Monday , May 21, 2018

Editorial: Redefining cyber-literacy

WE don’t know what is happening.”

In Cebuano, a housewife beseeched authorities not to take away her seven-year-old daughter and six other minors reportedly victimized in a cyber-sex operation in Barangay Kalawisan.

As reported by Flornisa M. Gitgano and intern Miguel Ernest E. Ermac of the University of San Jose-Recoletos in Sun.Star Cebu on Nov. 26, the authorities arrested a couple suspected of conducting cyber-pornography. Three of the alleged victims are the couple’s biological children.

The housewife, who washes clothes for a living, said she was busy and allowed her daughter to play with the couple’s children. Aside from being related to the suspects, the housewife said she frequently received food from them.

Naïve and at risk

Neighbors did not suspect the apprehended couple because of their “niceness” to the community. The mother of the seven-year-old claimed she did not believe any “harm” could fall on her daughter at her age.

Are citizens truly ignorant about the new media and its dangers? Or are they simply denying their shared responsibility for preventing cyber-crimes, protecting minors, and generally educating themselves on how to deal with cyber-crimes, such as cyber-trafficking?

Since the exposés of cyber-sex dens in Cordova and Lapu-Lapu, patterns have emerged from the cases. For instance, the victims are often children of the suspects, as well as their playmates.

Community vigilance is crucial, specially since the abuse takes place in private homes. Mothers and other
relatives can observe changes in a child’s behavior. Neighbors are also observant, particularly with the acquisition of computers and other lifestyle changes of suspected cyber-sex operators.

What is disquieting are anecdotes that some of the victims’ parents and other adults deny any crime was committed due to the favors or gifts showered on them by the perpetrators. There is also the defense offered by others who claim that there is no actual violation of the child as the “transactions” are virtual and remote.

Authorities must probe deeper into the circumstances of parents and guardians whose children are victimized in cyber-sex dens. It would be tragic if alibis of “cyber-ignorance” would be recycled and as cynically accepted so that accountability is avoided.

Engage and listen

The challenge of relating with teens to prevent premarital pregnancies is also complicated.

As reported by Justin K. Vestil in Sun.Star Cebu on Nov. 26, increased sexual activity, promiscuity and casual sex are commonly practiced by the youth due to social media.

These lifestyle changes are factors behind the rise of teenage pregnancies in Central Visayas and 15 other regions in the country.

According to five-year studies of the Commission of Population (Popcom) 7 and the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA), online encounters add to peer pressure and the generational gap between parents and children in initiating many youths to premarital sex.

The differences between youths and parents are not just brought about by physical distance or age differences.

The gap is also digital. Millennials are digital natives, more at home in the new media than their parents, who may be digital immigrants or even online innocents.

Thus, Popcom 7’s strategy of tapping peer educators and youth advocates to offer “age-appropriate and youth-friendly” support is more realistic and responsive.

Social media hide many pitfalls and predators preying on the vulnerable. However, social media also offer many opportunities to listen, engage and participate. The anonymity granted by the Internet may invite individuals to open up without fear of being judged and stereotyped.

Social media can start and build on connections. In the hands of trained, motivated and inspiring youth advocates and peer counselors, other youths may find the confidence to make life-changing options, based on informed choice and self-reliance.

These life skills are the real deal for youths determining their future.