The potential dangers of social media use have come into sharp focus with a report that a 17-year-old Sharjah schoolgirl was blackmailed by an older man who had coerced her into sending him revealing photographs. While the situation was resolved thanks to the involvement of the girls school and police, the story should serve as a warning to pupils, their parents, schools and the broader community about the prevalence of nefarious activities online.
Used properly, the internet is a valuable educational tool. Moreover, it has become an indispensable communications and entertainment medium. But it has an insidious dark side, where it is used not just for simple criminal purposes but to feed perversions, spread hate and degrade humanity.
In the instance reported in Sharjah, the situation was resolved in the best possible manner. We applaud the vigilance of the teacher who spotted that something was wrong with the girl and of the police who pursued the matter with sensitivity.
The lesson from this case, and others like it that have come to the light in recent years, is that there are great dangers in the world of social media and online gaming and that everybody should be aware of them, not just vulnerable children and teenagers.
Education and awareness campaigns are already being conducted in schools and other community settings, and these programmes should be continued and expanded. It is essential that children know the pitfalls of what appear to be perfectly harmless and normal pastimes. Parents must monitor and, where appropriate, restrict their childrens use of the internet, especially on mobile devices that can be used covertly. They along with teachers and other adults who work with children should also be aware of the warning signs that a child is being bullied, groomed or blackmailed online. Symptoms can include a decline in academic performance, changes in personal habits and demeanour, and withdrawal from social groups.
We cant police the entire internet, but we can teach potential victims strategies to identify and deal with online abuse, and give them the confidence to know that reporting it to a responsible adult is the best course of action.
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