The National Day of Action against Bullying and Violence | Interview 2

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Empowering kids to be safe online is as important as teaching them to cross roads safely. In today’s world it is crucial they understand how to navigate the online world, because unfortunately, the Internet can expose them to cyberbullying, inappropriate content, and online predators. Developing digital literacy and responsible online behaviour helps them spot and navigate these dangers, protect their personal information, and make informed choices. It also lays the foundation for a lifetime of positive online interactions, and the ability to critically assess online information safely and securely.

Growing connections in the online space may seem easy, but kids need to understand how to remain safe and know where to turn if they require help and support. 

The National Day of Action against Bullying and Violence is the perfect reminder to share best practices, and teach vital tips and tricks for remaining safe online.

Here at ESET, we are a global cybersecurity company committed to safeguarding families and individuals. Safer Kids Online, an ESET initiative, focuses on ensuring children can explore the digital world safely.

We embarked on a series of enlightening interviews that places digital security and online well-being in the spotlight. 

Hosting the interview series is Jake Moore, ESET’s Global Cybersecurity Advisor.

Jake actively shapes the discourse around cybersecurity, contributing his expertise to respected media outlets such as BBC, ITV, and The Times. 

Joining Jake in this dialogue is Brett Lee, the Founder of Internet Safe Education. With over two decades of experience in cybercrime investigation and training, Brett is a steadfast advocate for protecting parents, educators, and the public, particularly children, from online threats. His collaborations with esteemed organisations like the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI, and the Australian Police Force showcase his unparalleled expertise.

In this conversation, Jake and Brett delve into the critical topic of cybersafety, and address the roles of education and empowerment in creating a secure online environment. Their combined insights shed light on strategies to ensure a positive digital experience for kids, families, and school communities.


Jake: Brett Lee, you are a guy with a wealth of experience in Internet security and cybersafety, particularly for kids. How are you doing?

Brett: Very well, thank you. I’ve just finished speaking to some wonderful students on the Gold Coast.

Jake: I'm over here in the UK, and it's meant to be summer, but it's probably like your winter, to be honest. The Gold Coast – it even sounds nice.

So, Brett, you're the founder of Internet Safe Education, and you bring over 20 years of experience in cybercrime investigation and training to your mission of safeguarding parents, educators, and the public, particularly children, in the online realm. You’ve worked on high-profile cases for renowned organisations like the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI, and the Australian Police force, which is pretty cool. 

Brett: Yes, well, thank you very much. I've been very fortunate. Working for those organisations, particularly in the United States, showed me a very different face of technology, and forced me to consider things that most people don't need to consider when using technology. That’s what I can bring to the audience.

Jake: Let’s first talk about your company, Internet Safe Education. Tell us more about what it is, what you do, and how you protect people. 

Brett: This online cyber journey started for me when I was an undercover detective on the Internet. My job was to assume fictitious identities of children online to locate, identify and arrest child sex offenders. I saw a real need for education back then, so when I left the police 15 years ago, I started Internet Safe Education. It provides education. support and tools for all stakeholders when it comes to protecting children online.

It’s education for children, but also for adults around them who care for them, so they know what role they need to play, that’s parents, carers and, of course, school communities. We've been doing that for 15 years now.

Jake: That's amazing. To be amongst the police, you would have learned so much about how people try to evade capture, which gives you the knowledge to help protect potential victims.

Brett: Absolutely. It highlighted to me the tactics, tricks and methodologies; the limitations that technology has; and the illusions that the screen can create in someone's mind, which can make them vulnerable to others offending against them. 

I really got to see the inner workings of a criminal's mind because, me pretending to be the child online, I was there when the crime was being committed. I could see everything they were doing and what they needed, and the steps they needed to go through. It was a revealing form of investigation, and I consider myself fortunate to have had that experience and been able to then address communities in relation to what I saw.

Jake: What are some new things that you have been educating communities about this year? Cyberbullying has grown and evolved so much, how are you educating around that?

Brett: Our approach is the people approach, not the technical approach.

Human nature hasn't changed; what affects us and what’s expected both remain consistent. Technology, however, has evolved significantly. It's become more accessible, and more young people are getting online. This suggests that the issues we face will likely grow. But I must say, we're making strides this year.Young people can be targeted through cyberbullying anywhere on the Internet, especially in places where people gather. Video-sharing sites, messaging programs, social media and gaming sites all pose potential risks. This year, in the communities I work with, the preferred platforms have been Snapchat for social interaction, Roblox and Fortnite for gaming among older students, and TikTok for video sharing.

The eSafety Commission notes that the largest number of cyberbullying complaints they receive are related to Snapchat. It makes sense since that's where most young people are. Some programs are inherently riskier for young people due to their functionality. This year, I've observed the resurgence of a few of those. Omegle, Discord, and ASKfm fall into this category. These platforms offer user anonymity, which isn't the case with Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook. Programs that provide anonymity offer an incentive for targeting others because the perpetrators feel they won't be held accountable.

Jake: What would you say are your top tips to help kids stay safe online, then?

Brett: Education is paramount. Education is key. And empowering children. I mean, if a child's targeted online, the only way for that to continue and potentially become a problem is if they haven't got the skills or maybe the feeling of support, to actually deal with it.

My top tips for kids: never keep staring at a screen, especially if it's upsetting. Move away. Take charge by reporting online people. Anything can be fixed when it comes to the Internet.

But the top tip is to empower and encourage young people to understand they're never alone. Cyberbullying happens in someone's mind, moving from the screen to their thoughts. Keeping it to themselves makes it a big issue and the loneliest place to be. 

So we tell kids, "You're too important for me to let you handle these problems alone. If you have an issue, the Internet is useful, but come to me. I'll help you fix it, so you can continue having fun." That assurance offers a supporting feeling. 

For adults supporting kids, creating a communication culture is key. That takes much of the load off young people, and helps us adults spot problems, as schools and parents often don't notice cyberbullying, even when they see it happening. It's about trusting instincts and sensing when something isn't right, and also helps us explain online events to young people. My always-number-one message: eSafety, Australia's top cyber safety organisation, says, "Start the conversation." 

Let's get back to basics and not assume technology caused the issue, needing technology to fix it. Instead, let’s empower young people, letting them know the community is on their side, and always speak to someone you trust.

Jake: That’s a great way of looking at it. I just hope that all these kids realise exactly what you're saying is right, they’re not alone, they can talk to people. What about school leaders? How can principals and department heads, for example, lead when it comes to addressing cyberbullying?

Brett: Okay, what we're trying to do is create an environment where we've reduced risk to a minimum. There's a very distinct model that all schools can rely on:

● The school educates themselves as to the dangers and the programs that kids are using.
● They get an idea of that by dealing with the kids at school, so a school has to have that open-door policy where students feel safe to come and report matters to them.
● They have to have restorative practices about what to do to support a young person when there’s a problem.
● There has to be very clear policies at school that all the students and parents adopt, and importantly, that policy has to be enforced. All in writing, as part of the school’s policies.
● The school takes the role of educating the young people, maybe getting them involved with initiatives like anti-bullying days. 
The biggest stakeholder for schools to engage is the parent community, so what they want to do, in addition to letting parents know what the school policies are, is advise what to put in place at home to support and protect your children, and what to do if there's an issue.

That’s basically it.

The two communities, the school and the parent community, work together; it’s known what resources are available to help; and policies evolve as needed. The education is ongoing as children move through different stages of their schooling. That’s really the model that we can work on, to get the message out there to denormalise the practice of going online to drag other people down.

You've probably seen this yourself, and so would your audience, where people say things online they wouldn't say face-to-face. They know it's not acceptable. That's not the person they want to be, that's not the person their parents want them to be, yet they do it online. Looking at it from that perspective and making that connection – education does that. 

Jake: You're right. People hide behind the Internet, and I don't think they realise the psychology behind it, the power of words. You know the saying, “sticks and stones will break our bones, but words will never hurt us.” I think the saying doesn't carry as much weight these days because we can be very harsh, especially when we’re just hiding behind a computer.

Brett: Absolutely. Some of the ones I grew up with, kids still know now. Like, if you wouldn't say it to someone's face, don't say it at all. That one's still correct. But the one you mentioned, I think we could revisit that, knowing how powerful the mind is now.

Jake: Well, the theme of National Day of Action against Bullying and Violence this year is “Growing Connections”. What advice would you give kids that are being cyberbullied?

Brett: Cyberbullying is an emotional attack, it's a psychological attack. So it’s about understanding that I'm never on my own. Young people ask me all the time, have you ever been cyberbullied, and I say, yes, I have, many times.

But if you’re a young person, just knowing I am never the only one. Sometimes my parents don't feel good about things that are online. Knowing that nobody in my life expects me to deal with this myself; that any problem, I can fix. I don't have to accept or tolerate that bad behaviour online. And I have a right to talk to someone I trust.

What I also say to young people is, if you're using a program or being exposed to content that's upsetting you, if you keep looking at it, that's someone or technology controlling you. So the best thing you can do is move away from it. No one can stop you doing that. No one can stop you from putting a device down.

Jake: This is all great stuff, and it brings me on to wanting to know what your number one top tip is for each of the following categories. We’ve got kids, teachers and then parents. What are your top tips for each?

Brett: My top tip to protect young people online is to feel comfortable as a parent, or a carer of a child at a school, and to keep those lines of communication open. That's what identifies the issues, and it helps young people to start talking about some of those issues. But also I'd like to say to schools and parents, you have a right to manage kids’ devices.

The companies that produce the programs, apps, websites our kids use are very powerful and they are very good at what they do, and our kids need our help to manage those devices. 

This is not saying we don't trust kids, and it’s not being anti-technology; it's saying we don't trust human nature and the nature of the world that we live in. So schools put your rules and your boundaries in place that best suit your community. Parents do the same. And if I can finish by saying one more thing to parents, if you can keep Internet-enabled devices out of the bedroom, you are going to repay your family and your kids gold for the rest of your life.

Jake: Where can people go to find out more about this and you and information?

Brett: We have heaps of resources, and we engage with the community, parents and schools at Internet Safe Education. So if you just Google “internet safety”, we’ll probably be at the top of the search results. 

But also I would really encourage parents to get familiar with the eSafety Commission. They have brilliant resources. They do research, they have case studies, they are the world leaders in what they do.


About ESET

We are a pioneering cybersecurity company with over 30 years of experience, offering award-winning technology to protect individuals, families, and businesses across more than 200 countries and territories. As active members of the global Internet community, we are dedicated to safeguarding our digital future and contributing to a safer online environment for everyone.


About Safer Kids Online

Safer Kids Online, an ESET initiative, is a comprehensive digital safety platform designed to empower children and young people to navigate the digital world securely. With a focus on curating expert advice, tips, knowledge, and tools, Safer Kids Online ensures that children can fully harness the benefits of the digital realm while maintaining their safety and well-being.