How to protect minors from harassment on social networks?

social networks

Increasingly, the safety of minors on social networks is in danger due to bad practices such as sexting or stalking (we will see what they consist of later). In particular, adolescents are an easy target as they already have access to electronic devices with the Internet, have a fragile self-esteem, and place great importance on social reputation. Along with clearly risky behaviors such as those mentioned, there are other apparently more innocent ones, such as sharing personal information or not using good password practices, which can lead to cybercrime. We tell you how to protect minors from harassment on social networks and the internet.

We start from evidence: the majority of adolescents, and even pre-adolescents, currently have a mobile phone in Spain. In addition, although the European RGPD regulations allow the age to establish between 13 and 16 years of age to consent to the use of personal data, in Spain it has been set since 2018 at 14 years. For younger ages, it is the parents who have to give consent on their behalf. Therefore, except for some exceptions (such as LinkedIn or WhatsApp, which establish the limit at 16 years -in the second it is not respected much-), adolescents can freely register on social networks from the age of 14. This means that they are exposed to high risks, since in these networks personal information – if not sensitive – is shared with relative frequency.

The most serious cases of harassment in social networks

Sexting involves sending photos, videos, or messages from personal sexual or erotic content across IM networks or social networks. Sexting does not constitute a crime in itself, but the forwarding of that information without consent is.

Stalking involves making apparently legal actions (calls, sending gifts of some sort, text messages, emails, pictures, or videos) but are unwanted by the victim, and do it repeatedly. The fact that it is unwanted and that it is repeated, makes it constitute harassment.

A specific case is cyberbullying, harassment between equals in the communication technology environment (also including social networks), and includes acts of blackmail, humiliation, and insults by minors to other minors.

Grooming is the simulation by an adult to a child perceives him as another minor to obtain sensitive personal information or one that allows a criminal action.

These types of actions are at least dangerous for the minor and most harmful, so they should be avoided with adequate training and accompanying them in their use of social networks. We must bear in mind that the control measures that we are going to see below never completely prevent danger, and the most important thing is that the child knows how to differentiate what is going to pose a risk to him and act appropriately in those situations.

Cybersecurity Recommendations for Parents and Guardians

Parents and guardians are the first to be clear about the basic cybersecurity measures to adopt. Among the control measures to avoid harassment in social networks.

  • Devices that are not for use by minors must have an encrypted password. Resources on shared computers that should not be accessed by minors must be protected by a double factor of authentication.
  • Devices that are for use by minors should not have pre-installed applications or apps that they should not use. We must bear in mind that, in the case of social networks, although companies establish a minimum age to register an account, in most cases they do not establish any measure to check if the user is a minor. If he decides to falsify the data, he can also register.
  • Adults should also set parental control options for browsers on children’s devices and configure options for search engines that restrict adult results.
  • On mobile devices, functions such as “Kids Mode” are highly recommended. These features restrict the daily playtime or the apps and contacts that children can access through parental control.

The measures that parents and guardians can adopt at the educational level are:

  • Show your availability for minors to speak at all times and be alert to any unusual behavior of them, which could show that they are being harassed or extorted.
  • Facilitate the access of minors to healthy forums where they can share their problems and receive guidance on how to behave.
  • Provide minors with the cybersecurity guidelines that we give in the following point.

Cybersecurity Guidance for Minors

The most vulnerable target for crackers (hackers with illegal methods and/or purposes) and stalkers are those with less training and experience. Minors usually coincide with that profile, so you have to avoid as much as possible that they make mistakes and end up suffering harassment on social networks. For it:

  • Minors should never freely use their parents’ devices, unless “Kids Mode” or similar has been enabled.
  • We must explain to the minor the difference between a private and a public sphere, and make it clear to them that most of the information that is shared on a social network is by default public.
  • We must anticipate and be ourselves the ones to help them configure the privacy options of their social networks, or explain to them, if they are old enough, how they should do it, and why.
  • It must be made clear to them what personal information should at no time be shared on social networks with someone whose identity is not clear, and of course never in a public message: phone, home address, location, home photographs, or Communicate that you are going to be absent from your home for a defined period of time (for holidays, for example).
  • It must be made clear to them that information should never be shared with anyone, even if they are friends or acquaintances: compromised photographs of themselves or other people, passwords for services or applications, or banking information (although the latter is rarely accessible to minors ).

We will conclude by remembering that the fact that all these measures are adopted does not guarantee the safety of the minor, they only favor it. When a minor has a device with internet access, their situation should by default be considered vulnerable to becoming a victim of adults or other malicious minors. We must always be alert to the possibility of harassment in social networks and other areas of the network.