Itongadol.- A group of fifth and sixth graders from Shoham launched their new "siren revolution," a program to increase online responsibility and respect among youth, on Tuesday.
The "siren revolution" has given new meaning to three popular emojis, the symbols commonly used to express emotions and replace words in social network and texting applications.
Red siren emojis will be used to indicate offensive, humiliating, and inappropriate remarks and will also act as a warning sign for group moderators.
The "back" emoji is to be used as an expression of regret by the offending party, indicating that they did not intend any harm and apologize for the statement.
Finally, the "SOS" emoji is to be used in cases where group activity should be brought to the attention of adults, such as parents, a teacher, school guidance counselor, or youth group leader.
The group of 36 pupils from schools around Shoham and are participating in a young leadership program developed in partnership between the education and community department of the Shoham regional authority and Orgad Yeadim, a local company that runs organizational development and social initiative programs.
The pupils will present their ideas in classrooms around Shoham and encourage them to use the new emoji system in class whatsapp groups.
In their explanation in front of the regional education council, the pupils said that they believe that it is possible to deal with the problem of online shaming, especially when youth take it upon themselves to curb the phenomenon.
Orna Heilinger, head of the Center for Safe Internet, part of the Israel Internet Association, spoke to the Jerusalem Post on Thursday about the online dangers facing youth today, especially in light of the extra free time they have during summer holidays.
According to Heilinger, 46% of youth surf the internet for over 30 hours a week. These numbers increase during summer vacation and mean that youth are exposed to even more temptations and dangers online and the likelihood of inappropriate online social behavior increases.
"Boredom increases curiosity and we may end up in places we shouldn\’t be in," said Heilinger, and mentioned online chat-rooms as an example of places that can be dangerous for youth.
When there is no framework and no educators around them on a daily basis, youth feel freer to act in ways they wouldn\’t otherwise, she explained, and added that the summer vacation for youth transitioning from junior high into high school is a particularly vulnerable time.
"They allow themselves much more freely to exclude people from groups, to excommunicate people, to lash out in stronger forms," Heilinger said.
While any application can be fun and useful, Helinger said that they can also "easily turn into a weapon."
She spoke of the snap-chat application that allows users to send a photo or video with a caption that then disappears from the phone after being viewed. "If I take a provocative picture of myself and send it to a friend and he takes a screen-shot and sends it on to others, that\’s a danger," she said.
Another aspect to the problem is that parents allow more freedom during summer vacation are less likely to restrict internet access. More time online, she said, equals more dangers.
Heilinger suggested that parents of younger children, those in elementary school, should apply a filter to their internet to ensure that their children cannot access inappropriate sites.
In addition, she recommends talking openly with children, from a young age, about the dangers of the internet and the fears parents have. Opening the discussion with a case from the media or a television show can be a good way to allow a child to express their opinions.
"An important rule to keep is that if, God forbid, you come across a situation where your son or daughter sent out a picture of herself that was inappropriate or did something inappropriate, is not to get angry. Contain the situation and take action," she recommended.
The center operates a hotline, open 24/7, for those who were hurt online, who saw something online that they think is hurtful to others, and for parents or youth who want some guidance on how to deal with an online situation. The center can help give guidance and they can also help take hurtful posts or pictures off the internet.
More information about what to do as the victim of or witness to online bullying, shaming, or inappropriate behavior and content, can be found on the center\’s website.