Director of Norway-based giant explains crucial need to give children the tools to safely navigate online world
DTAC (Total Access Communication) and Norway-based Telenor Group have launched a “Safe Internet” initiative in Thailand to provide children and new users with the tools and awareness necessary to safely navigate the online world, access to which is growing rapidly – particularly via smart phones.
The companies also plan to launch an extension of “One Million Hours for Thai Children” project by providing kids across the country with a means to protect themselves against online harm, educating them on how to safely use the Internet, how to understand signs of danger and handle problems when they occur.
The goal is to create millions of responsible digital citizens out of Thailand’s children, which are key to the country’s digital future.
According to the World Bank, more than 25 per cent of the roughly 15 million children in Thailand have access to the Internet. Telenor Group expects between 10 million and 15 million Thai children to be online by 2017.
More children with access to the digital world will be great for Thailand, since it is important to start building their digital literacy, said the telecoms company.
Ola Jo Tandre, Telenor Group’s director of sustainability, recently spoke to The Nation’s Byteline and Technology reporters on the digital-responsibility role of the group and how to help make our children safe when they are online.
What is the digital-responsibility role and work of Telenor Group?
We have an ambition to deliver Internet for All. At the same time, we are seeing that there are risks associated with online exploration, particularly for children and young people. So, we need to address the relevant barriers. This is an important reason that digital responsibility and safe Internet have become an important priority for us.
As Internet use increases at our Asian operations, we will step up our efforts to ensure children are able to explore the educational and cultural riches of the online world safely.
What are the top five online risks for children?
Children may encounter a number of risks. Some can be classified as contact risks, such as children becoming friends with someone online, perhaps in a chat room, and after a while they agree to meet this person. Then it turns out that the person they thought they knew was in fact an adult grooming the child for abusive purposes.
Another very common contact risk is cyber-bullying, which can have dramatic consequences for some children.
Then there are risks associated with exposure, perhaps to violence, pornography or other harmful content.
We have also seen that kids can be vulnerable to commercial risks. For example, they may unknowingly subscribe to commercial services, or make purchases when they are playing games.
Yet another challenge is security, and kids need to know how to protect themselves so as to avoid anyone misusing their personal data. Protecting passwords is important.
What is the correlation between online risks and harm, and what is the general pattern of the correlation?
It is important to stress that risk does not equal harm, but the risk certainly represents a potential for children to be harmed. At the same time, we are seeing that children are quickly becoming more resilient to some of the risks. The best way for them to grow their resilience is to have someone close to them, preferably their parents, guide them. First to warn them about what to not to do, but also to show them the fantastic opportunities and resources that can be accessed on the Internet.
However, experience suggests that cyber-bullying is something that often hits children hard, especially if it goes undetected for longer periods of time.
What are the key factors that can give children the ability to be exposed to risks without being harmed?
The dynamics of social-networking services, where the hunger for ‘likes’ is great. In the early phases, parents should stay close. But as children get experience, they will also grow more resilient. Access to positive content is also important. We should really do more to ensure that stimulating content is available to children everywhere. Content providers should be encouraged to develop better and more locally relevant content.
I think we can say that the strength of the institutions that protect children plays a role. The resource situation in the education sector is important; in some countries teachers receive training that enables them to talk to children about online safety.
Civil society can contribute to better awareness of the risks.
Then you have the private-sector players, such as Telenor and DTAC, and we can also play a role. We have a relationship with our customers and we have the tools and competence to assist parents who need to set barriers and ground rules. We think we share a responsibility to help.
How can we help prevent and protect children from online risks and harm?
First of all, we need to talk to them about the risks. Keeping them away from the Internet is not the answer. Children will explore, and if they are forbidden from visiting the Web, they are likely to do so without the parents knowing it. It is important that they get some positive early experiences online, and that their parents stay close during the first phase of exploration. Filtering technology and monitored chat rooms can assist parents here.
Then it is important to confront the difficult issues. How does cyber-bullying happen? What is acceptable behaviour? Can I upload a photo of someone without asking permission first?
These are questions that kids should talk through together, but with adults present. This is what we are trying to achieve with the school-outreach programmes that we are running in several Telenor markets. Building awareness is really key here.
We need a wide range of stakeholders to step up here. There are meaningful roles to play for the authorities, civil society, teachers and educators – and for connectivity providers such as mobile operators.
Most important, however, are parents and caregivers. They really need to be part of their children’s online lives and talk to them about what they do on the Internet, just as they would about other things their children are into. The rest of us need to look at how we can support the parents in this role.