Society must fulfill responsibility to guard children from internet dangers

Society has a responsibility to protect children from troubles associated with the use of the internet and social media. It is important for internet and social media operators, the guardians of children, and schools to play their respective roles.

Last year, 1,819 children under 18 years old were involved in crimes triggered by the use of social media such as Twitter.

Most were said to be victims of sex crimes, including cases in which children were lured out by men they met through social media, and the men committed indecent acts on the children or pressured them to send naked pictures of themselves. There were also many cases in which after the children sent the images, the men threatened to disseminate the pictures widely and made repeated demands.

Adults must establish an environment that prevents children from becoming involved in such crimes.

According to a government survey, more than 90% of junior high and high school students used the internet. Almost all high school students have their own smartphones, and they used them for more than four hours a day on average.

Even among 3-year-old children, the internet utilization rate reaches about 60%. The number of visitors to video sites appears to be increasing, among other factors. Measures should be facilitated in line with the declining age and prolonged duration of internet use.

The government has decided on a new basic plan for young people’s use of the internet. The basic plan points out the importance for operators, when they develop new devices, to devise measures from the design stage to prevent harm caused by selfies and other forms of use.

A function is also reportedly being developed that will use artificial intelligence to prevent images of naked bodies or other explicit images from being transmitted. Operators need to strive to make technological improvements for that purpose.

The basic plan also stresses having parents and children establish rules. Guardians should sufficiently explain the proper usage of the internet, especially to small children.

Smartphones have filtering features that can block certain sites from being viewed, apps from being used, and limit the amount of time phones can be used. Guardians can set these functions on smartphones when they sign up for their children’s devices, but the usage rate for such filters is only about 40%.

Guardians can also use their own devices to control the use of their children’s smartphones. It is essential to keep an eye on how children use their smartphones as they grow.

In elementary and junior high schools, devices such as personal computers and tablets have been distributed to each student. It would be counterproductive if children get addicted to inappropriate videos and games on devices for learning that are hard for parents to monitor.

Schools and local governments bear a heavy responsibility. They should establish a system that allows homeroom teachers and others to monitor students’ use of the internet and block access to inappropriate websites if they discover students are viewing these sites. Teachers on the front line of education should deepen their understanding of the merits and demerits of the internet.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on June 29, 2021.