we got it wrong with some of my kids,” Mr. Anderson said. “We glimpsed into the chasm of addiction, and there were some lost years, which we feel bad about.”
John Lilly, a Silicon Valley-based venture capitalist with Greylock Partners and the former C.E.O. of Mozilla has an approach with his nephew that we have been using when we present to children in schools all over Ireland, “I try to tell him somebody wrote code to make you feel this way — I’m trying to help him understand how things are made, the values that are going into things and what people are doing to create that feeling,” Mr. Lilly said. However Mr Lilly still faced the opposition from his own nephew we also frequently see in children, “And he’s like, ‘I just want to spend my 20 bucks to get my Fortnite skins.’”
Knowing this it is easy to understand why “Doing no screen time is almost easier than doing a little,” said Kristin Stecher, a former social computing researcher married to a Facebook engineer. “If my kids do get it at all, they just want it more.” More than a few parents will have experiences the trials and tribulations of attempting to tear a child away from a device. We are not advising any parent to take an abolishment approach. However we are strongly advising the screen time is limited monitored and the content always restricted to age appropriate.
A recent Tweet by Irish Cyberpsychologist, Dr. Mary Aiken caught our attention. For some time now, Dr Aiken has been highlighting how technology has infiltrated our lives and impacted us on a psychological level, right down to an individual’s level of self-perception. AI or Artificial Intelligence has many different levels. It is used in some of popular Apps, to digitally improve or alter images, before it shared online with others. There is a negative emotional and psychological side to this, many adults may have not considered or be aware of which is why it is the topic of this weeks #COTDAge blog.
The concept of beauty is a very transient perception. One which is highly open to influence and manipulation, through mediums of TV, Movies and Magazines. The shoulder pads of the 80’s and big hairstyles did not survive the 90’s, as trends frequently come and go. Image manipulation has been around for a long time. Many top fashion magazines have been caught over the years, having featured airbrushed celebrities on their covers, to make them look thinner. The difference now however, is that the perception of what we consider as beautiful, is no longer naturally realistic or achievable. How can anyone possibly measure up against celebrities, who are not only altering their physical appearance through surgery, but also using very accessible technology to then alter their image even further in the persuit of perfection?
There has been a lot of criticism lately of the Apple’s iPhone XS, for over smoothing selfie photos. Some users complained the images were being over manipulated, producing an airbrushed version of the picture. These type of App are generally referred to as a ‘Beautification Apps’. There are countless Apps available, which are designed specifically to alter an image, by removing any unwanted features such as skin blemishes, or acne. One filter App promoted by Kyle Jenner enables users add ‘Beauty Filters’ to their Instagram images. It widens the user’s eyes, softens the skin, and creates plump fuller lips. If you wish you can even add length to eyelashes. It essentially enables the user, to look just like someone who has had surgery so extensive, she no longer even looks like herself.
We often ask children, are they the creator of their own destiny, when they create their online persona? Inevitably, almost all say yes. We try to educate both teens and parents about the how Apps work and their use of Gamification. Describing the process which is actually controlling and directing the user on popular Apps like Snapchat can leave audiences stunned. Gamification is used on many popular Apps that are used by children. It is designed to encourage user interaction by turning the App in to a game, often without the user even realising.
The Apps encourage frequent use through notifications and streaks, a little competition among Friends or Followers. The Apps use rewards like Emoji Trophies for completing certain tasks, such as take 1000 snaps using your front facing camera. As an adult reading this, if we were to offer you an Emoji and ask you to go and take a thousand pictures of yourself, undoubtedly you would say “ Are you ****ing kidding me or what?”. Yet our kids are happily doing this, all the while oblivious to the level of manipulation actually taking place.
If a child has taken one thousand pictures of themselves and over time been introduced to adding a variety of filters to alter their image in order to improve it, will the child still be satisfied with themselves when looking at an unfiltered normal regular photo. over time will the App influence their perception to the extent of now needing to add a Beauty Filter to their image, perhaps as a result of a preference now for wider eyes, smoother skin or fuller lips? Even the suggestion that a child or teen needs to make use a Beauty Filter, immediately gives the suggestion that there is something wrong with their image.
Adults have not grown up with this technology, we can’t even imagine what it is like to live in a world, where you are consistantly encouraged to alter your own image in order to make it conform to the current perception of beauty. What gives us further cause for concern, is the way Apps then encourage users to share their altered image of themselves with others. Now the user is seeking validation and feedback of an online world, where the harsh and frequent horrific judgement and comments can cause devastation to an individual’s self-esteem and concept of self-worth.
The number of young girls and boys reporting dissatisfaction with their very perception of themselves continues to increase, along with the numbers suffering from self-esteem issues, eating disorders, body dysmorphia, self-harm and eating disorders. The figures being reported are higher than they have ever been before. Beauty Apps, and Apps which are using psychology and gamification to condition a user to habitually alter and share their own image, will eventually create an altered idea of what the perception of beauty is.
Incredibly, when you listen to those who make millions and profit from selling their image as the one to aspire to, the Jenner/Kardashian media monster machine, even these people, who at this point must be made of more plastic than Joan Rivers, say they are not happy with their image. They are still complain constantly about what they are not happy with about themselves to a very vulnerable audience. Children are learning the negative lesson of the importance of astetics rather than ability, tallent or skill.
No child, male or female, can ever aspire to the perception of beauty held by people who no longer even look like themselves, or images which have been altered to unrealistic proportions. Children are unique, that is where their beauty lies, in their uniqueness. Who wants to live in a world with 3.2 billion internet users, who all look like Kardashian or Jenner replicates. For parents it is really important to pay attention to the image your child creates of themselves online. Be mindful of the harm caused to a child, who becomes unhappy with their own perception of their identity. All the filters and AI in the world will never improve who a person is on the inside, however it does have very powerful ability to destroy them.
#Apple users are at risk of having their accounts compromised in a new Spotify Phishing attack. Emails purporting to originate from Spotify are advising the recipient, they have purchased a year’s Premium Streaming service and are asking to verify the subscription by logging in to the users Apple account. The link when opened appears as a very authentic looking, branded Apple site, however the address at the top of the screen is clearly not an authentic address.
Some people may not recognise that this is not an authentic address and enter their Apple ID and Password. It is also likely some of those who receive the email will be curious and log in, as they will not have subscribed for the Spotify premium service.
Users are asked to enter their login details. Upon entering the log in details, users will have provided their information to the designers of this particular Phishing attack, compromising the security of their account allowing access to their iCloud and personal content including their PICTURES and PERSONAL DATA. This can also allow access to Apple Pay and even the location of all your Apple devices.
We would ask people to delete this email if they receive it, and advise your children and teens who are using an Apple device to do the same. If you have entered your details, we strongly advise that you change your log in credentials immediately. Phishing scams work due to people’s natural curiosity and very often just old-fashioned ignorance, fear or greed. Be exceptionally careful when opening any links in emails you are not expecting. Never open content or click on links contained in emails you are not expecting to receive, even if they are sent from a trusted contact, as your device may end up compromised.
One issue, which is becoming more obvious while speaking to children, teens and parents, is how ignorant everyone appears to be, in relation to their level of vulnerability online. We frequently see tremendous over confidence, in the amount faith people have placed in how protected or secure their online data is. Most have actually put all of their data eggs in the one basket, without realising the dangers.
It is almost like watching a re-run of the Titanic story, so many people mistakenly believing that their online lives, are also unsinkable. We have found that the use of the Titanic as a learning aid is an excellent example for helping people to understand their level of online vulnerability. So this is why, we have decided to share it with you in today’s #COTDAge blog.