The study found that 65% of the chats discussed sex and sexual favours; a third of the chatters initiated cyber-sex; a quarter asked for a photograph; and 22.5% wanted to meet in person.
The research also revealed that advertised age-restrictions were not adequately enforced; terms and conditions were difficult to find and not included as part of the registration process; under-age chatters were not removed from the chat rooms; few chat rooms had an easy accessible “report abuse” process; and content was often inappropriate for the advertised age limit.
It is inevitable that security frameworks lag technological development, but parents need to be aware of these dangers, and industry organisations and the government need to tighten up on out-dated regulations and legislation in order to protect South African children.
2: Advice for parents and children on safe online behaviour
1. Discuss the potential dangers and what is considered appropriate behaviour online, in the same way you would in the offline world. Reassure your child that inappropriate behaviour from an adult is never their fault and that they can safely tell you if they encounter something that makes them uncomfortable.
2. Make it clear which information they should never share online, which links they shouldn’t click on and how to identify spam and viruses.
3. Place your family computer in a public place and install child protection software on it.
4. Learn about the various online platforms your children are using. If they are on Facebook, for instance, a condition should be that you are their Facebook friend.
5. Report any potential child pornography that is sent to your child to the police.
6. Remember that these considerations apply equally to the mobile phone.
Definitions and related terms:
Chat room: usually real-time/synchronous online conferencing either in a group or privately as well as asynchronous messaging via an inbox. Often around a particular topic and may or may not be moderated. Participants can be anonymous or have set up a profile. Often used for the purpose of online dating, as well as being incorporated into social media platforms such as Facebook. It can include video chat via a webcam.
Online dating site: these match likely couples according to the information they have entered in to a profile. Online dating sites may include elements of chat rooms such as a messaging inbox.
Social networks: such as Facebook tend to more permanent links between known individuals for the purpose of sharing information. However, they do include elements of chat rooms such as real-time chat and inbox messaging, usually between “friends”. Profiles are required and privacy settings control who can see what information.
Forums: more formal conversations around a common topic. Conversations are organised into threads and are often moderated.
When looking at the chat preference amongst users, 90.5% entered into a private chat with the persona and the remaining minority sent inbox messages.
The majority of people who chat online are between the ages of 20-39, however the 50–59 age group stood out in terms of the frequency of requests for cyber-sex (55.56%) and the sexually-explicit nature of their chats (88.88%).