Conversation on Online Harms
While the online space has allowed us to connect with our friends and like-minded peers, it also exposes us to cyber dangers. In particular, there have been more cases of sexual grooming and harassment facilitated through digital means and non-consensual publication and circulation of sexually explicit images.
The National Youth Council (NYC) and the Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI) organised a youth conversation to understand youth insights on online harms. The dialogue seeks to identify specific areas where digital safety can be improved and obtain recommendations to enhance public education and improve victim support.
WHAT WE HEARD
Conversation on Online Harms (9 July 2021)
The conversation on online harms was held on 9 July 2021 via Zoom, involving youths from various Institutes of Higher Learning (IHLs) and the following Political Office Holders:
- Ms Sim Ann – Senior Minister of State (SMS) of Ministry of Foreign Affairs & Ministry of National Development
- Mdm Rahayu Mahzam – Parliamentary Secretary (Parl Sec) of Ministry of Communications and Information & Ministry of Health
Here are the key insights of the conversation raised by the participants:
Online harms have become more pervasive
- Participants said that anonymity and accessibility of the Internet are key factors that have enabled perpetrators to inflict harm on others. They said that perpetrators were able to hide their real identity and believed that they would not be held accountable for their actions online. In addition, the ease of access to social media platforms and lack of regulations in the online space has encouraged such acts.
Victims are reluctant to seek help due to several reasons
- Slow or lack of responsiveness from figures of authority – Participants said that seeking help through legal means was a long and taxing process, and not much could be done. Hence, the most common response of victims was to ignore the incident or privatise their social media accounts.
- Fear of stigmatisation – Participants said the fear of victim-blaming hindered them from seeking help. They were concerned that their experiences would be trivialised, and as such, participants said they chose to exercise self-censorship to avoid backlash.
Online harms have significant effects on victims’ mental health
- Participants said that online harms took a toll on the mental health of victims, who often experienced intense feelings of shame, anxiety and helplessness. Parl Sec Rahayu agreed that the effects of such online harms on victims’ mental health should be taken seriously.
A combination of individual, systematic and community efforts is needed to collectively promote a safer and more responsible Internet
- Increasing self-awareness – Participants said that being self-aware was the first step to a safer Internet. They called for users to be responsible for their behaviour online, as well as respectful of others.
- Enhancing victim support – Participants called for greater visibility of helplines and support avenues. They said it was important to build support networks for victims and suggested having more resources for emotional support and platforms where action can be taken against perpetrators. Participants envisioned a culture of openness where users could feel unafraid to call out inappropriate behaviour online, and where victims would feel supported.
- Strengthening public education – Participants said that education on what constituted online harms and their consequences was crucial in achieving a safe Internet. They also suggested that education could also be used to correct the public’s misconceptions of victims and address the stigmatisation that they face. SMS Sim Ann agreed that combating victim-blaming was important and could be addressed through public education efforts.
Keen to find out more about what others think about online harms and how youths have stepped up to tackle such harms? Check out these articles:
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