The pandemic has given more time to be active on the internet and everybody seems to be making the most of it. Netizens (citizens of the internet) have grabbed the opportunity to multiply followers, tweets, likes and views on social network accounts.
Social network apps such as TikTok have also recorded a massive increase in downloads and engagements during the pandemic. For instance, analytics by Sensor Tower showed that the social video app, TikTok was downloaded over 315 million times in the first quarter of 2020. This number is almost the same as the entire number of downloads in 2019.
But this is not all going on online. Online predators, cyber-bullies and abusers have also pervaded the internet, taking advantage of active users during the pandemic.
The epidemic of online predators
Online predators are people who sexually abuse and exploit other people on the internet. Although the abuse starts online, it may continue physically.
Internet predators can come in any form but usually, they go this way:
- They hunt people (mostly minors) on online chat rooms,
- They familiarise and sympathise with those dealing with issues from home or school,
- Then they share sexual contents with them and encourage them to exchange theirs.
- The relationship goes on for a while and then the predator requests a physical meeting.
Physical meetings lead to more abuse, mutilation or even murder. For instance, in 2014, 14-year-old Breck Bednar was killed by a predator he met online. The 19-year-old predator, who is also male, lured Breck to his house where he killed him.
Although estimates show that there are more than 500,000 predators online daily, the numbers may increase due to the pandemic. According to CBC, Cybertip.ca received more than 80% increase in reports of online predators from April to June 2020.
Adults also fall victims of online predators but the majority are children.It is not enough to abandon children with their phones for home-schooling. Parents need to ensure that their children are far away from online predators. Click To Tweet
Children are the targets, how can they stay safe?
Children, preteens and minors are the targets of online predators. Coincidentally, there are many more children online now than before. Since the pandemic has restricted both children and teachers from physical schooling; technology has been the only resort to continue learning and teaching.
It is somewhat easy to adjust to learning from the internet but it is hard to stay safe from predators that are now widespread on the internet. This is also because teachers and parents teach children to navigate around the internet for learning sake but they do not teach children how to use the internet safely and protect themselves from abusers.
As a result, UNICEF and other organizations have urged tech companies to make online learning tools safer for children as well as child protection services to provide hotlines and services available for children who may fall victim.
Most importantly, parents have the bulk work to keep their children safe on the internet. Online predators leave children with lifelong traumas. Sadly, many children do not know online predators exist and so if they are attacked, they do not know how to respond.
It is not enough to abandon children with their phones for home-schooling. Parents need to ensure that their children are closer to them than to those online. They need to know who their children socialise with and how long they spend online.
These measures do not only help guard against online predators but also prevent cyber-bullying and addiction.