Protecting children online

Published May 14, 2021, 9:35 AM

by Professor Rom Feria

Photo by Ludovic Toinel on Unsplash

There are parents who exert extra work in keeping their children safe whilst online. Parents often use online services that shield children from malicious actors, along with parental control software to regulate the amount of time children stay online, hoping to prevent addiction, and to also restrict what they can access online. However, these are all negated when teachers force the students to use social media for their classes. As a parent, I know this as I have kids who were forced to go to Facebook because their teachers (and worse, the department and/or college), albeit unofficially, use it for class-related announcements.

There are numerous studies conducted on the ill-effects of social media to children and young adults, but for some reason, it seems like officials from academic institutions seem to ignore them. What is worse is when government agencies, such as the Department of Education (DepEd) and the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), ignore such studies. The silence of non-government organizations, such as the Philippine Pediatric Society (PPS), in providing guidance on the use of social media for children clearly does not help either.

This recent study by Thorn.org, a non-profit organization dedicated on building technology to protect children, “Responding to Online Threats: Minors’ Perspectives on Disclosing, Reporting, and Blocking”, highlight how social media fails in protecting children from abuse and harassment, among other things. In the Philippines, there is the Republic Act 7610, which provides special protection for children against abuse, exploitation and discrimination. Does the failure of a social media company to protect children in violation of RA 7610? The sanction defined by the law only applies to physical establishments, not online entities, but it would be interesting to know how Philippine lawyers will interpret this. Sorry, I am not a lawyer.

If we are to protect our children, then the DepEd must ensure that teachers are not subjecting students to these social media. The fact that the likes of Facebook are being used as a learning tool, which they are not — not by a mile— whilst putting children at risk of abuse and harassment, among others, must be banned. The use of DepEd of Facebook (and YouTube) to make their announcements make them complicit in putting children at harm’s way. This is like teaching our children about the ill-effects of dangerous drugs whilst there are pushers peddling these drugs inside the classroom!

There are programs by non-government and private organizations in teaching our children how to be safe whilst online — but without mentioning the risks of using social media platforms, such as Facebook — are indescribable! What is even worse is that local telecommunication companies are spearheading some of these programs, and yet they promote these social media companies! So, if, by chance, you find yourself in one of their events, and you get a chance to ask a question, ask them about the ill-effects of the social media platforms that they are promoting (and yes, these same social media companies are sponsoring these events, too).

Here’s hoping and praying that the government, non-government organizations and private companies, will join together, and once and for all, ensure the safety of our children online. For parents, you may inform your children’s teachers and schools that you are uncomfortable that they are putting your children at risk by using these social media platforms! Remember, you might be able to protect them at home, but the schools and the teachers might be forcing them to an unsafe place online. Good luck to us all! Keep the children safe online!

 
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