Guwahati: Turns out Assam’s police department doesn’t just ‘rap and rhyme’, it also rings bells of alarm when it finds something wrong with society, and in its own quirky way.

Known for its hilarious sense of humour when dealing with drug peddlers and its use of pop culture to convey important messages to the crowd, this is one police department in the country that is going the extra mile to ensure the safety of citizens of its state.

With its all-new and first-of-its-kind cybersafety awareness generating initiative on ‘Sharenting’, Assam Police is raising awareness about the dangers of oversharing information about children by their parents online, which could have serious safety and security implications for the children.

Also read: Why Guwahati Police is looking for ‘most popular place to buy ganja’

We seldom realise that a random Facebook check-in with a child’s picture or a mind-less caption with details of a child’s routine and whereabouts all the details a stalker needs to pry on your child. And in a world where data privacy is already such a challenging issue, the consequences of wilfully putting a child’s information out there on the web can be dangerous, even if unintentional.

In an exclusive interview with EastMojo, Harmeet Singh, Guwahati Police Commissioner and Head of the Assam Police Smart Social Media Center, talks about the perils of over-sharing information about children online, which may lead to their identities being stolen, being bullied in the future, or total violation of their privacy. 

Singh is accompanied by Salik Khan, a young communications consultant. Together, the duo has created some of the most remarkable social media campaigns by any government organization in the country.


EXCERPTS

Does sharing any information about children on the web amount to ‘sharenting’? Tell us more about this unique campaign being run by Assam Police.

The term ‘Sharenting is a portmanteau of ‘oversharing’ and ‘parenting’, so, it’ll be wrong to term every act of sharing information on the Internet as ‘Sharenting’. It’s more about striking a balance between a child’s privacy and parenting. Also, it’s about consent. Kids and pre-teens of our times belong to a first-of-its-kind generation, which is inheriting a Social Media persona and associated Privacy Risks they didn’t ask for.  

In most cases, people either overshare or end up sharing a lot of sensitive information, unintentionally. To put it simply, there’s a thin line between sharing and oversharing, and parents should draw the line when it comes to oversharing. Our goal is not to promote ‘technophobia’, rather, we want parents to think and pause, before posting a picture of their child on Social Media. We aim to raise awareness of the long-term digital well-being of the child through our campaign on Sharenting.

Assam Police’s campaign on ‘Sharenting’ is an attempt to sensitize parents on the perils of sharing the photos, videos, and sensitive details of their children on social media that lead to identity theft, future discrimination, and violation of the privacy of the children. It’s perhaps one of the first of its kind campaigns, by any Police Dept in India. There’s very limited awareness about Sharenting and people are not even aware of its existence. 

The idea is to pioneer an awareness campaign to set the tone and start a conversation with your audience, which is unaware of a potential threat. It’s an extension of #TheThinkCampaign – one of our earliest and longest-running initiatives to make people think before jumping the gun. The campaign won the prestigious DEF India Award for Community Mobilisation and was nominated as official India entry for the World Summit Awards, 2019.  

Also read: Assam Police wins DEF Social Media for Empowerment Award

How does Sharenting pose a threat to children in the context of Assam? 

Sharenting is not a localized phenomenon, rather, it’s a widespread prevalence across the world. The Internet has changed how we experience the world around us, and parenting is no different. Social Media allows you to share special moments from your child’s life with friends and family. 

While it may look like a harmless activity, in the age of Cyber Security challenges, these pictures, videos, and other publicly available information about your child can have serious consequences. In the past, Assam Police has taken several initiatives to raise awareness on Cyber Safety, particularly among children.

According to a study by BARCLAYS, Sharenting could account for up to $7 million in online frauds by 2030. There’s no doubt that Sharenting is the weakest link in risking online fraud and identity theft. Information on Social Media can be misused by Cyber Criminals for Online Grooming or for identity fraud scams. 

Also, parents need to acknowledge their child’s privacy. Once you post something on the Internet, it remains there forever. Imagine growing up and realizing that there’s an entire testament to your embarrassing moments as a child on the Internet, posted by your parents. 

Can you highlight some aspects that parents must be extra cautious about? 

According to a 2018 McAfee survey, 40.5 % of parents in India post a photo or video of their child at least once a day on Social Media. Most Social Media Apps record metadata in the form of personally identifiable information, which can be a potential risk for a child’s digital well-being. 

While nothing on the Internet is completely private, it’s always good to check your privacy settings to prevent any personal information about your child from falling into the wrong hands. 

What are some measures that parents can take to ensure that the content that they’re posting online is not used against their children?

It’s very easy for fraudsters to gather important pieces of information. Information such as names and dates of births from birthday messages or home addresses can be scrapped from Social Media posts. 

Recording and documenting the life moments of children is not a new phenomenon, scrapbooks and baby logbooks have a long tradition. While smartphones have made this easier, we don’t realize just how public it is. It is always good to consider alternative sharing methods with close ones rather than using Social Media Platforms.

Avoid identifiers in your posts/pictures. It’s always better to limit the amount of information you share about your kid. Never share personally identifiable info such as their full name, school name, class schedule, or location.

And lastly, always ask yourself- Is this something I want to be part of my child’s digital footprint? 

Apart from the Social Media Campaign, are there any other plans of the department to raise awareness about Sharenting? 

Yes, as with our past campaigns and initiatives, we experiment and we learn. Women & Child Safety has always been our top priority. We are already running digital campaigns in collaboration with UNICEF and UTSAH on Child Safety, an important part of Assam Police’s Sishu Mitra Programme.

Apart from Children, we are now exploring new ways to reach out to adults. Sharenting is yet another aspect of the psychological and behavioral aspect that governs not only parents’ but also other people’s sharing behavior on Social Media. 

Being a responsible parent in the age of digital is not a child’s play.

So, apart from #TheThinkCampaign on Sharenting, several other awareness campaigns are in pipeline. We will be collaborating with schools/colleges and other Organizations to organize Workshops and Seminars on the dangers of Sharenting.

Also read: Assam 2021: How to vote safely? Super Mario shows the way



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