Alarm over youth cyber crime

More than 10 per cent of university students polled have hacked computers, bought drugs, solicited sex and befriended gangsters online

PUBLISHED : Friday, 12 July, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 12 July, 2013, 4:19am

"Sexting", compensated dating, online drug trafficking and consorting with triads are among the many underrated problems of youth cyber crime, according to a survey released yesterday.

Nearly one-third of secondary school pupils polled have visited pornography sites, three-quarters have illegally downloaded music and software, and more than one-third have faked their identity online.

It was also revealed that 11.6 per cent of teenagers have sent a photo of themselves naked to others, and 13.5 per cent have traded pornographic material.

"However, it's not so much these so-called 'softer' crimes that we are concerned about," said Wilson Chan Man-ho, supervisor of the Federation of Youth Groups.

"It's the 'harder' crimes such as computer hacking, drug purchasing and triad activity that calls for our attention."

More than 10 per cent of university students have confessed to buying drugs online, hacking into computers, soliciting paid sex in the name of "compensated dating", and making friends with triad members.

Another 21.9 per cent of university students have stolen virtual money and other possessions in online games.

Professor Lennon Chang Yao-chung of City University's Applied Social Studies Department said "this reveals the misconception that cyber crime is committed only by marginal youths, that is, those who have previously shown deviant or delinquent behaviour."

The survey of 1,701 youth was conducted between April and June this year. The subjects were secondary students aged 16 and 17 from 13 schools (63.3 per cent), university students (29.1 per cent) and youth at risk (7.6 per cent).

The study, by the Federation of Youth Groups and City University, is the first of its kind in Hong Kong. It is subsidised by the federation and the Li Ka Shing Foundation. Chan fears that the internet may give youths a false sense of immunity, putting them on the slippery slope of crime.

"It is most worrying that these trends, so insidiously sanctioned by the internet's seeming anonymity and intangibility, may lead to more crimes committed by youths both on an online and non-virtual platform, especially with the proliferation of the internet," Chan said.

The study, which did not provide a sampling error rate, revealed that more than 50 per cent of those polled spent more than six hours a day online. More than 40 per cent said they could not quell their urge to surf the web, and getting on the internet was the first thing they did when they came home from school.

The problem was that parents were not knowledgeable about the internet and were not able to manage their children's surfing habits, Chang said.

"Change must start from the family," he said.

Chan hopes to conduct regular risk assessments and surveys in the coming years to gain a better idea of how to combat cyber crime and spread awareness of the legalities of the internet.

He did not believe that there should be bans on illicit websites, but felt more could be done on a legislative level.

Kenneth Wong Yin-fu, a social worker with the youth federation, said the lack of restrictions on personal security on the internet could lead to greater harm for victims of cyber bullying.

Wong is mentoring a student, "Fu Chai", who was such a victim. Someone uploaded a video to YouTube of "Fu Chai" getting into a brawl.

"Fu Chai" said he felt helpless because YouTube would not take the clip down on the basis that his face was too blurry to be identified. "I moved schools a year ago, but my new schoolmates know about it and talk behind my back", he said.