What can I do about it? Experts answer teens’ questions about online threats

Cyberbullying, cyber fraud, and phishing are not the only dangers for teens on the web. Maral Aitmagambetova and Yevgeny Khabarov from the Pavlodar Media Literacy House help adolescents find ways to safeguard themselves and their loved ones on social media.

Adiya Akhmer

September 19th, 2023

Generation Z – those who can’t fathom life without the internet – have been aptly called “digital natives.” This term encompasses children, teenagers, and young adults who were practically born with smartphones in their hands. Since their childhood, they have had an online presence thanks to YouTube, Instagram, TikTok, WhatsApp, and other social media and messaging apps.

A pivotal media literacy skill is their ability to cultivate a secure online environment
As part of Manshuq Media Literacy Lessons project, we spoke with teenagers – excellent representatives of digital natives – to talk about their first encounters with cyberbullying, cyber fraud, and phishing. We then asked experts to advise on how to effectively, and most importantly, safely, deal with such scenarios.

Case 1

Alina, 13 years old
“I recently had a girl follow me on Instagram. Her profile picture showed a girl of my age, and her description included details about her age and school. She had several posts on her account with images of dogs. I love dogs. We corresponded for around a month. I told her about my school and my parents. I suggested meeting up after school, but she refused. One day she messaged me that she urgently needed money. She had mentioned that her mom was in the hospital a lot, so I asked my parents to help. The amount was about fifty thousand tenge. I told my dad about it, and he said it was a scam and scolded me. How can one differentiate between a fake account and a genuine one?”

Yevgeny Khabarov

Expert, Media Literacy House, Pavlodar:

“It is important to understand who you’re interacting with. Someone can gain your trust by using a fake account and pretending to be someone else. They might use someone else’s photos to achieve this. How can we verify the authenticity of an account? One approach is doing a reverse photo search. To do so, you’d need a screenshot or photo of the profile belonging to the person you’ve encountered online, plus Google or Yandex. Search engines can identify if there are the same or similar images online. You may come across multiple accounts using the same photo but with differing names, ages, and locations, or just one account with the same name but residing in a distant city from your own. In such cases, you should consider whether you should continue to communicate with this person. Better yet, you could write to them directly to let them know that their photo is being exploited by another user. Sometimes internet searches don’t find similar images. In any scenario, we recommend not sending money to people you don’t know well. You can ethnically and sensitively respond that you don’t have the specified amount of money or that you’re not in the business of lending money, and express your regret that they’re undergoing a difficult situation.”

Case 2

Laura, 14 years old: 
“My classmate faced bullying in our school’s group chat. Guys posted offensive comments and memes, so we kicked them out of the chat. It then all moved Instagram. They began creating accounts using various aliases and targeted not only that classmate but also his friends’ accounts. The teachers did not take action because the internet falls outside the school’s jurisdiction. How can we shield ourselves and others from cyberbullying?”
Maral Aitmagambetova

Expert, Media Literacy House, Pavlodar:

“Although the bullying occurred online, we think it’s notable that it originated in the school – specifically, within the school chat. Cyberbullying always leaves behind a digital trail. It’s essential to document these threats with screenshots and screen recordings. It is also good to notify the bullies that you did so, as often this is enough to stop further harassment. You can also complain about posts or comments on the social media platform and report accounts that breach its rules. If the offenders create fake accounts, you can adjust your privacy settings, activate the “hidden words” feature, disable comments from specific users, or limit their access to your account. In such a situation, it is very important to reach out to adults whom you trust (parents or older relatives) and report the issue.

In Kazakhstan, there is also a helpline for teenagers – dialing 150 – where you can report bullying and seek assistance

Case 3

Assel, 16 years old: 
“My mom asked me to help sell her old cell phone. I posted an ad with my phone number. A potential buyer contacted me through WhatsApp. He said that in order to process the payment, I needed to enter my mom’s card details on a website. I hesitated and decided to send a screenshot to my brother. His advice was to block this ‘buyer’ as he said this was phishing. How does phishing work?”

Maral Aitmagambetova

Expert, Media Literacy House, Pavlodar:

“Phishing is a form of internet fraud where scammers attempt to acquire user data such as passwords and credit card or bank account numbers. This information should not be shared with anyone, whether it’s ‘bank representatives’ claiming to have detected an attempt to steal from your account, or ‘buyers’ requesting data input on an ‘official’ website.’”

Case 4

Askar, 16 years old: 
“I participated in an Instagram store’s sneaker giveaway. The requirements were the usual – follow, repost, and tag friends. I won through a random draw. They contacted me, saying that I needed to pay for shipping. I sent a portion of the requested sum, not out of caution but because I had no more funds at that time. The store’s representative I chatted with insisted on the entire amount, but vanished the next day. My messages went unanswered. How can one avoid getting tricked by such scammers?”

Maral Aitmagambetova

Expert, Media Literacy House, Pavlodar:

“The scheme is very straightforward: scammers devise bogus contests featuring prizes for likes or comments. Once the contest ‘ends,’ they inundate winners’ direct messages with screenshots, insisting on payment for prize delivery, only to then disappear. How can one steer clear of such tricks? First, remember that the only free cheese is in the mousetrap. Second, be immediately wary if you’re ever asked for payment (for delivery, taxes, etc.) or to verify your consent to receive the prize by providing your bank card or other personal data. Third, you can google the organisation’s name along with contest-related keywords, adding ‘scammer’ or ‘scam’ to see if there’s feedback from other users.”

Yevgeny Khabarov

Expert, Media Literacy House, Pavlodar:

“Such contests are designed to lure in gullible people, particularly teenagers and the elderly. There are many cases like this. You might receive a request to send money for postage or courier fees associated with delivering a prize. If you are promised a cash reward, you may be asked to pay a commission in order to access the full sum. For instance, if you’ve ‘won’ between 20,000 and 400,000 tenge, you might be requested to transfer 500 to 2,000 tenge. While this might appear like a small amount and not a significant loss on your part, for those engaged in phishing or fraud this translates into a huge amount of money. They can deceive thousands of people. The main thing you should do is to scrutinise the reputation of the prize-distributing organisation. This can be done by reading genuine, not fake, reviews and consulting your acquaintances and friends. Once you’ve established the organisation’s authenticity and positive ratings, you can share your personal postal details.”

Case 5

Dilnaz, 14 years old: 
“My classmates began sharing TikTok videos suggesting that a new pandemic was imminent. These videos included snippets from UN conferences, presidential speeches, and rallies. A voiceover was urging people to get ready for another lockdown. I forwarded the video to my mom, who then shared it in her work and family group chats. Someone responded it was a hoax. How can one distinguish between an authentic video and a fake one?”

Yevgeny Khabarov

Expert, Media Literacy House, Pavlodar:

“There are search engines that do reverse video searches. Another approach is to capture a few screenshots from the video and conduct a reverse image search. If the results show that the video is fake or was filmed a long time ago or in a different location, you’ll quickly realise that you shouldn’t pass it along. By examining similar videos, you can eventually trace it back to its original source. This will allow you to view the original video without any added voiceovers. We recommend refraining from forwarding videos or news stories in any format until you’ve fact-checked and verified their authenticity and have located the primary source. You can also try to reach out to the creators of the original video or individuals featured in it, if possible. Today, many scammers use deepfakes, which are easily generated by artificial intelligence. These deepfakes can create any face and make a person speak in any voice.”

Case 6

Daniyar, 15 years old: 
“Most of my friends and acquaintances use Zenly, GetContact, and other apps that allow you to track your friends’ locations or see how you’re saved in other people’s contacts. I’ve heard once that it might not be safe to use such apps. Is this true?”

Yevgeny Khabarov

Expert, Media Literacy House, Pavlodar:

“GetContact is very popular in Kazakhstan. When it appeared, people started freely using it, allowing the app to gather all the information from their devices. In exchange, users could view how they were identified on other people’s devices. Why are apps like this risky? By having access to your device, they can potentially use any information from your phone, including your entire phonebook, contacts, and associated data. We advise against using such apps due to their security risks.”

Collages by Anna Samuilova
This project is supported by a grant provided by the U.S. Embassy in Astana, Kazakhstan. All opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Government or the U.S. Mission to Kazakhstan.

Данный проект реализуется с помощью гранта от Посольства США в Астане, Казахстан. Мнения, выраженные в материалах, принадлежат их авторам и не обязательно отражают точку зрения Правительства США или Дипломатической Миссии США в Казахстане.


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