Educators NZ - Rapid changes in digital universe exposing young Kiwis to cyber threats

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Rapid changes in digital universe exposing young Kiwis to cyber threats

Non-profit organisation NetSafe has released a Digital Challenges report explaining the full range of online challenges New Zealanders faced last year, which coincided with Safer Internet Day on February 22nd.

A key focus of Safer Internet Day 2015 was to raise awareness about online safety in schools and kura at the beginning of he new school year.

NetSafe says the start of the school year is a great time for schools and kura to think about how they develop the safe and responsible use of digital technology for learning. “Young people are disproportionately affected by online challenges such as aggressive or bullying online communications,” NetSafe says in the report.

The opportunities and challenges that New Zealanders experience online have both greatly changed over the last 17 years,” NetSafe says in the report. 

The report says increased access to faster more mobile internet connections means that New Zealanders are spending more and more time online. As a result, they are exposed to constantly evolving challenges that include online bullying and harassment, cyber attacks and privacy issues. 

“All internet users need the knowledge and skills to keep themselves and others safe and secure online,” NetSafe says. “This applies regardless of age, location or occupation and whether going online at home, at work or for play.”

The report says New Zealand is making great progress towards creating great connectivity and access to motivating and engaging online experiences. “However, there is a great deal more work to be done in developing the digital capability of the nation’s internet users,” it says.

NetSafe says in the early days of the internet, the response to cyber safety issues was often based upon assumptions instead of research. It was a problem thought of as almost exclusively affecting children. 

This response was modelled on ‘traditional’ media dangers such as exposure to inappropriate sexual content or ‘stranger danger’. Typically, protections were put in place to restrict access to online content and services. 

However, rapid changes in digital technology have enabled new, or evolved existing, online challenges. These are primarily related to conduct concerns such as harmful communications, inappropriate ‘digital footprints’ and criminal enterprise. “The other important change to note is that these challenges can no longer be thought of as just impacting on young people,” NetSafe says.

“It is essential that internet users also develop the skills and knowledge to keep themselves and others safe online,” NetSafe says. “This includes knowing how and where to seek support when things go wrong.”

These ideas have taken hold in the education sector since NetSafe introduced its definition of a ‘digital citizen’ in 2010. The Digital Citizenship model provides a way of expressing the norms of appropriate and responsible behaviour that a society expects when using digital technology. However, NetSafe says these ideas do not just apply to schools; they are directly relevant to wider society.

The report says preventative education remains an important component of the response to online safety challenges. “However, even when resourced appropriately, an education-based strategy will not be entirely
Effective,” it says. “There are some harms that cannot be prevented just by increasing an internet user’s skills and knowledge. 
“NetSafe’s operational experience shows that problems can result from risk-taking behaviour, an error of judgment or being targeted regardless of the safety and security precautions they have taken.”

In 2015, NetSafe says it is directly supporting consumers, families, schools and businesses as they navigate through a range of online ‘digital challenges’. It aims to help reduce their exposure to risk or to minimise harm when things go wrong. 

NetSafe responds to over 700 requests for support each month received via a range of communication channels. It also provides workshops and expert advice around the country.

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