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Google runs child online safety awareness workshops

Sibahle Malinga
By Sibahle Malinga, ITWeb senior news journalist.
Johannesburg, 29 May 2019

Google has partnered with local organisations and government agencies as part of its commitment to building a safer online world for South African children.

SA will, from 2 to 9 June, commemorate National Child Protection Week (CPW), an initiative led by the Department of Social Development to highlight the rights of children in accordance with the Children’s Act of 2005.

To commemorate CPW, Google has collaborated with Media Monitoring Africa (MMA), the Department of Telecommunication and Postal Services, Facebook, the Film and Publication Board, the Media Development and Diversity Agency, and MTN to raise awareness of online safety.

Google aims to help pupils, school teachers and principals to adequately manage online risks while enjoying using the Internet.

Yesterday, the search giant hosted a roundtable with school principals, government officials and social media experts to facilitate a discussion on how to incorporate child-friendly, ethical social media guidelines into existing school codes of conduct.

Web Rangers, an international programme initiated by Google and implemented by MMA in South Africa, provided the scholars with workshops focusing on critical skills and knowledge around online safety, which they can use to create innovative campaigns that promote safe Internet usage and champion their rights in the digital world.

There is global concern around the need to understand how to reduce the risk of harm that children face online, while maximising their opportunities for learning and creativity.

“Initiatives like Web Rangers and National Child Protection Week give us an opportunity to put a spotlight on young people and to recognise them as key players in their safety, especially on the Internet,” says Fortune Mgwili-Sibanda, government affairs and public policy manager at Google, Sub-Saharan Africa.

“What we have learnt is that cyber ills such as cyber bullying, sexting, scams, etc, have real life implications, with some young people resorting to self-harm. Raising awareness and educating children, parents and teachers about how to be safe online is critical and can assist in ensuring everyone enjoys the Internet in a safe and responsible way.

“According to a survey conducted by Google in SA, Kenya and Nigeria, the top online safety concerns for parents and teachers are privacy and security, scams and sharing of personal information.

“The study further found that parents felt kids should be taught about online safety by the age of nine years, and 88% of teachers need more resources to teach online safety effectively. In addition, 93% of teachers would find it helpful to attend an online safety training or workshop,” Mgwili-Sibanda points out.

According to Microsoft's 2019 Digital Civility Index, South African millennials and teenagers, particularly teenage girls, are most affected by online risks, such as receiving offensive or obscene content, Internet hoaxes and fake news, and bullying and offensive name-calling.

Google has dedicated online resources that seek to help keep children safe online and inform parents of available safety tools. These include YouTube Kids, which allows parents and kids to enjoy YouTube in a safe and enjoyable way, providing built-in timers for parents, disabling public comments, and an option for parents to block certain videos or channels.

Its Family Link platform provides the ability for parents to create and consent to Google accounts for their children under 13 years old and provides them with supervision and management tools. It also introduced Google Safe Search, which can be turned on with three clicks from the Google homepage.

Beyond the event, the Web Rangers programme brings together civil society, children, educators, government and the private sector to promote online safety and positive use of the Internet.

The programme has selected young online safety ‘ambassadors’ who run campaigns among peers, schools and communities to raise awareness of online safety. It runs in 24 schools in four provinces across SA.

“The programme runs over nine months. MMA, together with partners, selects schools to participate in the project. From each school, 10 learners, aged between 12 and 17 years, are selected to represent their school in the project. The selected Web Rangers take part in a series of activities and workshops, aimed at teaching them how to safely and confidently use the Internet, throughout the year,” says Mgwili-Sibanda.

Web Rangers has reached over 600 learners who have gone through the full programme and over 2 000 indirect beneficiaries who have benefited through in-school online safety advocacy and campaigns, according to Google.