Cyber threats faced by children should be a ‘wake-up call’ for social media firms: thinktank CEO

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Updated 12 November 2022

Cyber threats faced by children should be a ‘wake-up call’ for social media firms: thinktank CEO

Cyber threats faced by children should be a ‘wake-up call’ for social media firms: thinktank CEO

RIYADH: More than a third of teenagers experience unwanted sexual contact while using the internet, according to new survey setting out the dangers facing youngsters online. 

The 2022 Child Online Safety Index, compiled by the Singapore-based educational organization DQ Institute, also shows that as many as 13 percent of children between the ages of 8 and 12 undergo risky contact with strangers — including offline meetings.

The institute’s CEO Yuhyun Park said the research — based on data from 330,000 children and adolescents across 100 countries — showed social media companies need to do more to protect youngsters using their services. 

“The 2022 Child Online Safety Index should serve as a wake-up call to everyone about the safety of the world’s children online. The cyber risks for children have always been present even before the pandemic but the pandemic has provided an opportunity to recognize the pressing need to address the issue,” she said.

According to the research, half of the children and adolescents across the surveyed countries are affected by cyberbullying. Up to 40 percent experience cyber threats, 25 percent are exposed to both violent and sexual content, 16 percent are at risk of gaming disorder, and 8 percent are at risk of social media disorder.

Additionally, 40 percent of the children and adolescents between the ages of 13 and 18 experience unwanted sexual contact. 

“The companies providing social media and gaming and all this entertainment, which is fantastic for children, have a huge responsibility for what's going on,” Park told Arab News on the sidelines of the Global Cybersecurity Forum in Riyadh.

Research from the firm showed as many as three in four children and adolescents aged 8 to 18 worldwide encountered at least one cyber bullying experience in the 12 months to September 2022.

“This issue of cyber risk is not just something about the bad behavior of certain groups of students or children, this is an issue for everyone. What we found as a very interesting trend is that it is not a one country issue, there is a very consistent pattern of this high cyber risk across the nations, across the cultures, across the languages,” Park said.

In terms of safety, England was ranked as the best country for child safety around the world followed by Japan.

East Asian countries ranked higher scores for child online safety as opposed to South Asia, South East Asia, Latin American, and Middle Eastern and African countries ranked relatively lower.

Moreover, while cyber risks among children plunged between 2 and 10 percent during the COVID-19 pandemic between 2020 and 2021, it climbed again between 5 and 15 percent as of 2022.

The figures indicate that there existed some sort of awareness of children being exposed to threats online which consequently accounted for a surge in reporting regarding the matter.

Park said that her institute works as a global engineering thinktank helping to set standards for several digital skills including literacy, digital readiness, and digital intelligence as a whole.

One of the main challenges is that individuals face difficulty in understanding what digital literacy actually is, which consequently brings about confusion, inconsistency, and inefficiency in terms of education, according to Park.

To counter this, the educational institution along with the World Economic Forum has set a common language to facilitate understanding about digital literacy and digital skills, the founder stressed.

“Currently the biggest problem of today's world in digital literacy is that people don't have a common understanding of digital literacy. So, when you talk about math, you know, you start from one plus one and everybody has the same understanding of math. But digital literacy, since it is a new topic, people understand very differently. That creates a lot of confusion and inconsistency, inefficiency in education,” Park said.