Smart­phones and the in­ter­net have opened up our lives and bro­ken down phys­i­cal bound­aries. How­ever, for chil­dren, es­pe­cially teenagers, the dan­gers of the on­line world could eas­ily out­weigh its ben­e­fits.

CityPress - - Business / Tenders - Yvonne Grim­beek re­ports

On av­er­age, South African chil­dren first en­counter hard­core pornog­ra­phy at the age of 11, and the big­gest so­cial prob­lems in schools across the coun­try are cy­ber­bul­ly­ing and sex­ting. Emma Sadleir, the coun­try’s lead­ing so­cial-me­dia le­gal ex­pert, says that she sees peo­ple who have failed in the on­line world ev­ery sin­gle day.

“We see peo­ple go­ing to jail and get­ting sued be­cause they said some­thing that they shouldn’t have said on­line. We see chil­dren pun­ished for send­ing nude pics of them­selves. We deal with sui­cides as a re­sult of cy­ber­bul­ly­ing and re­venge pornog­ra­phy. We see ex­actly how things can go wrong, very quickly, on­line,” she says.

“None of the peo­ple who end up in our of­fices would say that they didn’t know how to use their phones very well. Us­ing your phone well, how­ever, is not just a mat­ter of us­ing it a lot. Get­ting your on­line life right re­lies on com­mon sense, but also on a ba­sic un­der­stand­ing of the law, neu­ro­science and psy­chol­ogy.”

The in­ter­net does not for­get

One of the ba­sic prin­ci­ples of the in­ter­net is that noth­ing posted goes away. While you might delete con­tent on posts that you don’t like, Sadleir says the minute it has been shared or seen, it ex­ists in cy­berspace and may come back to bite you.

“It is im­pos­si­ble to delete con­tent once it has landed on­line or on so­cial me­dia. Even if you delete the con­tent from your In­sta­gram ac­count, many peo­ple may have taken a screen­shot of it or down­loaded your im­ages.”

The in­ter­net and the law

All of the laws that ap­ply in real life also ap­ply on­line. So­cial-me­dia users must re­mem­ber that on­line life is still real life.

This means that what­ever you post on­line can be scru­ti­nised un­der the law. All South African laws – in­clud­ing defama­tion, pri­vacy, data pro­tec­tion, ha­rass­ment, dig­nity, hate speech and all sex­ual of­fences – ap­ply to your on­line life as well.

Be­cause so­cial me­dia is a public, per­ma­nent plat­form – just like a news­pa­per or mag­a­zine – once one other per­son has seen that con­tent, the con­tent is re­garded as pub­lished.

So, if you retweet, share, re­post, for­ward or send on some­one else’s con­tent, it can be as­sumed that you have looked at the con­tent and de­cided to pub­lish it (that’s how the law sees it). Even if you are not the orig­i­nal pub­lisher, you made the de­ci­sion to share it and are there­fore equally li­able.


If you are younger than 18 and cre­ate con­tent that is deemed to be “sex­u­ally ex­plicit” (such as a nude pic­ture of your­self), you are guilty of en­gag­ing in child pornog­ra­phy. Also re­mem­ber that this does not have to be pic­tures or a video, it can be words or even a draw­ing.

Here’s an easy rule when it comes to con­tent of this na­ture – if your mum doesn’t like it, don’t post it.

“De­spite vis­it­ing schools con­stantly and telling chil­dren that sex­ting is il­le­gal, we end up with sev­eral sex­ting cases on our desks ev­ery day. Sexts al­ways go public,” Sadleir says.

One of Sadleir’s cases in­volved a boy who asked a girl for a nude pic­ture 57 times. He begged: “Please, it’s my birth­day” and “Please, I love you.”

She sent him the pic­tures and, within three min­utes of re­ceiv­ing them, he had for­warded them to all of his friends.

The girl at­tempted sui­cide. Sadleir tracked the boy down and he’s go­ing to have some very in­ter­est­ing con­ver­sa­tions with the po­lice.

If you have been sent nude pic­tures, Sadleir says, it’s cru­cial to in­form a trusted adult.

“Porno­graphic videos and pho­tos of kids reg­u­larly go vi­ral and end up on ev­ery kid’s phone in South Africa. Delete all of it. It is not your fault that you have re­ceived it, but you must han­dle it prop­erly when you do. Don’t show it to an­other child, don’t store it on your de­vice and don’t send it to oth­ers.”


Bul­ly­ing has been around for ages, but do­ing it from a screen to some­one you can’t see has made it so much eas­ier and the ef­fects so much worse. Sadleir says the in­creas­ing sever­ity of bul­ly­ing has led to more se­vere con­se­quences, in­clud­ing po­ten­tial crim­i­nal con­vic­tions for bul­lies and an alarm­ing rise in the num­ber of vic­tims com­mit­ting sui­cide.

“The Pro­tec­tion from Ha­rass­ment Act is a se­ri­ously mag­nif­i­cent law. It al­lows for pro­tec­tion or­ders to be is­sued against those who ha­rass or bully oth­ers on­line or in the real world,” says Sadleir.

On­line preda­tors

Every­body thinks they can spot a preda­tor on­line. You can’t. Pae­dophiles are nasty, but they are not stupid. “They are very good at pre­tend­ing to be who they say they are. They also have a lot of pa­tience,” says Sadleir.

Here are her tips for avoid­ing dodgy peo­ple on­line:

. Don’t add a friend on a so­cial-me­dia plat­form un­less you know them in real life;

. Have strong pri­vacy set­tings on all your plat­forms;

. Turn off lo­ca­tion ser­vices;

. Do not share per­sonal in­for­ma­tion; and

. Don’t meet some­one you met on­line in real life.

Pen­guin and City Press are giv­ing away two copies of Sadleir’s new book Self­ies, Sexts and Smart­phones. If you want to win a copy, SMS your name and ad­dress to 34217 with the key­word SELF­IES. SMSes cost R1.50

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