Softpedia Exclusive Interview: Lynette Owens on Cyberbullying and Amanda Todd Suicide

An expert specialized in Internet safety for kids and families shares some insight

  Trend Micro’s Director of Corporate Outreach, Lynette Owens
The Amanda Todd incident has caused a lot of controversy in the past few weeks, but it has also raised a lot of questions on the phenomenon that’s called cyberbullying. Since it affects so many teens and, implicitly their parents, we’ve decided to interview an expert on the topic in hopes that we can shed some light on the matter.

The Amanda Todd incident has caused a lot of controversy in the past few weeks, but it has also raised a lot of questions on the phenomenon that’s called cyberbullying. Since it affects so many teens and, implicitly their parents, we’ve decided to interview an expert on the topic in hopes that we can shed some light on the matter.

Trend Micro’s Director of Corporate Outreach, Lynette Owens, was kind enough to have a chat with us on the topic.

She is more than qualified for these kinds of subjects, considering that she is one of the individuals in charge of Trend Micro’s Internet Safety for Kids & Families program, which is designed to educate and raise awareness among parents, teachers, young people, and the general citizenry on the safety and security issues surrounding people’s lives online.

Softpedia: What does the Amanda Todd incident highlight from a cybersecurity perspective?

Lynette Owens: The Amanda Todd incident is very tragic. No young person should have to go through what she went through. It began with a poor decision she made to share online a personal image of herself with one person– an image that was ultimately shared widely. The cruelty of others then ensued, and this haunted her until the end.

From this incident, it’s important to remember that technology does not cause bullying. It enables bullying to happen in ways not previously possible, but the root causes of bullying has nothing to do with technology.

Kids and adults alike could learn from this incident that whatever you post online is public. Even if you share it behind the strongest privacy settings and with only 1 other person, once you have put it out there, it is basically public.

Your account can be hacked, the other person’s could be hacked, or that person could betray your trust and share it with someone else. Once it’s out there, it is very hard to take back. So learn to pause and consider this before you post or text anything.

Beyond this, the underlying human behaviors involved in this story (and many other similar cases) are worth pursuing further with the appropriate experts in youth behavior as they pertain to risk-taking, aggression, peer pressure, jealousy, intolerance and suicide.

We have to remember that cyberbullying is bullying, which is a complicated issue of human interaction that preceded the age of the Internet.

Softpedia: What could have been done to avoid the incident?

Lynette Owens: Without knowing all the facts, this is difficult to answer. All we know is what we have seen from her video and from what’s already been written in the media about it. I do not think we can say there is a simple answer to this.

Softpedia: Are there any signs which could tell parents that their children might be in trouble because of their online activities?

Lynette Owens: Highly recommend speaking to or sourcing the experts on youth-risk.

Softpedia: What should be done to avoid such incidents from happening in the future?

Lynette Owens: Cyberbullying is bullying happening through the use of technology, but has itself nothing to do with technology. In my opinion, and based on the work we’ve been doing in my own home community, the answer to stifling the chances of bullying becoming a prevalent issue in any community takes the whole community.

It should start with parents teaching their kids at an early age what it means to treat others with respect, understand and appreciate differences among people.

It is ideally strengthened by schools through a conscious commitment to the social, emotional in addition to academic development of kids and helping teachers and administrators to recognize and deal with bullying early so it does not escalate.

It takes empowering students to create an environment wherever they are that bullying isn’t acceptable or cool or normal behavior. It’s a complex issue that requires a complex answer. We should also take a good, long critical look at society, popular culture, and social norms and ask ourselves what might be fueling this behavior – whether through technology or otherwise.

There are many experts who are better equipped to give you research-based proof of these recommendations, such as:

• Professors Justin Patchin & Sameer Hinduja of the Cyberbullying Research Center
• David Finkelhor, Crimes Against Children Research Center

Softpedia: From your experience, are parents starting to realize that the internet is not such a safe place for their children, especially if they’re not educated properly?

Lynette Owens: We have seen over the last 4 years that parents are increasingly making Internet safety and digital literacy a part of their parenting responsibilities. We have given the message that this is what it means to be a parent in the 21st century.

They are the ones who first decide to give their children access to the Internet, and there are still varying degrees to which parents will or will not allow their kids to have or use technology in certain ways. Our only message is, it’s your choice based on what you think is best for your child, but go into it with your eyes wide open.

I think parents understand that being successful users of technology is something they want for their kids. It means understanding the risks and avoiding them, but it also means being responsible and ethical while using it.

I do not think parents are any more or less concerned about safety – they know they should be concerned. But more and more are starting to see that the Internet and technology use are important keys to their children’s ability to be successful, productive adults – and are demanding their own education of the issues so they can guide their kids accordingly.

Softpedia: Please share some advice for parents on Internet safety for their children.

Lynette Owens: Here is some basic guidance to give your kids:

1. Practice thinking critically about the things you read, post, and download. Not everything you come across online is necessarily as it might appear. Take the time to consider this before you do anything online.

2. Stick to well-known websites and online services for downloading music, games, or movies. If you’re unsure if a site is fake or safe, it’s best not to visit it. Or ask your parents or other adult before visiting it.

3. Choose online passwords that are not easy for someone to figure out. Pick a word or phrase that mixes letters, numbers, symbols, uppercase and lower case letters to make it as strong as possible. Don’t use the same password for every site or service. One way is to come up with a pattern and change 1-2 characters in the pattern for each site or service you use a password for.

4. Use privacy settings wherever they are available and use the strongest level possible. And resist sharing personal information online such as home address, phone number, birth date in emails, texts, blogs, or social network updates. Even with privacy settings, anything you post can still be shared by those who see it, so think before you say or do anything online.

5. Be wary of offers. If you get a text or email, see an odd update from a friend on your Facebook wall, get a direct message in Twitter from someone you don’t know, or see a web banner about an offer that seems too good to be true, it probably is. Trust your instincts. Don’t’ fall for it. Just ignore, report as spam, and delete it.

6. If you need to enter personal information online, enter the least amount necessary. Make sure the website begins with “https” (not http) which is more secure. Also look for information at the bottom of the webpage verifying that the site is secure or has been verified by an outside party to be secure.

7. If you think you may have done something wrong and may have fallen for a cybercriminal’s trick, let your parent or other adult know so they can check and fix things if necessary.

Softpedia: Please tell us about Trend Micro’s current youth safety program.

Lynette Owens: Founded in 2008, the mission of Trend Micro’s Internet Safety for Kids & Families is to enable and empower kids, parents, teachers, and schools around the world to make the Internet a safe and secure place for today’s youth.

ISKF does this through a worldwide employee volunteer program, grants and donations to eligible organizations, strategic partnerships with organizations working to protect youth, educational programs, and a robust series of online tips and solutions for parents, educators, and youth. 

Other interesting topics covered by Lynette Owens are available on Trend Micro’s Internet Safety for Kids & Families blog.

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