Advances in technology and greater Internet access have enabled more Malaysians, including children, to explore the wonders of our virtual world. The Internet has most definitely been an invaluable resource for learning and entertainment but like the physical world around us, it could also pose dangers, especially to the young if precautions are not taken.
In Malaysia, an estimated 18.2 percent of our total internet population are children aged between 6 and 14 in 2016. A recent Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) survey also found that 15.5 percent of Internet users are aged 19 years and below and own a mobile phone from as early as 12 years old. Only 35.6 per cent of parents monitor their children’s smartphone.
Since the arrival of smartphones, young Malaysians are exposed to the perils of Internet from an increasingly young age. Pornography, violence and extremism are now just a click away. Coupled with the heavy use of social media and chat platforms such as Facebook, WhatsApp, WeChat and Bigo Live also exposes our youth to unscrupulous people who are out to gain their trust with intentions of luring them into dangerous situations.
Social media is becoming a perfect hunting ground for cybercriminals and illegal activities. According to Statista, it is estimated that there will be 17.3 million social network users in Malaysia by 2021.
In 2014, our police recorded some 60 cases of children being sexually assaulted by predators they met through the Internet. This figure tripled to 184 in 2015, and marked 183 in 2016. Most victims were aged between 13 to 15, typically being “groomed” by the offenders who would build trust with the minor to pave way for sexual abuse.
Last year, Malaysia achieved a milestone in protecting children against sexual predators. The parliament passed the Sexual Offences against Children Bill 2017 that deals specifically with child pornographic material. Besides introducing a range of new offences with harsh penalties, the Bill also penalises child grooming, which is commonly initiated through the Internet.
Another menacing threat is cyber-harassment. Statistics from CyberSecurity Malaysia showed that cyber harassment and bullying is now one of the top five cyber threats in Malaysia and third most dangerous, after fraud and intrusion.
Last year, CyberSecurity Malaysia received 560 cyber harassment cases compared to 529 cases in 2016. This year, 80 incidents were reported from January until March. This worrying trend must be stopped before our future generation is destroyed.
According to a national level survey conducted by a telecommunications company in 2016, one in four students in Malaysia admitted they had experienced cyber-bullying. A global study published in the ‘2016 Norton Cyber Security Insights Report’ revealed that only 10 per cent of Malaysian parents reported that their child was cyber-bullied.
However, 40 per cent of them believed their children are more likely to be bullied online. Sadly, these reported cyber-bullying cases are merely but a tip of the iceberg. Cyber-bullying could be a lot more serious as many victims choose to suffer in silence for several reasons such as fear of being ridiculed or ostracised by friends.
To protect our young digital citizens from such negative elements of the Internet, we must get the cooperation from every layer of our society — government agencies, education institutions, NGOs to community centres and families. Each stakeholder has a part to play to ensure ethical and responsible use of the Internet. Families must regulate and supervise their children’s Internet access.
Guardians should make use of parental control tools in Internet service providers (ISPs) to manage young children’s online access by selecting approved websites, monitoring online duration and incorporate basic security features such as pop-up blockers in home computers. It is vital for parents to remain positively engaged by paying attention and knowing the online environments their children venture to.
Parents need to help their children understand the public nature of the Internet and its risks as well as benefits. We also need to remind ourselves that any digital info shared on the Internet, be it emails, photos, or videos can easily be copied, altered and edited, and above all, is almost impossible to erase. Moreover, these digital footprints could also one day be targets of cyber criminals. It is therefore prudent for parents to ensure that personal information sharing in the cyberspace be kept to a minimum.
Education institutions today play an instrumental role in creating an entire generation of responsible and knowledgeable ‘Digital Citizens’ through effective implementation of a comprehensive national cyber security education programme. We should therefore inculcate good cyber security habits and best practices at an early age to address the weakest link in cybersecurity, the human factor.
Since 2013, MOSTI through CyberSecurity Malaysia and collaboration with the Ministry of Education (MOE), has been organizing National ICT Security Discourse – Malaysia’s national cyber security school discourse.
Its main objective is to encourage creative and critical thinking of its participants on the Internet and related technological issues as well as how online risk and challenges can be overcome. The annual discourse provides an opportunity for secondary students all around Malaysia to develop their capacity in conceptualizing, synthesizing and solving problems
To ensure that Malaysians develop into responsible digital citizens who are ‘cyber-resilient’, we need to groom and inculcate cyber wellness at schools and learning institutions. Cyber Wellness is a state of an Internet user’s positive well-being.
This is achieved by acquiring an understanding of online behaviour and awareness of how to protect oneself in cyberspace. With cyber-wellness, students are better equipped with life-long social-emotional competencies and sound values to harness the power of ICT for positive purposes and maintain a positive presence in cyberspace.
The future of Malaysia’s digital citizens lies in the policies and actions taken by every stakeholder today from government enforcement to parental control. Most importantly, parents of every child must always monitor the online activities of their children to ensure that they are not influenced by negative elements.
In the new economy, we all need to strive to make the Internet a safer place especially for our vulnerable young ones.