Online Risks During the COVID-19 Lockdown

Friday, 17 April, 2020 - 13:42

A number of online risks have been identified by numerous researchers and development agencies across the globe. And the most vulnerable are children. United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), a UN agency responsible for providing humanitarian and developmental aid to children worldwide, noted that millions of children are at increased risk of harm as their lives move increasingly online during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown.
 
School closures and strict containment measures mean more and more families are relying on technology and digital solutions to keep children learning, entertained and connected to the outside world, but not all children have the necessary knowledge, skills and resources to keep themselves safe online. According to the UN agency, more than 1.5 billion children and young people have been affected by school closures worldwide. It says many of these students are now taking classes as well as socialising more online.
 
Spending more time on virtual platforms can leave children vulnerable to online sexual exploitation and grooming, as predators look to exploit the COVID-19 pandemic, says UNICEF. A lack of face-to-face contact with friends and partners may lead to heightened risk-taking, such as sending sexualised images, while increased and unstructured time online may expose children to potentially harmful and violent content as well as a greater risk of cyber bullying.

“Under the shadow of COVID-19, the lives of millions of children have temporarily shrunk to just their homes and their screens. We must help them navigate this new reality,” says UNICEF executive director Henrietta Fore.
 
Children and youth are more likely to encounter online risks, including being exposed to child sexual abuse material, or child sexual abuse and exploitation. And while sharing images and stories of lockdown and its challenges through social media is a way to stay connected, children’s rights to privacy and protection may be compromised. This lockdown is a time for parents to be proactive in speaking to their children about online safety, how to change settings to “private, friends or contacts only”, or prevent spam or unwanted sexual content.  By paying attention to the different things that children do online increased communication, game-playing, learning we are better placed to manage the time that children spend online. Promoting positive online and recreational use, and building children’s skills to stay safe online, will serve them well after the lockdown is lifted.
 
WhatsApp Message Forwarding Initiated Restrictions to Guard Against Fake News.
 
During this COVID-19 pandemic, more people are relying on platforms like WhatsApp to get information about the pandemic. Unscrupulous people might use the platform to spread misinformation, which is dangerous for such a pandemic. With social media platforms trying to fight misinformation especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, Facebook-owned messaging platform, WhatsApp took the effort to limit forwarding messages in bulk. They recently announced that messages identified as highly forwarded(more than 5 chats)can only be forwarded to a single person. This move is meant to reduce the speed at which messages spread via the chat app. Messages that have been forwarded many times are labelled with double arrows.
 
This process with slow the pace at which shared messages move online, thus give fact-checkers more time to chase down the truth and promote it. People love forwarding messages (especially viral) that can be either useful or downright useless. Some forwards can be dangerous since they can help in spreading fake news to a lot of people at a time.
 
WhatsApp has announced that messages that have been identified as “highly forwarded (more than 5 chats) can only be forwarded to a single person. This is aimed at reducing the speed at which such messages spread around WhatsApp. WhatsApp says their previous test on limiting forwarded messages led to a 25% decrease in message forwards globally. This means that this new test will further decrease the spread of such viral forwards even further. 
 
This is good news for the IT sector, and we hope more companies will take such stance to limit the online misinformation which is so rife at this time of the pandemic.
 
Sources:

ITWeb news
George Kamau techweez
Kiruti Itimu  techweez Culture Editor.
Staff Writer:  IT Web

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