Although the online world is a wonderful place filled with opportunities to learn,  grow, and socialize, it is unfortunately also a place where online harm exists. There are many forms of online harm, notably cyberbullying, exposure to inappropriate content, and online child sexual exploitation and abuse (OCSE).

  • There are many forms of online harm in the digital world, notably cyberbullying, exposure to inappropriate content and online child sexual exploitation and abuse (OCSE). 
  • Cyberbullying is perhaps one of the most common forms of online harm that has attracted global attention, and has grown into a major topic of focus. Read more about cyberbullying here.

What are some common types of unwanted inappropriate content?

  • Inappropriate content is any type of online communication or content that is found obscene, unpleasant or confrontational.
  • Examples of inappropriate content, include (but are not limited to):
    • Advocating of self-harm (for example eating disorders) or unsafe behaviors
    • Real or simulated violence and disturbing graphics, including promotion of aggressive acts
    • Violent radicalism / extremism, hate speech; offensive, confrontational or obscene content 
    • Being asked inappropriate or personal questions by someone you don’t know
    • Being asked to send intimate pictures or do things online that make you feel uncomfortable. 
    • Sexually explicit content.

What is Online Child Sexual Exploitation and Abuse (OCSE)?

  • Online child sexual exploitation and abuse (OCSE) are acts where the perpetrator does not come into physical contact with a child, such as in the case of  possession, distribution or consumption of child sexual abuse material. 
  • Rather, the perpetrators engage through chat rooms, online social networking sites, instant messaging, online games and use all kinds of devices (laptops, mobile phones, gaming consoles) 
  • They are sometimes difficult to track down and often pose as a child themselves.
  • Unfortunately, with increased time being spent online, there is a higher probability that we are dragged into situations or content that is far from our values or the way we deal with people in the normal world.
  • These situations can cause distress and confusion.
  • Even when stumbling across inappropriate content unintentionally, a digital footprint is still marked, tarnishing the user’s reputation. 
  • …So it is key that we avoid inappropriate content and report it to trusted adults or local authorities at the soonest.

The challenge to regulate online activity is undeniably great. Still, what are small steps we can take to protect ourselves from exposure to online harm?


Awareness

  • The first and most important step is to raise awareness on what inappropriate content is, why it’s dangerous, the need to avoid it, and what to do if we stumble across offensive or disturbing content. This applies especially for younger children who are unaware of the dangers.
  • Encourage children to immediately tell their parents or a trusted adult if they are exposed to disturbing online content.
  • Set a home-based family agreement based on positive digital citizenship values that everyone tries their best to commit to. Click here for family agreement samples.
  • Remember that whether we mistakenly stumble on inappropriate content, or intentionally search for it out of curiosity, in both cases our digital footprint would be compromised, so it is crucial to be cautious online.

Supervision and protection of minors

  • Show interest in children’s online behavior; engage with them and have open conversations about what they do online.
  •  Especially for younger children, it is advisable that they use the digital devices surrounded by an adult and never alone in their room.
  • It is not recommended that children watch or join live streams due to their unpredictable nature with higher chances of having inappropriate content and higher chances of children being abused.
  • Ensure that children are using age-appropriate apps, games, and digital platforms only. Many children ignore the terms and conditions of social media channels, and use it in spite of being much younger than the age limit.

Tools and Technology

  • Change the default settings on search engines, games, apps and social media platforms accordingly. Most platforms have a restricted mode to filter out inappropriate content.
  • Ensure that parental control settings are set accordingly, to track children’s usage of digital media and to block inappropriate websites.
  • Use Internet filters and pop-up blockers to help block inappropriate content. (Try searching specifically for family filtering software)
  • Always report any disturbing or inappropriate content to the website or platform administrator through the ‘report’ of ‘flag’ content option, or report to local authorities

Remember that these are just helpful ways to reduce exposure to inappropriate content. Even when parents and schools take precautions, teenagers sometimes find ways to go around the restrictions. This is why raising awareness, encouraging responsibility, and self-consciousness about the consequences of online harm is key.

We may sometimes  mistakenly or even intentionally (perhaps out of curiosity) expose ourselves to harmful content online. Learn how to handle such situations:
If exposed to inappropriate content or other online harm:

  • Close the page straight away, hit control-alt-delete if the site blocks attempts to close.
  • Avoid responding. Immediately leave the site or chat session.
  • Report and block the contact or remove them from the friends list. 
  • Update privacy settings and ensure that all personal details are kept private.  
  • Keep any evidence. This can be useful in tracking the person posting unsuitable material
  • If the user exposed to unsuitable content or online harm is a child:
    •  Ideally, he/she should report the case to a trusted adult or the police, if there are any threats to safety. (This needs to be emphasized by adults and educators as mentioned in the prevention section).
    • Start a calm conversation with the child to understand what has happened and how it made him/her feel
    • Avoid threatening the child of taking their digital devices if they come across inappropriate content.
    • Remind children to never open strange links

On the other hand, if it is our child that is posting inappropriate content, what should we do? 

  • As hard as it may be to talk about inappropriate content a child, try to have a conversation to understand why the child has done so.
  • Engage the child’s sense of empathy. For example, ask them, “How would you feel if someone sent you something that upset you?”
  • Remind him/her of the consequences and dangers of inappropriate content
  • Revisit parental control settings, and make sure they are set accordingly. Increase supervision and engagement with the child’s digital media consumption.