Smartphone usage and Internet access have never had a higher saturation rate in Qatar than they do today. More and more young people are accessing the Internet and sharing their own personal information online. With this free flow of information how can we best protect families, and children in particular, in this global cyberspace. On March 6-7, ictQATAR is partnering with the Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI), to host a conference focusing on key online safety issues affecting the Middle East region. The objective is to bring together key policymakers, educators, and industry representatives, as well as an active youth component, to discuss key safety issues and broader global topics. These include the expansion of mobile phone and social media usage, the role of ICT in schools and the importance of cyber ethics. The conference will include the presentation of Qatar’s National Cybersafety Strategy.
Here is a little Q&A we posed to FOSI on the conference and their organization…
What do you hope to accomplish by the end of the conference?
FOSI hopes to increase awareness among policy makers, researchers, educators, NGOs and educators of cyber ethics, what it means, and its importance. Additionally, we intend to have an enlightening discussion of how the region has been impacted by technology, from its implications for social good to education to political change. We aim to identify some of the best ways to teach Arab citizens about responsible technology use and engage them in positive ways online. Finally, we hope to discuss the state of online safety in the Middle East so audiences can make informed decisions about how to move forward with education and policymaking.
What are FOSI’s main concerns regarding families/ children and online safety?
FOSI works to improve understanding that what goes on the Internet is permanent and can have reputational effects. We do acknowledge and work to safe-guard against some of the more well-known threats as well, such as harassment, unkind behavior or cyberbullying, sexting and spending too much time on the Internet to the detriment of learning or other activities. We are concerned with educating families on how information is shared on the Internet and the importance of privacy settings, parental controls and fully understanding tracking and privacy agreements. Finally, we strive to illustrate how the Internet can be used for good, such as for volunteerism, acts of kindness and social change and amplify the messaging that the Internet holds enormous potential, and is not just a threatening place.
How can we best engage schools on the issue of online safety?
FOSI believes that the best way to engage schools is to advocate on behalf of teachers with education policymakers, as well as direct outreach to educators and parents. If parents get involved, there is a greater possibility that schools will listen. We also believe that part of engagement will come naturally, as society embraces new technology and educators realize the power that technology can have in the classroom. This includes the use of laptops, video for interactive teaching, tablet-based textbooks and the like. The use of platforms like Facebook in schools are already receiving attention, meaning that schools can no longer ignore the need for cyber ethics education.
What should parents be telling their children about social media in order to keep them safe?
First and foremost, parents need to explain that everything online is permanent and not to act differently than you would in the real world. Technology brings the opportunity and challenge of anonymity and parents need to be very clear in educating their children about the ramifications. A good way to do this is to ask your child if what they put online is something they would be comfortable having read aloud at a school assembly or have their grandparents read. Parents and children should also read and discuss together privacy agreements for all applications, sites and services that children intend to use. Kids should be able to demonstrate an understanding of the agreement after reading and discussing it. Parents should also talk about privacy settings with their children and agree on set levels. Finally, parents should tell their kids that when they do join services like social media sites, that they can do so on the condition that you’ll be your child’s first friend.
Does the Middle East face a unique set of challenges when it comes to Internet safety, and if so in what way?
Most challenges facing the Middle East are not unique and involve cyber ethics education and awareness. However, there are some challenges that are unique. The Middle East, like other parts of the globe, still struggles to provide equal access to all of their citizens. This prevents communities without access from harnessing some of the Internet’s power for social good, economic development and education. Furthermore, when citizens do not have a firm grasp on technology, it can lead to a less skilled and less competitive workforce. This has serious economic ramifications for entire countries. Finally, we see that some countries and governments struggle with providing openness on the Internet. The web is a wonderful platform for disseminating ideas and starting discussion, but individuals that chose to engage on the Internet in countries that do not embrace openness can experience governmental or societal backlash.