Evil has always existed, but the internet helps it flourish

There is a growing awareness of the dangers posed to our children and grandchildren online, says Trevor Laffan
Evil has always existed, but the internet helps it flourish

Trevor Laffan learned the hard way to be wary of the internet and to increase his online security

THE internet is a wonderful tool when it’s used for legitimate purposes, but unfortunately, criminals can also manipulate it for their own ends.

We saw that with the hacking of the HSE computer system during Covid. The interference with hospital patients’ records caused delays with essential treatments for many patients, which was a cold-hearted and dangerous crime.

Placing a ransom demand ahead of patients’ wellbeing proved that greed and criminality are alive and well in cyber space, but we already knew that, which is why we need to be extra vigilant with our online activity in the run up to Christmas.

Opportunists will be out in force. Many of us have experienced some form of computer fraud, hacking or cloning at this stage, and it can be costly.

I suffered at the hands of these pests and my laptop computer went into the bin as a result. I learned my lesson and since then I wouldn’t dream of being without anti-virus protection.

I back up everything on a remote hard drive too, and a few short years ago I wouldn’t have even known what these were, but you learn the hard way.

Online dangers come in many forms and need to be taken seriously, especially when it comes to our children. Nobody wants our young people to be exposed to harm while using their phones and computers, but there is plenty to be nervous about.

A recent report in the Irish Examiner highlighted a new scourge of cyberflashing, the sending of unsolicited nude images to someone else’s device without consent. It is a form of image-based sexual harassment, steeped in the dark and murky power games of all forms of sexual abuse.

Academics in Dublin City University have just completed a study with 15-17 years olds on their experiences of sexual and gender-based abuse and harassment during the Covid-19 pandemic.

In the focus groups, the girls reported that receiving unwanted ‘dick pics’ had become so normalised that they were almost de-sensitised to it.

Some 17.4% of boys and 33.3% of girls had received unwanted sexual photos or videos online and the frequency of this had increased since the start of the pandemic.

According to a 2018 British survey, 41% of women between 18-24 years old had experienced cyberflashing.

Deviants were around in my day as well, long before computerisation. They often turned out to be the people we trusted, and it wasn’t only the bad apples in the clergy we had to worry about.

A popular UK TV show at the time was Top Of The Pops, presented by Jimmy Saville. A huge young audience watched every week to see who was at number one in the charts. Saville went on to host another programme for kids called Jim’ll Fix It. He was so popular that he was knighted by the Queen, but in reality, he was one of the UK’s most notorious paedophiles.

Glam rocker Gary Glitter was a performer who appeared regularly on that show and was one of the biggest artists at the time. He was a bit over the top with the glamour and the big platform shoes, but he had a massive following.

Glitter started performing in the 1960s as Paul Raven, but later changed his name to Gary Glitter and sold more than 20 million records. Little did we know he too was a prolific paedophile.

Rolf Harris was another guy who was doing well at the time. He also had his own show which was a mixture of music and art. He gave the impression of being the uncle you wished you had, but he went to prison for indecent assault, so he wasn’t the ideal uncle after all.

I Spy was an American TV series about two secret agents, starring Robert Culp and Bill Cosby. It ran from 1965 to 1968 and was very popular.

Culp posed as a tennis player and Cosby was his trainer. Cosby later went on to star in The Cosby Show, playing the part of Cliff Huxtable, and gained the reputation as ‘America’s Dad’, a reputation that has been tainted since with numerous claims of sexual assault made against him.

Many of those we looked up to as kids found ways to groom children long before the existence of the internet. Modern technology has provided predators with a much greater ability to interact with children, and new opportunities for paedophiles and those inhabiting the dark web.

On the positive side, there is a growing awareness of the dangers posed to our children and grandchildren.

We are more educated about internet safety and the evil that exists in cyberspace, which is great, but for many of us of a certain vintage, it’s not easy keeping up and I, for one, am very aware of how little I know.

Back in my working days, Avril Ronan of Trend Micro organised an internet safety awareness day for community policing members in Cork, and what I discovered that day was frightening.

They provide online technology security, and they did an experiment with us to demonstrate the amount of information they could learn about us from a tiny piece of data. It was scary.

The internet presents an unrivalled opportunity for sexual exploitation, abuse, bullying, and other forms of nefarious activity and we also need to recognise that our young people are vulnerable to its dangers.

An Garda Siochana have some useful online safety advice.

They say the anonymous nature of the internet makes it easy for people to pretend to be something they are not, so we should always be careful about the kind of information we give out.

Where children are concerned, they should be encouraged to report instances where they feel something is suspicious or not quite right, and to tell an adult or someone they trust.

It’s important to remember that people aren’t always what they seem online.

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