by Lynette Owens

We’ve seen some dramatic changes over the past 11+ years that Trend Micro’s Internet Safety for Kids & Families (ISKF) program has been running. But none stand out more than the development of social media. In just a few short years it has become a portal to our digital lives, polarizing opinions in the process. Social media has been branded both as a fantastic tool to help kids socialize and a conduit for trolls, cyberbullies, hackers and others who may wish our children harm.

The truth, as always, lies somewhere in between. But what has been encouraging is the appetite among industry players for constructive dialog to help address some of these issues. I spent June at several of these and wanted to share my key takeaways – including some tips on what you can do to stay safe for the rest of the summer and into the new school year.

A busy summer

I spend a great deal of time for Trend Micro sharing our expertise at industry events and hearing from experts from various industries, all with the common goal of helping our world’s youth see and use the internet in safe, healthy and productive ways. These gatherings are not only a fantastic learning experience but a reminder of how far we’re progressing in our shared mission. The following three from June are just a small snapshot to illustrate the variety of discussions taking place all over the country and the world.

INHOPE Summit: Held at Facebook HQ in Menlo Park, this event was put on by the International Association of Internet Hotlines. A full day of awareness-raising presentations saw representatives from Interpol, the Department of Justice, Microsoft, the National Association for Missing and Exploited Children, and many others come together to discuss how we can continue to stop the online distribution of abusive material containing children. Trend Micro sponsored the event, but for years has played a role in this very important global fight. As a child safety advocate and mother, this is always one of the most difficult meetings and topics for me to be part of, and sadly, it is a very real problem in the world. But I always leave grateful that there are a lot of passionate people on the same side, trying to do the right thing, even if they exist as competitors in the business world.

PeaceTech Lab: This organization, part of the U.S. Institute of Peace, held an event before the 2019 NAMLE conference regarding how to advance media literacy. Much of the conversation was focused on the use and abuse of social media to incite violence and how we can improve education to diffuse some of these problems. I was privileged to be one of only 12 invitees. It was an international group, which gave us all a chance to understand the current advances and challenges for media literacy education around the world. We know now that when people don’t understand the technology they are using to interact with each other and participate in their communities, they can be easily led or misled with misinformation, hoaxes, etc. There will hopefully be more of these gatherings; I believe we could learn a lot from each other and can collectively elevate media literacy skills as critical to every child’s, and every nation’s, success.

NAMLE Conference: The National Association of Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) is another important organization doing great work to support media literacy education in our schools. During their 2019 conference in Washington D.C., I was fortunate to help facilitate a panel with Twitter and Facebook representatives, and encourage an exchange between educators, researchers and the tech industry on how to ensure students – and the public – understand better how these platforms work, what the algorithms are behind our feeds, and what happens to accounts or posts that are reported by the public. I am optimistic we will see more efforts by the social media industry to inform educators and the public of these topics and look forward to being part of helping with that endeavor.

What we learned

Throughout these events, as different as they were, three themes were common to all:

  • Improving recognition of bots – the automated scripts that are behind many fake news campaigns. How do we know and teach others to distinguish this from what is real and authentic?
  • Recognizing click bait – Clickbait is sensationalized content meant to lure you into clicking, with no regard for accuracy. If a scammer is using clickbait methods to promote a scam, the clickbait will usually allude to a deal that just sounds too good to be true. This should be a red flag to stay away.
  • Reporting abuse – we need more effective ways to let the social sites know when things go wrong, but people also need to know what happens to those reports. People need to know the efficacy of reporting, or we risk nobody reporting anything.

A few pointers for a new school year

That’s what the industry is doing to help move things forward. But what about your family? As we close out the summer and prepare for a new school year, help your kids get ready for a successful year.

Here are a few ideas:

  • Be mindful of what your child shares online. Over-sharing could expose them to fraud, but it may also be disrespectful of others’ right to privacy. Take advantage of the last days of summer to get off-screen and enjoy some analog fun. There’ll be a great deal of screen time once school starts again.
  • Consider changing passwords. It makes sense to do this from time to time anyway and what better time than a new school year? Log-ins are the keys to our digital lives and we must keep them protected. A password manager would also be a good idea to help store long and unique credentials.
  • Encourage your kids to think about a social media clean out. They may be signed up to multiple sites but actually only use a small number. Shutting these down will minimize their exposure to risk, but there may also be new ones that their school teams or local clubs use that are worth investigating. Unfollow accounts or removing liked posts is another way to clean house.
  • School holidays are also a great opportunity for your kids to follow new people, groups and accounts that may help them with their upcoming studies.

If you’ve got into some good habits as an online family over the summer, keep up the momentum – you’re in a great place. But we’ll always share any new tips with you over the coming months, so stay tuned.

Lynette Owens

Lynette Owens

Lynette Owens is Vice President of Global Consumer Education & Marketing at Trend Micro and Founder of the Internet Safety for Kids and Families program. With 25+ years in the tech industry, Lynette speaks and blogs regularly on how to help kids become great digital citizens. She works with communities and 1:1 school districts across the U.S. and around the world to support online safety, digital and media literacy and digital citizenship education. She is a board member of the National Association for Media Literacy Education, an advisory committee member of the Digital Wellness Lab, and serves on the advisory boards of INHOPE and U.S. Safer Internet Day.

Follow her on Twitter @lynettetowens.