Dodgy Digits

My line of work puts me at the scroll face of online abuse, bullying and harassment of young people. Whilst I like to think of myself as youthful I cannot claim any knowledge of what it might be like to be growing into a young adult with so many ways to connect, share thoughts, ideas and more. Taking more clothing off and sharing these pictures with others is a growing phenomenon. I’ve been consulting with police and other agencies recently. It might be a bit hard for many parents to hear but if you have a child who knows how to use a phone and is socially networked you might need to be aware of the new harmful digital communications act.

The uncomfortable truth is young people in their teens are growing an awareness of sexuality, desire and taking risks, pushing boundaries. Some of these edges are new as technology creates alternative mediums and relationships. Parents are playing ‘catch up’ and while the act defines the law it will not necessarily prevent harm, distress, upset and deep regret. One consistent message I’d like to give is for parents to try and not ‘freak out’ and send their teen back into the dark ages of the 1990’s – which to them is last century…metaphorically. If they get it wrong, support them, listen and try and suspend judgement. I’ll come back to support later.

So what should people know? This is just my summary (the act is much more detailed and I do encourage people to read it)

First the act defines harmful as that which if any reasonable person was put in the same position then they would be highly offended. There are 10 criteria that define offensive, a digital communication should not…

1: disclose sensitive personal facts

2: be threatening, intimidating, or menacing

3: be grossly offensive to a reasonable person in the same position

4: be indecent or obscene

5: be used to harass

6: make a false allegation

7: contain things published in breach of confidence

8: incite or encourage anyone to send a message to someone to purposely cause harm

9: incite or encourage someone to commit suicide

10: put someone down (denigrate) for their colour, race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation or disability

One of the issues we face is that cameras are out all the time. It is not a crime to take pictures of people in public unless they could expect a privacy. This covers changing rooms, bathrooms, showers. But if they are posted online without someones consent the above criteria kick in.

A tricky bit for young people is the sharing of images with friends or somewhere like facebook. When talking with police recently they were very clear that once an image was ‘shared’ it was a form of consent. I’m not sure I agree and others would naturally challenge this. The issue is the ability to control that image and where it goes. Facebook profile pictures are some of the most common images uplifted and used in other places. So check you profile pics folks. Shutting down and removing images takes time and in my experience it is the worry, fear, anxiety and shame and humiliation that lasts much longer. The rumours start fairly instantaneously and once spinning are very difficult to stop.

If there are sexually suggestive images being shared of any young person under the age of 16 this is also legally classified as child pornography. So yup it’s serious. Your teens need to know this stuff! They also need to know where to get support. Hopefully they can talk to someone in their family. If not someone at school, or netsafe (nz) or the police. If you know someone who is being pressured to send pictures they can use the ‘send this instead’ app.

But we need more open conversations not just ‘thou shalt not take selfies’ lectures. Young people need to lead these conversations in schools. Peer Sexuality Support Teams, Body Image Leaders, Mediators, Prefects…others with capital letters of importance!

Many of us will shake our greying heads and recall the only harmful digital communications we knew about growing up was giving the fingers or making rude words on our calculators. Times change and we need to zero in and be one.

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