Digital Citizenship: The Importance of Online Caution and Compassion

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Living in an increasingly digital world necessitates ongoing examinations on the effects of online presence and users’ responsibilities thereof. This has become even more important given the rapid rise in online users including the increased reliance on digital technologies for information, entertainment, retail, education and delivery of work duties – among others. Although the recent boom in online activity was sparked by the lockdown regulations that many countries carried out in order to contain the spread of the COVID19 pandemic, it was inevitable. Brand South Africa believes that it is important to educate children and adults alike about online communication and its benefits and risks in everyday life.

In order to contribute to this important subject matter, Brand South Africa partnered with the Film and Publication Board (FPB) to host a campaign titled ‘Safer Internet Day’ (SID) on 8 February 2022. SID is celebrated in approximately 140 countries around the globe annually to celebrate the positive aspects of the online space and to raise awareness of emerging online social ills such as cyber bullying, data privacy and the dissemination of child pornography.

The theme for 2022 was ‘Exploring respect and relationship online’, with an objective to encourage safe and positive use of digital technology and to start conversations around creating positive use of digital technology. Other partners included the Department of Communication and Digital Technologies, Google SA, Meta SA, Media Diversity and Development Agency (MDDA) and the National Electronic Media Institute of South Africa (NEMISA).

“The FPB has a responsibility to protect children from exposure to harmful content, by playing a leading role in creating awareness around the dangers of the internet. We encourage the safe and responsible use of the digital space as a key tool to empower, educate and entertain our youth, says Ms Nomvuyiso Batyi, Interim Chief Executive Officer of the FPB.

The campaign provided a much needed opportunity to educate learners and educators on the different cyber safety issues such as cyberbullying, online child grooming, revenge pornography and child pornography. Exposure to harmful digital content is a rising social concern, as access to technology and the internet increases. Learners were encouraged to always be alert when interacting with others online, but also to communicate responsibly. An understanding of the risks and opportunities associated with online activities helps to guide them and ensure their individual safety and that of their peers.

She adds, “The Films and Publications Amendment Act assented to by the President in 2019 and which is set to become operational this year, will provide a broader mandate for regulation of content in the online space, allowing us to advance a more effective service to consumers by always balancing public protection with the constitutional right to freedom of expression of all citizens. An example of this relates to protecting the public from online revenge pornography, a growing scourge in society.”

Although the ‘Safer Internet Day’ campaign was targeted at school learners and educators this year, there is a bigger conversation to be had about online communication etiquette and effects for all members of society.

Did You Know?

  • According to DataReportal, the number of internet users in South Africa grew by 4.5% between 2020 and 2021, totalling over 38 million in January 2021. Internet penetration grew to a high of 64% during the same time.
  • Additionally, social media users grew by 14% to 25 million – an equivalent of 42% of the population of the country.
  • According to a study conducted by the South African College of Applied Psychology, South Africa has the fourth highest rate of cyber bullying in the world. It also states that 24% of South African teens have experienced cyberbullying first-hand and 84% know someone who has been a victim.

“Understanding what it means to be a responsible digital citizen is a mission you sign up for the moment you use the internet and social media platforms. Join our quest to create a safer internet together by taking charge of your digital habits and online safety” says Rianette Leibowitz, Play Your Part Ambassador and Cyber Wellness and Online Safety Expert.

Leibowitz is supported by fellow Play Your Part Ambassador and admitted Advocate of the High the High Court of South Africa, Aurelia Nxumalo saying “Let’s be responsible digital citizens and take part in an online community life in an ethical and respectable way. In being a responsible digital citizen you must behave lawfully and protect your privacy and that of others. Share only as much information as necessary. Make sure you understand the consequences of posting and uploading any other personal content. Think about how your online activity affects you, other people and the online community”.

In conclusion, while online communication provides the convenience of being able to access and share information remotely and anonymously, there are also serious threats caused by access to privileged personal information and cyberbullying among adults. Online scams continue to be on the rise and online harassment and victimisation is increasingly becoming associated with depression, anxiety and substance abuse. Let us be vigilant of our online interactions and congisant of our online behavior.

About Brand South Africa

Brand South Africa is the official marketing agency of South Africa, with a mandate to build the country’s brand reputation, in order to improve its global competitiveness. Its aim is also to build pride and patriotism among South Africans, in order to contribute to social cohesion and nation brand ambassadorship.

About Play Your Part

Play Your Part is a nationwide programme created to inspire, empower and celebrate active citizenship in South Africa.  It aims to lift the spirit of our nation by inspiring all South Africans to contribute to positive change, become involved and start doing. A nation of people who care deeply for one another and the environment in which they live is good for everyone.

Play Your Part is aimed at all South Africans – from corporates and individuals, NGOs and government, churches and schools, from the young to the not-so-young.  It aims to encourage South Africans to use some of their time, money, skills or goods to contribute to a better future for all.

About the Film and Publication Board

Our vision is to be a credible and visible content-classification authority. Our mission is to ensure efficient and effective consumer protection through regulation of films, games and certain publications; while empowering the public, especially children, through robust information sharing.