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Online abuse surges along with screen use during virus pandemic

“As kids get more bored and frustrated, they’re more likely to act out online, as are adults, so we expect to see more cyber-bullying.

“As children are exploring their sexuality and aren’t seeing the teenage love of their life, we’re expecting them to seek out more pornography … and to be engaging in more sexting and sending nudes.”

Ms Inman Grant urged parents to use parental controls, secure passwords, develop family screen policies, and encourage children including teenagers to use their devices in common areas of the house.

Research from eSafety in 2019 suggests the average teenager spends 38 hours a week on screens outside school hours. “It isn’t possible for parents to be there looking over shoulders 24/7,” Ms Inman Grant said.

Communications Minister Paul Fletcher said online safety was crucial and urged parents to follow the advice on the eSafety website.

He added technology companies need to share responsibility by building “safety by design” into platforms.

“What this period will do is to highlight the expectations that Australians rightly have of the tech sector,” he said.

The government is developing a new Online Safety Act that will impose basic expectations on platforms but this is still in draft and cannot be legislated during the parliamentary shutdown.

“Already, the eSafety commissioner has clear powers,” Mr Fletcher said. “The new act that we’re working on will make those powers even stronger.”

Up to eight friends can join the chat in the Houseparty app.

Up to eight friends can join the chat in the Houseparty app.

NSW Police Minister David Elliott said in a statement last week he was “sickened by the thought of predators using a crisis to exploit our most vulnerable”.

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NSW Police has dedicated officers to investigate criminal or inappropriate activities targeting children online.

Ms Inman Grant is concerned about the potential for an increase in child sexual abuse images, with many children who are exploited by family members “effectively locked in with their perpetrator”.

Other children are groomed by strangers online and once they send nude photos or videos, they are extorted for money or for more explicit material. Ms Inman Grant said children can be targeted in any online platform with social interactivity such as chat – the default for most of them.

There has also been privacy concerns over video conferencing tool Zoom, while virtual party app Houseparty has offered $2.6 million to find out who has been spreading what it says are false rumours it has been hacked.

ESafety heard of one local incident where a person was on a business meeting on Zoom and an intruder started injecting “disgusting images” onto the screen.

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“If you’re an adult and it isn’t really vile content, you can have a laugh but that could be very alarming to younger people,” Ms Inman Grant said.

Many schools are using Zoom for virtual class meetings. A NSW Department of Education spokesperson said schools should be using the department’s enterprise account not the free version.

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