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Much of our generation who are young parents now grew up in an age before the Internet. We, consequently, harbour a healthy disdain for posting every minute of our lives onto Snapchat or Facebook. We have a natural suspicion for anyone that wants to befriend us on the Internet. I routinely vet, to the extent possible, the digital profile of people who say they want to follow me on any social media. My messenger settings are set so high that I often find messages from actual friends a year after they sent it.
Our children are so different. They have the world literally at their fingertips (or keyboard as the case is today). They have embraced every aspect of technology and live in a strange time where a search engine can truly be your best friend.
For me, as a mother and a working parent, this brings many challenges. As my children grow older and I get their innocent invites to follow them on Instagram, it scares me. Firstly, I do not know all the apps and sites that are available to my kids (yes, I do have parental controls activated on every device they own and a great big family cloud that gives me access to everything they download or take a picture of). For every Snapchat that we think that we can control, there are so many more apps out there that we may not find out about and that our kids are active on.
Our digital footprint paints a complete picture of who we are. One that is very difficult to then change or erase. One that leaves a lasting print and can affect one's life and livelihood to a great extent. What isn't "Googleable" these days?
So, what exactly do I mean when I talk about a digital footprint? There are many definitions of this, but the one that I like the most is from the Office of the Children's e-Safety Commissioner of Australia which states that "digital reputation is defined by your behaviours in the online environment and by the content you post about yourself and others. Tagged photos, blog posts and social networking interactions will all shape how you are perceived by others online and offline, both now and in the future."
That's a pretty comprehensive explanation. The picture that we create today is the picture that stays with us and affects our college admissions, relationships, careers and can deeply impact our friendships. And we all know that once it's online, it can be shared and more than anything else, it's there forever and can never be completely removed even if you do manage to clean up to some extent, a poor digital reputation.
Young students are naturally some of the heaviest users of social media and online tools growing up as a generation of visual "junkies". The reality is that there is a great burden on us to make them aware of the dangers of any online presence. It's fairly astonishing the number of teenagers that I speak to, how unconcerned they are about their personal information on the Internet. Most are horrified when I give them examples of some of the cases we have seen where an action on the Internet has been labelled a "cyber crime". As we are not going to win the battle of shutting down every website and confiscating all electronic devices, it is incumbent on us to make our children aware of the dangers.
A recent article in the UAE press said that the UAE must invest in training its own security professionals as a priority in the war against cyber crime, as the global pool of skilled workers is shrinking. The Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington recently said that cyber attacks in the region cost $1 billion (Dh3.67 billion) a year, an amount which is predicted to grow. The Institute said the Middle East was fertile ground for cyber crime, with its wide use of technology and high-value targets. As the UAE forges ahead with its knowledge economy, smart cities and other ambitious strategies, the potential for attacks will grow. Note that studies show said 85 per cent of UAE residents have an online presence.
What our children need to be made aware of is that not only does a poor digital image affect you, what you post or share or comment on can cause harm to others and may constitute cyber bullying. The UAE's Telecommunications Regulatory Authority, or the TRA, has started monitoring social media networks for inappropriate and abusive behaviour as part of a crackdown on social media bullying. The TRA will investigate whether any illegal act has been committed, whether it relates to a sexual matter or nudity, or any form of extortion or defamation and insulting members of the government and the UAE's ruling families. In 2014, more than 200 cases of extortion and blackmail via social media were reported.
Age for prosecution
The age for being prosecuted as a juvenile in the UAE is from 10 to 18. Of almost 500 cases in 2015, 86 per cent were for misdemeanors and an astonishingly high number of young people aged between the ages of 12 and 18 were found guilty.
So, I make my children repeat after me, our own little e-mantra:
. I understand that everything I do on the Internet is forever and leaves a footprint.
. I need to be respectful of people when I am online.
. I will never post personal information.
. I will never respond to requests for personal information.
In summary, the Golden Rule shall now read as follows: Do unto others online as you would have them do unto you.
The writer is a partner at the law firm of Baker & McKenzie Habib Al Mulla. Views expressed are her own and do not reflect the newspaper's policy.
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