I recently returned from a two-day, online safety conference in Doha, Qatar. Sponsored by the Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI) and ICT Qatar, “Promoting Online Safety & Cyber Ethics in the Middle East,” was an informative and interesting event. The conference marked the second of its kind in the region, the first having been held two years ago in Manama, Bahrain, hosted by FOSI and Bahrain’s Telecommunications Regulatory Authority.
The two days took on a global and regional/local focus, respectively. My main role was to participate in a panel on day one entitled, “Where in the world is online safety?” Fellow panelists included U.K. Internet expert John Carr, Justin Weiss of Yahoo!’s international privacy team, and Claudia Selli from AT&T’s EU Affairs division. The panel was moderated by U.S. Ambassador David Gross, also a partner with Wiley Rein.
As part of my panel contribution, I announced some preliminary results of a worldwide study on online harassment/”cyberbullying” from the child’s point of view. Microsoft recently commissioned this study to better understand the global pervasiveness of what some might refer to as cyberbullying. Formal definitions of cyberbullying are recognized by some – the most widespread definition being that of the Cyberbullying Research Center: “willful and repeated harm inflicted through the use of computers, cell phones, and other electronic devices.”
Early results from our study show that among 8-17 year olds in 25 countries, 37 percent of children across all geographies report having been victims of behavior that could be termed cyberbullying. Meanwhile, 24% admit to having bullied someone else online at one time or another. In host country Qatar, those numbers fall and rise to 28 percent and 32 percent, respectively. Microsoft will make full results of the survey available in early summer.
Other topics discussed at the conference included the impact of social media, particularly as it pertains to 2011’s “Arab Spring”; tools and technologies to help people stay safer online both at home and on the go; and how the region – and Qatar specifically – is responding to cyber safety and security challenges. One theme that recurred in nearly all discussions was the need to continue to raise public awareness about online safety risks and remediation, and to educate children, teens, parents, and other adults.
To that end, Jeffrey Avina, Microsoft’s Middle East & Africa regional citizenship director, on day two called upon key players in the Mideast to band together to create not only country-specific websites and repositories for online-safety information, but a Pan-Arab portal that would cull together the wealth of resources available in Arabic and other regional languages. Such a portal could be a “one-stop shop” for Arab-specific educational and instructional resources to help everyone have a safer, more trusted online experience.
I continue to believe the Middle East, Latin America, and Southeast Asia offer a unique opportunity to help educate and prepare youth for life online. Microsoft contributes to the wealth of free resources and materials currently available. Check out our offerings at www.microsoft.com/security, and be sure to click the Resources tab. You can also follow our online safety efforts on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.