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Smoothwall tips on cyber-bullying.

Smoothwall : 01 August, 2007  (Technical Article)
Smoothwall argues that responsibility for cyber-bullying lies not only with the schools and offers parental tips for avoiding it.
Tom Newton, product manager at Internet security specialist SmoothWall, offers thoughts on the recent calls from teachers to shut social-networking sites down after a spate of high-profile cyber-bullying, and top tips for remedial action:

"Network Security experts like us work hard to make the Internet safe for schoolchildren, but even with the best monitoring systems, cyber-bullying can still take place. The recent news articles and comments from the Professional Association of Teachers (PAT) are proof of this. Mobile phones and unsupervised home PCs mean that clips taken in school can still be uploaded, or passed from phone-to-phone, in what is effectively an enormous peer-to-peer network.

"We can't lay all the responsibility with schools. Sure, network administrators must ensure that the network is safe for kids to use (filtering, monitoring blocking and educating), but it's often peripheral activities or incidents outside the school networks that are the root of the problem. Unfortunately, kids today can't seem to live without video-mobiles - constantly pushed to them through web and TV ads. It's unlikely that we'll see much action from the 'big players' - it's simply not possible for YouTube to screen every video - it would be forced to close. If it went away, 10 more less regulated, less responsible sites would appear in its place. We have opened the box and there's no putting a lid on it now.

"It's unlikely that mobile operators will discourage kids from having the latest video handsets (when arguably a simple voice-only phone is more than sufficient) as profit is the motivating force. It's reasonable to ask for filtering of mobile network access, but what about peer-to-peer via Bluetooth or infra-red? This is anarchic and uncontrollable.

"The only way to stop Schoolchildren sharing video content created on mobile phones is to prevent the creation of that content. At the very least, ban these phones in a school environment - then the school has done all it can. Parents argue that the mobile is for 'safety', but this is fallacy - if that were the case, cheap, camera-less mobiles would be popular but they are not."

Here are SmoothWall's top tips on how parents and schools can alleviate the risk of cyber-bullying:

1 Talk to kids - warn them of the dangers sharing personal information online, particularly photographs, and what kind of advances (ie emails, chat rooms) to avoid.

2 Monitor Internet activity - don't assume that if your child is on the computer they are happily working. Make the Internet a family experience so you can make sure your child is not hiding his/her abuse - this is best done by locating the computer in a public place, such as the living room.

3 Ensure your child's school has installed modern web content filtering software - this should have Dynamic Content Analysis techniques to prevent children bypassing the filter and be flexible enough to allow for a balanced Internet experience.

4 Set Internet rules in the home environment (a bit like agreeing the equivalent of an AUP): discuss with your child what they should or should not talk about on the Internet, rather than banning access to social networking sites altogether.

5 Sharing information: the main problem with any form of bullying (be it in the play ground or online) is getting your child to talk to you about it and admit there is a serious problem. To counteract this.

- Make sure your child knows about support websites that they can go to for help and advice if necessary. The support websites from The Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre and NSPCC are excellent:

- The website from CEOP's Think U Know campaign teaches children how to protect themselves from harassment online.

- The website for the NSPCC's Don't Hide It sexual abuse campaign.

- Sit down with your child and go through the clear and thorough "do's and don'ts" of using the Internet these sites provide.

- You could even go as far as having one of these websites as the home page if you are highly concerned about your child's happiness.
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