How parents can help kids be safer online - with Leonie Smith aka ‘The Cyber Safety Lady’
This week Gar is joined by Leonie Smith aka ‘The Cyber Safety Lady’ and host of the Digital Families podcast. Leonie has had an incredibly diverse career with a pedigree in graphic design, performing arts and was the CEO of social media training and strategy company Digital Breezes. Leonie was an early adopter of the internet and the common thread in her work is meaningful communication and effecting change.
Leonie and Gar discuss the important ways parents and carers can better navigate the internet, social media and gaming but more importantly how they can help their children. Leonie also lets us know about the three things she would have us do to be safer online, where the responsibility lies for keeping children safe online, the roles of campaigns and regulations for societal level changes, how to go about keeping kids safe while gaming and how to help our kids if something awful like cyber bullying or grooming should occur.
Check out the Digital Families podcast here: https://apple.co/3kZQVVf
Where to listen
The Get Cyber Resilient Show Episode #40 Transcript
Garrett O'Hara: [00:00:00] Welcome to the Get Cyber Resilient Podcast. I'm Garrett O'Hara, and this week, I'm joined by Leonie Smith, AKA, The Cyber Safety Lady, and host of the Digital Families Podcast. Leonie has an incredibly diverse career, with a pedigree in graphic design, acting, professional jazz singing, CEO of Digital Breezes, who looked after social media strategy for businesses, digital media production, including being online famous, as Paisley Beebe, the Oprah of virtual TV. And that was done in Second Life. Leonie was an early adopter of the internet, and the common thread in her work is meaningful communication to an audience and effecting change, so critical skills in her work as The Cyber Safety Lady.
In the episode, we talk about incredibly important stuff for parents and carers navigating their own use of the internet, social media, and gaming, but more importantly, how to help their children. We talk about how Leonie's backgrounds helps with meaningful change. The three things she would have us do to be safer online, where the responsibility lies for keeping everyone but particularly children safe online, the roles of campaigns and regulations for societal level changes, how to go about keeping kids safe while gaming, and how to help our kids, if something awful, like cyber bullying or grooming should happen.
Leonie is in the trenches, and she gives some scary insight into how prevalent this stuff actually is when she speaks to youth schools. So there's lot here, over the interview. Welcome to the Get Cyber Resilient podcast. Today, I'm joined by Leonie Smith, The Cyber Safety Lady. How are you doing today, Leonie?
Leonie Smith: [00:01:35] I'm doing great. How are you?
Garrett O'Hara: [00:01:37] I am doing so, so well. We were chatting, just before we started recording about we, we both live relatively close, actually, on the Northern Beaches of Sydney, and it's a little slice of heaven on days like today, blue skies. And the ocean is right there, so definitely feel lucky.
Leonie Smith: [00:01:52] Yeah, somebody's gonna shoot us now, so shh ...
Garrett O'Hara: [00:01:54] [laughs]
Leonie Smith: [00:01:54] [laughs] I don't want to hear that.
Garrett O'Hara: [00:01:57] It's not fair. It's not fair. Look, you know, the first question I always ask, as we kind of get the interviews going is just having the guest introduce themselves. And obviously, I follow you on LinkedIn, and you've got a podcast, so I'm guessing many people will know who you are. But those who are our listening and maybe don't, it would be lovely to get a, just a kind of run-through of how you arrived to where you are today.
Leonie Smith: [00:02:20] Okay, uh, it's a, it's a very curly windy journey. [laughs]
Garrett O'Hara: [00:02:25] [laughs]
Leonie Smith: [00:02:25] People ask me that, because uh, you think, um, most people that are involved in the cyber safety space either come from a policing background, a psychology background, uh, a security background, or something like that. And mine is basically, I'm entirely self-taught. I jumped on the internet, in 1995, when my husband brought a computer home, a big old computer they were throwing out from work. And I've always been a bit of a gadget nut, ever since I was a kid. And my whole family's like that. And when I discovered the internet, via an AOL disk, my husband said, "Set this up," gave me Lotus. I just thought, wow, this is amazing. And it came out of parent forums, so a couple of my kids had some issues. And I went down to the local library and found nothing. And I thought, let's, you know, power this thing up and see what it can do, found some parent forums, and then got very heavily involved in online parent for- forums, for parents that had kids with certain disabilities, to the point that I started moderating one of them.
And I fell in love with the internet and everything that it could do. I was a jazz singer, at the time, 20 years, professional jazz singer, and discovered online music sharing, before iTunes, before Myspace, all that stuff, and started to sell uh CDs online and found CD Baby and all these different places, designed my own website [laughs], using Microsoft Publisher to start with, which was amazing. And I just kept going, learning about it. And I think, when like a lot of people, when you started online, so early in the internet days, there was a culture around it, cause nobody else not really understood what we were doing. And you learned as you went along. There were no classes or courses or anything. The closest was sort of computer science degree that you could get computer engineering.
But the internet was so early in those days. We were all just learning about what it could do, as we, um, as we went along. And I was an early adopter of everything and just a consumed so much. So that eventually, when I had my own kids, and I got involved, I was heavily involved with virtual worlds, as I was saying to you before. Second Life, I ran a, a virtual ... I was the first person in the world to run a virtual television show, so that's filming inside a virtual world, which is like a game environment. And we learnt that, and I produced the show, was the host. I was basically the sort of Oprah of Second Life. I was famous on the internet for a short time. Um, and I just loved all that discovery in online community.
So when I had my own kids and started to get them involved in computers, I was very aware of the internet and all the traps and set things up so they were really safe. And then I started getting questions from parent. My, my kids' friends' parents saying, you know, my children want to be on Myspace or [laughs] on Facebook or whatever it is. How do I set this up? How do I set that up? And being a complete tech-head, and I'm quite frenzic with how I love finding out about stuff, I ... Somebody said to me, "You should give a talk on this, cause you've been doing it for so long," cause I've got two sets of kids, my oldest stepchildren, uh, that we started on computers and now parents themselves in their mid-30s.
And I did, and I realized I've got this just ridiculous amount of history on the internet, in a, in a strange way, that I'm a parent and a tech-head, and someone in ... heavily involved in the internet. So I started giving talks, set up my own business, in 2010. And that's where I decided I had a unique perspective on all of this and loved it and just gave away all the other stuff I was doing, including s- singing jazz, because the, the GOC just killed it, basically. There's [laugh] no ... There was no money in it. And here I am today, nearly 11 years later, um, as a, as a, a mom and an early adopter, um, and a communicator, cause I used to work in broadcast, like in community radio and all that kind of stuff, with my own podcast and doing now, ta- talks entirely virtually, through Zoom, to schools, to parents, to community.
I did one last week that was for seniors, different community corporates, as well. And it's all through Zoom, and I'm really enjoying it, cause we're discovering what this, this platform can do, in or ... to teach online in a virtual way.
Garrett O'Hara: [00:07:02] It is ... It's quite incredible to me, actually, what Zoom has opened up. You know, it's almost been a great leveler, because it eliminates the need to travel, and it gives you the option, opportunity, to kind of scale your message, so you know I'm guessing you could probably Zoom to larger numbers than you would be if you had to travel everywhere and you know, there's just that, the time limitation.
Leonie Smith: [00:07:23] Um, what I'm finding is really interesting. My, my presentations, particularly for students, um, and, and I teach from, uh, Kindergarten all the way through to U12. Um, a, typically, um, very interactive-
Garrett O'Hara: [00:07:37] Okay.
Leonie Smith: [00:07:37] ... so we sort of brainstorm ideas. It's not just me standing up and telling the kids-
Garrett O'Hara: [00:07:42] I get you.
Leonie Smith: [00:07:42] ... what to do.
Garrett O'Hara: [00:07:42] Yep.
Leonie Smith: [00:07:42] It's, it's very, very interactive, and that was something that concerned me, initially, with doing these talks. Um, and right from the first talk I gave, to a class of, I think it was year ... f- year five and six, we made it interactive, and I have seven feeds coming in, so that seven different classrooms, cause they wouldn't put them all in a whole because of social distancing, so that's seven feeds, with me interacting with each class, and getting kids in each class, via the teacher, who was the host, to get those kids to stand up and, and come up with ideas and different, um, input in what we were talking about.
And it actually worked, because the teacher concern was really switched, really enthusiastic about the whole thing. So we've been able to maintain that interactivity, but what I'm hoping is that I'll be able to get out to schools that I've been able to get to before in ... because of distance, as you were saying. Th- the [poss 00:08:38] of me flying out there and, and finding, um, accomodation and everything, it just add onto the whole thing. And I'm totally self-funded. I'm not ... I don't have any funding. I'm not, I'm not a charity, which a lot of, uh, people that work in space are, so they've got a lot of money behind them.
And the other thing that we're finding is that with the, the adult talks that I'm doing and the parent talks, we're getting at least four to five times the amount of people showing up for them either live or watching it afterwards because of the convenience of it.
Garrett O'Hara: [00:09:10] Yeah.
Leonie Smith: [00:09:12] So we've always struggled to get parents to turn up to talks, because, um, it's not a subject that they ... that ... You know, they're a little bit afraid of it, a little bit afraid of, of cyber safety. And so any set of barrier, to getting them physically to a talk is a problem. [laughs] It could be something good on television, you know, or Melbourne Cup or whatever it might be. So by doing online and because they're so now attuned to using Zoom themselves, that barrier's really lowered. And we- we're finding, it's a really successful.
Garrett O'Hara: [00:09:46] That's excellent, um, excellent to hear, and I love the idea of technology as an enabler. You ... Kind of looking at your career, you've got ... We were talking before we started recording, and, and s- some of obviously what you've just mentioned. And it's a really quite a diverse set of things that you've done, and I mean, your career, which I think is incredibly, incredibly, important. But as, as I looked for kind of the, the thread th- that seemed to kind of go through it all was communicating ideas in some ways, so being graphic designer and doing visuals there, using social media from business, as, as, as you said, as a jazz singer. It's, it's all that kind of somehow conveying ideas or emotion and doing virtual TV hosting.
And I think one of the things, when it comes to cyber awareness, um, online safety, and it's a human attribute, is that the information doesn't change people's minds, right? There needs to be some sort of emotion behind it, to get people to, to really change. And I wonder, like, how has your career informed the approach you've taken an, and the work that you're doing, as the, The Cyber Safety Lady, at the moment.
Leonie Smith: [00:10:49] Yeah, uh, it's interesting that you say that. It's, um ... Because I actually went ... I went to acting school. That's why I ended up being-
Garrett O'Hara: [00:10:56] Okay.
Leonie Smith: [00:10:56] ... a singer. I went to the Ensemble, uh, um, Studios, here, an, and I learned under Hayes Gordon, who's a very famous acting teacher, in the Method acting [laughs] way of doing things.
Garrett O'Hara: [00:11:06] Like Daniel Day-Lewis. They ... He's a Method actor I think?
Leonie Smith: [00:11:10] Yes, he's a ... Yes, he's amazing, Daniel Day-Lewis.
Garrett O'Hara: [00:11:11] [laughs]
Leonie Smith: [00:11:11] Yes, but in the, uh, in the ... I went to acting school in 1981 and dropped out and then went back again in the late, late 80s, so that's how long ago it was. And that was my, my intention was to be, um, in the, in the arts, as they say. Um, and you're absolutely right. Um, there is loads of people out there sort of ... that have probably got, um, a similar, um, outlook with technology that I do. But the communicating is, is what's really important, because as a communicator, you have to understand audiences.
You have to read audiences. You have to understand how to present it so that people don't go to sleep, so that people aren't so scared that they leave the talk and just shut down. It's not enough just to have that knowledge and present it. You actually have to try. Your aim, at the end of the day, is to help people leave the talk with an understanding of where to go next and to actually want to make a change to some of the things that you've said, that they may not have thought of before. And that's the same with students, as well. You want them to buy into it.
Garrett O'Hara: [00:12:22] Yep.
Leonie Smith: [00:12:23] Otherwise, it's just a really dry, boring, old talk with a lot of facts and figures. And people think, oh yeah, that's really interesting. But they're not compelled to actually change anything. So there's a lot of people out there that talk about how many schools they've visited, how many people they've spoken in front of, but my question always is, out of all those thousands of people that you've spoken to or with, how many of those people actually went home after that talk, picked up their device, and made some changes or behaviorally made some changes, to make themself safer online or started to, uh, develop an interest and go to some of those, uh, resources that you recommended, to learn more, because that's what's important, not how many people you speak to or how popular you are, but did you make that change? And of course, you've got to, um, you've got to be fluid with all of this and change things. Things may not work. You might get some feedback from someone, and you think, uh, gee, actually I didn't, I didn't consider that before. Maybe that's a different angle or a different thing that I need to consider with this.
Garrett O'Hara: [00:13:29] Yep. And you mentioned, you know, the changes, right? So if you imagine that you've got ... And I'm guessing you've probably got a long list, given your experience and giving talks and, and probably having conversations with people, about what they've done or how they approach things. But if you, say, had a magic wand or a genie in a lamp, and you could do three things or maybe have everyone out there who's listening, um, do three things or even thinking about it in terms of advice they could give their children or their grandparents or, or people, for us all to be safer online, what would be your top three?
Leonie Smith: [00:14:01] Um, Google things before you say yes, you know, because everybody else is, uh, using something. Uh, it's like TikTok, for instance, you know. There's a ... And there's a new game called Among Us, that [laughs] and it's just taken off, in the last month, that kids are all playing. Before you say yes, Google it. Find some, some reliable resource, uh, sources, that have done reviews on it, and Common Sense Media is one of them. That's the one that I got, that I usually recommend parents go to, to make ... to decide whether or not it's right for your child, not just safe for your child but right for your, for your child. Don't just rely on, on what everybody else is doing, because what we do know about the internet is these things just take off like wildfire, before anybody's really had a chance to look at them and see what the effects of, um, children and teenagers might be, why, um, joining up to that.
Um, the other thing is ... The second point is to stop thinking about the internet as a different land, like a different world, from your real world. Um, if you have any kind of decisions that you make about your child's use of technology, if you're ever confused about it or worried about it, try and put it in the perspective of, uh, an offline, um, decision. So parents will o- often say to me, "I can't ban this, because" ... or "I can't say no to my child on this thing, because, um, th-they'll get upset, or they'll be, um ... They won't be able to, to communicate with their friends. What do I do when all the other kids, seems like all the other kids have access to this or other parents are allowing this."
And I'll say, "Okay, well, let's think about those decisions a different way. This might be the first really important decision you've really ever had to make about your child in the respect of peer, peer group. What are you going to do when your child comes home at 13, and they want to go to a party where the parents have ... They're not going to keep ... They're not going to be there. Or they're 15, and they want to go to a p-, a party, where the parents are serving alcohol, and you don't want your child. Um, there are going to be so many decisions that you make for your child, where other kids are allowed to have something, but ... and you don't feel it's right for you."
Garrett O'Hara: [00:16:27] Yep.
Leonie Smith: [00:16:27] "So you need to stop thinking about the internet as something that's inevitable, that you have to allow." And I, I think, without doing any research on this, a lot, a lot of why parents have this thinking about the internet as being a sort of a different world from their offline world is because they feel disempowered often by the internet. It's something that they don't deeply understand, so when they make a decision, they don't really know whether their decision is right or not-
Garrett O'Hara: [00:16:58] Hmm.
Leonie Smith: [00:16:58] ... because they haven't had that long-term experience, whereas offline, they grew up through all those decisions their parents made about their behavior and whether they were allowed to go somewhere or have something or whatever. The internet is new space for them. The third point would be, never assume that you, uh, that you know everything. It's the Dunning-Kruger thing.
Garrett O'Hara: [00:17:21] Yes.
Leonie Smith: [00:17:21] That's one of the biggest problems we have with, uh, parents and their kids, looking at the internet or an app or anything, through their own lens and thinking they know enough so that it's safe for their kid. There's always something new you can learn. And what I've found from doing my, my podcast is that in spades. Um, it's that old saying, you know, the older you get, the less you know [laughs] you realized you know.
Garrett O'Hara: [00:17:45] Yep.
Leonie Smith: [00:17:45] Um, don't ever think that you are, you know, the number one expert, and I certainly don't think that about myself, at all, that I'm the number one expert in Australia or on this thing. What a load of crap. Um, there are so many people out there that you can learn from, so if you get an opportunity and you have the time to learn about, um, the online space, whether it's digital parenting or cyber safety or screen time or whatever, and it's offered to you, um, take, take advantage of that, because it really does broaden your ability to make those decisions, so that you, you don't feel like the internet is this sort of, this other world.
Garrett O'Hara: [00:18:23] Yep. No, I totally get you. And look, when you think about a lot of what you're talking about, it's, it's sort of societal level changes. You know, it is at an individual family and parent level, and, and sort of at the, the level of a, a child. Um, but when you think about online safety, it feels like there's a campaign to be done, so you know, there was the Slip-Slop, uh Slap campaign, in Australia, and anti-smoking campaigns. There was an anti-drink driving campaign, in Ireland, that completely changed how people thought about having a couple of pints and then driving home. Um, and it feels like those campaigns can be helped through regulations, so like there's two options. There's the campaign to kind of you know, you want to kind of nudge people along and influence, but then there's also this idea of regulation. I'd love to get your thoughts on the usefulness and, and the relevance of both of those, you know, the campaign side of things and then potentially regulations to help us here.
Leonie Smith: [00:19:13] I think, um, the biggest difference between a campaign for Slip-Slop-Slap is the simplicity of it.
Garrett O'Hara: [00:19:18] Hmm.
Leonie Smith: [00:19:18] And I think, you know, when you're dealing with the internet, it's hard to know where to start, with what do you campa- ca- campaign again, and I also think that there's a really unfair emphasis on, um, the responsibility that parents have to have for their children's online safety, which is, is, um, unlike almost any other consumer safety that, that we have, so you know, if you give it, give a- another example, um, we have certain safety standards, in Australia, for cars that we drive, for you know, white goods, all of those sort of things that we trust. So we know that we don't actually have to open the back of a ... of the fridge when we buy it and fiddle around and make it safe for our family, so it's not going to blow up.
The, and the internet and, and devices are not like that-
Garrett O'Hara: [00:20:08] Hmm.
Leonie Smith: [00:20:08] ... so when you go out and you buy a device for your child to use, it's set up for an adult. They're never set up for a child.
Garrett O'Hara: [00:20:14] Yep.
Leonie Smith: [00:20:14] Now they're making it ... Some of them, particularly Apple, are making it easier, so that when a parent, um, you know, powers up a device, there's option there. Who, you know, who is this device for? It needs to be a lot more like that, so it would ... It in a perfect, it would be great, if you could walk into, um, an electronic store and say, "I want a tablet. I want an internet connected device, for a nine year old." And they could say, "Here you go. Here's your tablet that's safe for a nine year old." [laughs] And you set it up, because a l- ... It is unfair to expect parents to have an enormous amount of knowledge about what they're allowing their child to use.
And what I do see is a lot of people that have been in this space for a long time, a lot of tech-heads, that started off in the internet, you know, way back, um, slamming parents for not being responsible, not supervising their children online and all this kind of stuff. And my argument is, you know, you and I can, can look at this. And we've had a long history and a lot in, in the internet space and in t-, in technology. And in a lot of cases, parents don't. And even the younger parents that are coming out now, that you would think have more, uh, more, more of an idea about technology and what's possible, they still use the technology entirely differently from the way children use it.
Garrett O'Hara: [00:21:36] Yeah.
Leonie Smith: [00:21:36] And they're seeing it through a different lens. So from that, regulations absolutely needs to be better. We also need to make, um, more spaces for children to communicate. What we're doing is we are forcing children and their parents to use online spaces that are designed for teenagers and for adults. And we're saying, "Don't use that space. Yes, that's fine. Snapchat's great. Look at all the lovely face filters. But don't use that for your child. It's not suitable for you child." Okay, where do they go? And that's one of the big questions I have from parents. Okay, so this stuff isn't suitable for a primary school kid. Where can my children have as much fun on that-
Garrett O'Hara: [00:22:15] Yep.
Leonie Smith: [00:22:15] ... with the face filters and the, and the games and everything, that is safe. And one of the reasons there aren't those safe spaces is because it's so incredibly dangerous. If they get it wrong, these platforms get it wrong, then they're liable for the safety of those children. And there's a lot of regulations already around what they can't do. And they can't gather data on children. And that's things that you know, they can't pay for the platforms, that they're, they're offering to children. So what was your original question? Your original question was about the regulation.
Garrett O'Hara: [00:22:50] Yeah.
Leonie Smith: [00:22:51] It's really important that we protect all consumers, and not enough of that is happening. And I know that there's movements over in the, the States, um, with some, um, Senators over there, who want to start to force a lot of these platforms to put more, uh, security in and more controls in. And that is absolutely essential. So one of the, one of the platforms that I love for kids in Minecraft.
Garrett O'Hara: [00:23:15] Yep.
Leonie Smith: [00:23:16] And the reason I love it for kids is because of the different modes. It would be even better if a parent could lock those modes, so you can play singer-player, just by yourself. You can play multi-player, in your own home, on LAN, so through the WiFi, great parental supervision. You can play, uh, on a public server, which is more risky for kids. You can't lock that down as a parent. I'd like to see that from Minecraft. You'd have to supervise to make sure they're not on that, and then you can play Minecraft Realms, which is set up your own world, whitelist people to come in, that parents have to know who they are.
Now on other platforms out there, they don't have that, so Roblox, for instance, it's rated 9+, doesn't have that ability. It's so incredibly dangerous to put kids unsupervised in that space. And that's not fair, because parents look at it. They see that it's designed for kids. It's 9+, and then some, you know, horrible stick-in-the-mud, like me, has to say to them, "No, you've got to supervise them on that, or you've got to set up the parental controls on that." Where are the parental controls? Hmm, yeah, they're pretty hard to find.
Garrett O'Hara: [00:24:21] Yes, it is such, uh, an important, um, point, I think you're making, because it feels like the two-piece is sort of out of the tube at this stage, when it comes to big tech and by that I mean, yeah, your Google, Facebook, you know, social media, but I would say games have kind of certainly el ... entered that realm. And when I think about, um, Fornite's, what ... You know what, that was just watching how popular that was and the fact that people could talk over VoIP and interact with complete strangers around the world. Um, if I'm, if I'm running an organization that's income is dependent on the number of users-
Leonie Smith: [00:24:56] Mm [affirmative].
Garrett O'Hara: [00:24:56] ... my motivation is probably not to put the road blocks up so those users don't arrive in, because somebody's parents have said, "Hey, this isn't safe." And so a- a- absolutely, to your point, and I think the incentives for companies to do that just they don't really exist at the moment. And there is a pressure, right, e- especially as you're, you're launching a new game or an application or a platform, like the huge, huge pressure to grow, to grow as quickly as possible. You've probably got some exit stra- strategy after five years, and your whole job is to get a, you know, a hundred X or whatever for the investors.
Leonie Smith: [00:25:26] Hmm.
Garrett O'Hara: [00:25:27] Um, I'd love to get your thoughts, in terms of help ... like forcing those platform developers to do the right thing, you know, and as you said, there is senators, and there's people, I think, in Australia, starting to push for this stuff. But how do see that playing out in reality?
Leonie Smith: [00:25:42] They ... It's like anything. Human nature, people don't do anything until they're fined.
Garrett O'Hara: [00:25:46] Yep.
Leonie Smith: [00:25:47] And you have to fine them big.
Garrett O'Hara: [00:25:48] Yep.
Leonie Smith: [00:25:49] So you know, there's been some companies out there, like Facebook and TikTok and YouTube, that have been fined big bucks, but not big enough, not ... You know, some people say that it's a parking ticket-
Garrett O'Hara: [00:25:59] Yep.
Leonie Smith: [00:25:59] ... compared to the money that they're making it, um, that I'm sorry. That's the only way you're going to do it. I mean, you look at things, other things that offline, like, you know, car seats, for instance, children's car seats in cars. They were introduced, and we had all these advertising campaigns saying that they'll save your child, um, in an accident. And people wouldn't put them in.
Garrett O'Hara: [00:26:19] Hmm.
Leonie Smith: [00:26:19] It was just a hard ... It was a hassle, even with those risks, so we had to fine them. Same with seat belts, we had to fine them. And people say, "Oh, it's a nanny state." And I'm like, "Well, stop acting like a child-
Garrett O'Hara: [00:26:28] Yeah.
Leonie Smith: [00:26:28] ... and maybe you won't need a nanny."
Garrett O'Hara: [00:26:30] [laughs]
Leonie Smith: [00:26:30] You know.
Garrett O'Hara: [00:26:30] So, so true.
Leonie Smith: [00:26:31] But we have to ... These companies have to bypass the responsibility of adults. It's not fair at all parents. It's not fair to constantly blame parents for not doing their homework, for taking their kids, you know, for not, uh, supervising their kids all the time. There is no other situation, really, out there, that requires that from, from the parent, without a buy-in from a platform. So the only way we're going to get, um, changes through regulations and fine it ... fining pa- ... companies that don't do the right thing, big bucks.
Now YouTube got fined for, um, having, um ... Basically, it was about the data that they were collecting from the under 13 year olds that used YouTube, to watch all the cartoons on there right?
Garrett O'Hara: [00:27:20] Mm-hmm [affirmative].
Leonie Smith: [00:27:20] And so they set up YouTube Kids, which is an alternative platform for the under 13 year olds, that had massive problems when it first came out. As usual, as soon you launch a new platform, the first people that l- ... that try to put stuff on there are pornographers.
Garrett O'Hara: [00:27:34] Hmm.
Leonie Smith: [00:27:34] And that's exactly what happened. Dur, so they didn't e- ... They didn't have safety by design, initially. And the problem is that they have a very small market share, YouTube Kids, because a lot of parents don't know it exists. And because, um, to be honest, there isn't the same depth of content on YouTube Kids, as there are on the main platform of YouTube. And a lot of parents don't realize that it ... how easy it is for their child to go from watching Peppa Pig to some kind of, you know, slaughter or pornography or whatever it is, on YouTube. They just don't know. Um, and even if you tell them that, because they're humans, they think, oh, well, that won't would happen to us.
Garrett O'Hara: [00:28:15] Hmm.
Leonie Smith: [00:28:15] My child won't look for that stuff. They don't understand there's an algorithm there and that the algorithm can change, according to what the child clicks on. They just don't get it. And so what they did was they fined YouTube this massive amount of money, which was tiny, in comparison, to, to, to what they, they earn every, every year but still didn't remove the cartoons off their platform.
Garrett O'Hara: [00:28:38] Hmm.
Leonie Smith: [00:28:38] What they actually can do, if they really wanted to do it, I'm sure these are the smartest people in the world, that if somebody tried to upload something that looks like a Peppa Pig cartoon, it would be blocked, because they've got the technology for copyright breaches. As soon as you try and upload a little piece of music or something from a TV show, you get a message saying, you are going to be demonetized or even you've got to take it down. It's that quick.
Garrett O'Hara: [00:29:06] Yep.
Leonie Smith: [00:29:06] So surely they could do the same thing for children's content, so instead of having, you know, people allowed to upload Peppa Pig or whatever it might be, which is full of problems, cause people edit them and put suicide videos and then edit them, all kinds of stuff, they could come up with that and keep that stuff off YouTube. So the parents have no choice. If they want their child to watch the Wiggles or You ... or Peppa Pig or whatever it is, they must go to the safe platform, but they're not doing it, so why? Why are they not doing that?
Garrett O'Hara: [00:29:35] Yeah, I, I find YouTube very disturbing, if I'm honest, so I've seen, um-
Leonie Smith: [00:29:40] [crosstalk 00:29:40] a statement.
Garrett O'Hara: [00:29:41] Yeah. No, I ... So I go on there. I look at two types of things. I look at wood working videos, and I look at music production, so it's all ... The algorithms haven't, so far, haven't figured out how to get me looking at strange things. But I, I did watch some kids, over the last few years, actually, on YouTube, and it's sort of the well-known cartoons. Some of those ... Some of the kind of self-produced content, and, and it's not pornographic, um, in my opinion. It's maybe not good for the human brain, um, but it's just bizarre, high-energy. It doesn't really make a whole lot of sense. I found it very disturbing at a human level, uh, regardless of, you know, violence or pornography. It wasn't even that. It was just the actual content itself was like, what, what is this about? Like, why, you know, unboxing of-
Leonie Smith: [00:30:24] Right.
Garrett O'Hara: [00:30:24] ... expensive, um, uh, you know, technology or toys. And it's ... It just seems like a weird message to be sending to kids.
Leonie Smith: [00:30:31] And they have it all over YouTube Kids, as well, so the ... They're, you know ... Having said that, uh, there's an option of YouTube Kids, YouTube Kids is far from perfect for kids.
Garrett O'Hara: [00:30:40] Hmm.
Leonie Smith: [00:30:40] It's full of dross. It's just full of, uh, videos on there, dressed up to look like entertainment, that are just selling Oreo cookies and, and, um, consumer stuff and all these things called whole videos, where it's a family that go into a ... to some kind of Costco or something over in the States or a, um, Walmarts, and the whole video's about kids just grabbing stuff off the shelf and throwing it into, into a, a trolley and buying it and then unboxing it at home. It's just all for clicks, cause the way YouTube is set up, that the more clicks you get, the more money you make.
Garrett O'Hara: [00:31:14] Hmm.
Leonie Smith: [00:31:14] And so they just load up this stuff. So if you have a look to see how many views some of these videos have, they're in the, like, 500 million views, and kids are watching this stuff. So Common ... I think it was Common Sense Media just released a new survey that they've done, um, and I got it in, uh, in my inbox yesterday morning, that I was looking through, on what children on consuming online, but ... And videos is number one. And when they look at the quality of the videos, that they're, that they're watching, there are so many of them, that, that are these advertising videos that are just full of junk food and all that kind of stuff. So again, there's just no control over what kids are consuming on those platforms.
Garrett O'Hara: [00:31:59] Yeah, it is. It's quite shocking. Have you ... I'm, I'm guessing, given what you do, you've probably at least are aware of The Social Dilemmas, as the documentary-
Leonie Smith: [00:32:04] Yes. [laughs]
Garrett O'Hara: [00:32:07] ... on Netflix, because I've never seen a reaction. I've been sort of banging the same drum that you have, uh, with friends and family, about social media and its impact and, and really, uh, in my opinion, the societal level of damage it's doing, that we don't really understand just yet.
Leonie Smith: [00:32:21] Mm-hmm [affirmative].
Garrett O'Hara: [00:32:21] And all for naught. You know, it didn't see any changes.
Leonie Smith: [00:32:24] Yeah.
Garrett O'Hara: [00:32:24] And then my friends are watching The Social Dilemma, and I would get text messages saying, hey, I just deleted, you know, my account on X. Y, Zed, and inside, I'm like, jumping for joy, cause it feels like that finally got to cut through, um. I'd love to get your thoughts on that as a documentary, cause, and th- that seemed very powerful, um, first of all. And then, do you think documentaries like that will somehow affect change, that these big tech companies will, you know, eventually do the right thing?
Leonie Smith: [00:32:51] I sadly don't think it makes change. I've seen things like that come through before-
Garrett O'Hara: [00:32:55] Mm-hmm [affirmative].
Leonie Smith: [00:32:56] ... where there's been some kind of documentary or something that's come through. And everybody's been raving about it. And what happens is the tech companies just sit there, and they just ride it out, particularly Facebook, whatever, whatever terrible thing happens. Look at Cambridge Analytica.
Garrett O'Hara: [00:33:10] Mm-hmm [affirmative].
Leonie Smith: [00:33:10] That's wasn't very long ago, and it's like, if you just ... They what? Who? Cambridge who? Like, it wasn't very long ago, and we all thought, okay, this is finally going to make them do something. And the tech companies, no, they ... It ... That it ... The news cycle goes so quickly, you know. We had COVID-19 and, and elections and all those sort of things just usurp in, and they just ride it out. The only change that's going to happen is reg, is regulation and fining companies big things, and we ... And those platforms and, uh, the authorities that are setting the regulations have to bypass, um, what humans know about the internet, in order to protect them, in the same way as they do with everything else, with what we eat, pharmaceuticals, health and safety, because if we just rely on consumers to make good healthy choices, there are going to people that are, are going to be harmed by that. So because people don't pay attention. They're just human beings. Some people will pay a lot of attention to that, to The Social Dilemma. And the other, um, criticism that I heard of The Social Dilemma was that it placed too much importance into, um, what ... First of all, people were really annoyed that all these people were being interviewed about this sort of stuff, when they'd left the company. [laughs]
Garrett O'Hara: [00:34:30] Mm-hmm [affirmative].
Leonie Smith: [00:34:31] And then coming out and saying, you know, I realize now, looking back, that this is what happened. And it's like, well, why didn't you do something about it while you were there? But what we know about a lot of these tech companies is that they ... There's a lot of naivety around when they start them up. And you're right with what you said before. Growth is everything, so let's lower the barriers to safety and to consumer privacy, in order to grow as fastly as possible, because we've got all this investment. And we have to show that we're making a profit and then yes, they might have a five year exit plan. All that stuff goes on, um, which means, in the meantime, these things just take off like wild fire. And then all of a sudden, somebody looks at it and goes, hang on a second, what is this doing to our communications and our social interactions, in the longer term? And by the time research catches up with all of that, it might be five years down the track.
Garrett O'Hara: [00:35:23] Mm-hmm [affirmative].
Leonie Smith: [00:35:24] And that damage is done, so social media, as it is, um, has been amazing, during COVID. Zoom has been amazing during COVID.
Garrett O'Hara: [00:35:35] Mm-hmm [affirmative].
Leonie Smith: [00:35:36] But at the other side of things, there are some issues that seem to be coming out of social media, although, there's no hard and fast proof. It depends on which research you look. So they'll have some researchers who will say, social media is meaning that people are more lonely than ever. We're seeing increased anxiety levels in, in ch- children and students. But there's the other researchers will say, well, we don't know whether that's actually the case. There's a lot of other things going on at the same time, in this space, that might be contributing to the anxiety and the social iso, isolation that we're experiencing. We're living in a different world from what we were living in, in the 70s and the 80s, when we were growing up. It's entirely different. Parenting is different.
Garrett O'Hara: [00:36:22] Hmm.
Leonie Smith: [00:36:22] We look at the change of ... I talk to, to school teachers all the time about this particular generation of parents coming through and how different they are at parenting their children from, say, when our parents parented us. And I'll often say, to my own kids, my mom and dad, like ... have a look at the parents these days who were so, so concerned about how their own children are perceived, about their children's success, about their social standing. And I said, "My parents had absolutely no interest in whether I was popular at school or not or whether I had the latest gadget or whatever. They just said, Get out of the house. Get out of my hair.
Garrett O'Hara: [00:37:00] Yep. [laughs]
Leonie Smith: [00:37:00] Come back at 5 o'clock for dinner."
Garrett O'Hara: [00:37:02] Exactly the same. Yep.
Leonie Smith: [00:37:03] That was [crosstalk 00:37:05]. It was like neg-, neg-, negligent parenting. They were very, very concerned that I didn't drink underage, or my parents were very strict with all of that stuff. But as far as my social standing and whether [laughs] whether I was isolated, nah, not interested. It was [laughs] And these parents these days are absolutely concerned with that, and maybe it's got something to do with how they feel about themselves. I don't know. I'm not a psychologist but very, very different parenting.
Garrett O'Hara: [00:37:30] Yeah.
Leonie Smith: [00:37:31] So The Social Dilemma, um, I think it's short-lived. The thing is that these, uh, platforms, uh, are a monopoly, and there's talk about whether or not they should be broken up or not. I know there's all sorts of dissenting views on whether that's going to make any difference at all, whether Facebook is broken up. And then Facebook are working really, really hard, to make sure that they can not be broken up, by integrating their ... everything all together, so now their message, messaging is going to be integrated across Instagram, Whats the App, and Facebook, so it's like ahh, look we can't really break it up now.
Garrett O'Hara: [00:38:05] Hmm.
Leonie Smith: [00:38:06] It's part of the same thing. But when you find that the, that platforms like Facebook and Instagram have the market share on all this sort of stuff, then what you ... what happens is that individuals don't find out that somebody's had a baby or, uh, is getting married or whatever, because they're not on that platform, cause nobody rings each other up or sends cards and invites around to each other by mail anymore. So ... Yeah.
Garrett O'Hara: [00:38:36] It's the world we live in. For what it's worth. I've jumped off pretty much all the social media. LinkedIn's the only one I'm on, and when I get a paper delivered now, because I was a little bit sick of reading the news online, and I love it. I can highly recommend that as a [laugh] life approach. I wanted to ask you, um, and I'm just, I'm conscious of, of time, at this stage. But look, there's so many horror stories around things like cyber bullying, online grooming, um, the horror stories. You hear of photos being distributed to people, where they weren't the intended recipient. And then the sort of things that it ... you hear, uh, younger people doing these days. It just feels like an absolute minefield and that we're living through.
So things do go online, as sort of a go wrong online, uh, for young people, and I'd love it you could talk us through some kind of guidelines that you mind have for parents, when it has gone wrong and things that can maybe help them amend those horrible situations.
Leonie Smith: [00:39:28] And Mine- Minecra- minefield is the right world to, word to use, and sometimes I think when people say, uh, there's some horror stories, it sounds like, that it's not happening all the time. And what I, what I'm conscious of is that every single school I go to, there's an incident, that you would term a horror story, every single school, without fail, because I need to know those things before I go in. And it's more prevalent than we know, because there's a, there's a sort of a circle of silence around it. Parents, when something awful happens, often want to tell other people about it, cause there's a sense of shame, that they didn't know, that they, um, let things get to a certain point. Um, schools are, um, can not talk about it, so they are legally not allowed to share, sometimes even with the ... They're not allowed to share with the parent body or the other staff members exactly what happened.
So there's a lot of, um, secrecy around what's going on, for very good reasons, to protect the child. So that means we don't have a really good sense of how common it is, that things are going wrong, at all. But despite all the stuff that parents can do, getting educated, understanding parental controls, making sure that their children do not go on adult platforms, before they're cognitively ready, to fight off an extremely cunning and clever predator. And that's the number one thing. If your child's in Roblox, and they're talking to people in Roblox, cause you don't have the parental controls on, and they meet a predator in Roblox, these predators have a modus operandi that they share with each other, in order to first identify a vulnerable child and then using the language, to be able to connect and trust with that child.
Your child has to be smart enough and mature enough to be able to spot that-
Garrett O'Hara: [00:41:26] Mm-hmm [affirmative].
Leonie Smith: [00:41:26] ... and then go to the parent and say, "Oh, something creepy's happening." So the most important thing for parents to do, with child online safety, is firstly, get educated and understand what these platforms are. Don't say yes, and allow your child to jump in or, or download anything before you're sure that it's going to be the right thing for your child. So don't just listen to what everybody else is doing. Take a step back. Take a breath before you do that. Have a go yourself, with your child, keeping in mind that you may not see things that pop up, as, as you go along. So if your child's spending, you know, three or four hours a week on a particular platform, you may not see what they see.
And the other thing and the most important thing is your relationship with your child is the most important thing of all. How your child is able to come to you and tell you when they see something a bit weird-
Garrett O'Hara: [00:42:20] Mm-hmm [affirmative].
Leonie Smith: [00:42:21] ... creepy or a bit odd, in every aspect of their life, not just online, makes a difference between you being able to intercept it quickly, to shut it down before something really awful happens or goes somewhere to get help, because the biggest problem we have is 52, only 52% of kids will tell a responsible adult when they see something upsetting online. And the reasons they don't tell a responsible adult is they fear they're going to be then victimized in some way. They fear that whatever they've seen it on is going to be banned and taken away from them.
Garrett O'Hara: [00:42:52] Hmm.
Leonie Smith: [00:42:52] Cause often parents will just panic and just say, "All right, give me all those devices. We're locking them away." Cause they don't have the skills to know how to tackle this event that's happened. They are all worried about upsetting their parents.
Garrett O'Hara: [00:43:05] Hmm.
Leonie Smith: [00:43:05] They feel a sense of responsibility for their own parents well-being. They're worried their parent doesn't know enough to be able to help them anyway, so for all those reasons, they don't tell a parent. So you'll ... I'll have parents who say to me, "Oh, my child never has a problem on this." And I'm thinking, when I go into schools and I ask parent kids, how many of you have had a message from a complete that you don't know, on an online game, and 80% of the, of the kids that are playing online games put their hands up, I can guarantee that only 50% of those will have told a parent.
Garrett O'Hara: [00:43:33] Yeah.
Leonie Smith: [00:43:33] The rest of them are keeping quiet because that, because of those reasons. So the safest thing you can do is to be involved, and don't be disparaging about everything. You need to actually jump in and have a go and have fun, so there's the latest game is Among Us. And that's what all the kids are getting into. Um, if you're going to let your child play that game, have a game with them. Get them to show you how to play. It's a lot of fun to do that. Just get off your high horse. Stop thinking, I'm going to look like an idiot. Yes, you will look like an idiot. That's all right. [laughs] Let the child teach you, and your children are your best teachers.
Um, I've had parents who've said to me, "I don't know why my child likes doing this or doing that online." I'm going, have you asked them? No. I said, "Well," [laughs] "Let's see, don't ask me. Ask your kid, why do they like watching Twitch? Why do they like playing this game? There's a conversation starter." But yeah, that rel ... Parental controls are only a gu- a guardrail.
Garrett O'Hara: [00:44:39] Hmm.
Leonie Smith: [00:44:39] That's just the, just the, the fence around the swimming pool. If a child absolutely wants to get around a parental control, they will find a way, even if they have to borrow a device or off another kid or go to another child's place and play that game there. They're only a guardrail to stop a child from stumbling across something that they shouldn't be part of or shouldn't see. You can't rely on that. So yeah, that relationship with your child, a safe place for them to report and not freaking out when they tell you something is the number one thing that you need to do to keep your child safe online.
Garrett O'Hara: [00:45:15] That in ... That is such a, a sort of strong moment, I think, for us to call it and then finish, um, incredibly, incredibly useful insight, so very much appreciate, um, yeah, all of your commentary, Leonie. It's obviously that you ... It's obvious, to me, that you've spent, uh, a lot of time talking to people and have thought about this stuff, uh, in a, in a deep way, rather than just kind of going with the, the flow, which is I think is the whole point of, of, um, The Cyber Safety Lady, in my mind, is kind of cutting through the nonsense and getting to practical, useful advice, and hopefully, this, uh, interview is full of that for the listeners, so thank you so much. And, um, yeah, we'll ... for the listeners, we'll include links to your podcast and also your website, where I believe you've got books and that are downloadable, um, so that if people want to kind of dive deeper into this, they can do that.
Leonie Smith: [00:46:01] Yeah, that's right. Digital Families is the name of the podcast. You can just find it on iTunes or wherever you have your podcasts. Thank you very much for having me. It's been great talking to you.
Garrett O'Hara: [00:46:11] Abs-
Leonie Smith: [00:46:12] Makes me think through things myself, you know, when you ask me these tricky questions.
Garrett O'Hara: [00:46:16] Good stuff. Thank you so much.
Leonie Smith: [00:46:18] Thank you.
Garrett O'Hara: [00:46:26] Big thanks again to Leonie, for the conversation today, fascinating person a real pleasure to speak with her. Do check out the Digital Families podcast, which we'll link to in the show notes. And as always, thank you for listening to the Get Cyber Resilient podcast. We have a back catalog of episodes, so please do have a listen to those. For now, I'll look forward to catching you on the next episode.