In an era of Internet and smartphones, children, tweens and teens spend large amount of time online without knowing risks involved. In West, there's already extensive campaigns going on basic internet safety, India hasn't been a prominent (arguably) part of the campaign so far. However, a new study from McAfee reveals an alarming rise in risky online behavior of tweens and teens in India, stressing the need for more focus on awareness about online safety.
According to McAfee's new Tweens, Teens and Technology 2014 Report, about 50% of the youth in India have had some experience with cyber-bullying (been cyberbullied online or witnessed others being cyberbullied), out of which one-third (36%) have been cyberbullied themselves.
The report adds, this behaviour was perceived to result in anger and embarrassment, showcasing how online behaviour translates into offline impact. The study highlights how risky online activity can possibly make them even more susceptible to cyberbullying, substantiated through some of the following statistics. Also read: Under-13s not allowed, Delhi HC asks Facebook to put disclaimer and IAMAI and Facebook launch Internet safety programme for children in India
Melanie Duca, APAC Consumer Marketing Director, McAfee, part of Intel Security says, “Teens and tweens are very comfortable operating in the online world, yet the risks have never been greater. Young people are often the pioneers for new technologies so they need to understand the consequences of their online behaviour and how they can maintain their social engagement.”
Why Indian youth are at risk?
India has one of the largest smartphone and Internet populations (mostly youth) in the world. Young children are spending a lot of time on their Internet connected devices. The McAfee report reveals 70% of online youth in India spend more than 5 hours on the internet in a normal week. Internet access is still predominantly desktop based (41%), however, 36% use laptops and 27% use smartphones.
Joining every possible network
The report reveals Indian youth are associated with almost all popular messaging and social networking apps. In terms of social networking platforms, Facebook is by far the most popular site used (93%), followed by YouTube (87%) and WhatsApp (79%).
10-12 year old social account users report higher daily access to Snapchat, Pinterest, Tinder, Tumblr, and Vine than their teen counterparts, even though the minimum age to register to these social networking sites is 13 years. A remarkable trend is that half (52%) of India’s youth even access their social media accounts while at school; 57% being 8-12 years old v/s 47% 13-17 year old. Kids even by pass the age restriction to join social networking sites.
Oversharing risky information
According to the report, youth overshare what would be considered private information publicly, both intentionally and unintentionally. Despite majority (80%) of Indian youth being aware that their online activity can affect their identity, out of 90% who have done or posted something risky online, 70% have posted their contact details like email, phone, home address.
Youth are becoming more trusting of the virtual world to familiarise themselves with unknown people, in spite of being aware that it is risky. 53% have met someone in person that they first met online. As a majority have interacted online with people they don’t know in person: 52 % Chatted during online gaming, 49% on TV show fan pages and 42% live tweeting celebrities and others during a live show.
63% of youth do not turn off their location or GPS services across apps, leaving their locations visible to strangers, and only 46% enable privacy settings on their social networking profiles to protect their content.
Peer pressure is another problem that Indian youth nowadays face. They try to make efforts to be get acceptance on social media than in real life. McAfee report says that a significant two-thirds (66%) of youth in India say they feel more accepted on social media than they do in real life. 72% feel important or popular when they receive a lot of "likes" on the photos posted of themself on social media.
Keeping up to the social pressure, 64% even admit to have tried reinventing themselves online by trying to appear older or creating a fake profile or posting photos that are not their own. Moreover, 46% say they would put themselves in danger to see more engagement/ activity on their posts (e.g., more likes, comments, shares or retweets).
What should be done
There's apparently lack of parental involvement in terms of what their children are doing online. One of the main reasons is that parents are not much tech savvy. While those who are never had conversation about online safety with their children. According to McAfee study, only 46% say their parents have had a conversation with them about online safety. Others say their parents simply don’t care (52%).
Parents should talk to their kids about online risks. Also, they should regularly monitor their kids activity online. They should make an effort to learn and understand the new technology.
Speaking about new-age parenting challenges, Anindita Mishra, McAfee Cybermum India said, “The findings of the study reaffirm that the online behaviour of youth needs much more involvement from parents than they are currently providing. As a result, I believe there is an urgent need for parents to update themselves on potential threats such as cyberbullying and become part of their children’s online experience to ensure they aren’t navigating alone through an unrestricted virtual world.”
Considering the fact that Internet is now mainstream, schools should run some courses about the possible risks online, and encourage children to speak up when they face issues such as cyber bullying. Awareness is likely to play a key role in reducing online risks for teens and tweens.