Fourteen-year old Angus Slade isn’t good at sports; he likes card tricks and comic books. The Wellingtonian was bullied so badly, for more than three years, that his parents took him out of school.
As well as physical violence, he faced bullying online. “I haven’t actually told my parents about this, but I am going to tell them tonight, because they’re probably going to see it on the news. But there was a Facebook page that was made … it had some awful things on it.”
People had made fake Facebook accounts to be able to interact with the page, Angus says. There would be a new insult every day, and photoshopped pictures of him doing “some pretty horrendous things”.
Angus is one of three teenagers who will be heading to Google in Sydney after winning the NetSafe and Google Web Rangers competition, awarded at Parliament this week.
Angus got involved with Web Rangers after his tutor saw an email about it. “I nearly didn’t go to the workshop, because I am something of an introvert, just because I’ve been beaten down a bit.”
At the workshop Angus met some of his favourite YouTubers, then went home and started writing the song that earned his trip to Sydney.
He taught himself to animate using a laptop he was given for Christmas, a $40 drawing tablet and YouTube tutorials.
Angus’ advice to other teenagers – tell your parents. “And no matter how many people are saying negative things, there are so many more people who are going to say positive things.”
More than 140 teenagers signed up to the programme, which involved workshops in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch where experts in online safety, marketing and social media shared tips in how to create successful public awareness campaigns. They then had six weeks to produce campaigns.
Shirley Setia, 21, has more than 30,000 subscribers on YouTube. She says the commenters can sometimes be “really really harsh”. She also gets negative Facebook messages and tweets. “But, you know, I just have to accept that those people are just haters. I try to be nice to them. I would never reply back in a negative manner.”
It’s important for everybody, not just people creating and posting content online, to know how to be safe online, she says.
Netsafe’s Martin Cocker says Web Rangers was explicitly about young people talking to other young people. He says people are interested in staying safe online. “They want to take risks, but don’t want to be harmed”.
Martin Cocker says, for example, young people are sexting – and it’s inherently risky. But given that people are doing it, people have to ask what they can do to stop it turning into a harmful experience.
“When we find out that a young person has done it, and the pictures or video has been circulated, you know, that young person is quite vulnerable.”
Young people are always taking risks, he says, but technology enables them to do in ways that they didn’t used to be able to. “It comes down to the audience that views it, and whether we’re realistic about the digital footprint that they leave. Well, they were young.”
Martin Cocker’s tips for staying safe online:
Be sceptical all the time. Be sceptical of what’s presented to you by companies, be sceptical of what’s presented to you by other people online.
Slow down. Take some time to have a look at what’s in front of you and make some judgement calls about it. And slow down and look at the safety tools, and decide if you’ve set them up the way you want them to be.