This week on Twitter, we went a bit viral. From gamers to infosec (data security) professionals to teachers, this tweet got the wires buzzing:

Within 24 hours, it hit nearly 150 retweets and it’s kept pretty steadily rising since then with many people tweeting us asking for additional info or to express their disbelief. Because, let’s be very clear:

COMPUTER LITERACY AMONG YOUNG PEOPLE IS NOT A CRIME.

The NCA really should be ashamed of this kind of scaremongering, particularly when we look into the details, which are a little bit rage-inducing:

  • Do they get an income from their online activities, do you know why and how?

Many kids want to try their hands at entrepreneurship, particularly in the burgeoning field of YouTube monetisation. This brave new world does require a degree of parental oversight to ensure they are safe, and ready for disappointment if things don’t pan out as planned. Running a YouTube channel is a viable career option, requiring tremendous hard work and dedication, but allows young people to equip themselves with desirable technical, team and personal skills: video-editing, teamwork, deadlines, creative writing, public speaking and more.

  • Is your child spending all of their time online?

With more and more activities moving online, this is far from a warning flag. Submitting homework, researching school projects, chatting with friends, writing diary entries and looking things up in an encyclopaedia are all activities which now are undertaken primarily online. The days of buying a CD in a shop and listening to it on a jukebox whilst reading a paper magazine are long gone.

  • Do they have irregular sleeping patterns?

The world is a 24/7 place, and children with international-facing interests may occasionally want to stay up late to catch up with foreign friends, stream live news events occurring in other countries, or get first dibs on an American/European sale. Teachers repeatedly ask us to speak up on their behalf with parents where children are coming to school too tired to learn, especially if they’ve been up all night playing games, but this is not a sign of the blossoming of a baby crook, but more a case of lack of self-discipline, which, we all hope, will come with time and parental guidance.

  • Have they become more socially isolated?

Social isolation is usually an indicator of bullying or difficulty fitting in with a peer group. Talk to your child – are they feeling left out or resentful of the group they previously counted as their friends? Or, in-keeping with the NCA’s rather startling cyber-ignorance, have they discounted the possibility that the child may be chatting with friends online, via forums, chat-channels or online telephony servies?

  • Are they resistant when asked what they do online?

Apparently, the NCA has never heard of teenagers…

NCA Cybercrime campaign NCA Cybercrime campaign
NCA Cybercrime campaign

And this is the adapted list. The original list which we posted on Twitter had seven points, this one has only five. Mysterious, eh? Let’s take a quick look over the two points the NCA perhaps decided were perhaps a tad ill-conceived:

Do they use the full allowance on the home broadband?

If, as a parent, you have more than a passing interest in music, film, visual arts, video-editing, gaming or indeed anything that involves downloading or uploading large files, then you will know what a daft point this is.  Children are visual creatures and, at all ages, will be drawn to video or picture content over written text, eating up data. A couple of favourite vloggers and a music video can be all it takes to gobble up your data. If you own a smartphone, you might have a familiarity with this annoying problem (and the charges it brings!)

Are they interested in coding? Do they have independent learning material on coding?

This is the one that particularly got the goat of many of our respondents. The UK has a desperate shortage of skilled programmers, to the point where programming was added to the National Curriculum in order to address the gap, yet even a mere “interest” – let alone sufficient enthusiasm and dedication and study with self-sourced, self-financed “independent learning material” – was considered an indicator of criminality? There is something highly concerning about a government agency that wishes to condemn learning in our eyes.

This NCA campaign is apparently designed to educate parents and carers about the dangers of cybercrime so they can better spot if their children are engaged in illegal online activities. GameHub is designed to help inform and empower parents on topics related to video-games, but we rather wonder whether we should extend our remit to educating the NCA about computers as well. This ill-advised campaign will achieve nothing except confusing and frightening parents by labelling entirely normal or even commendable attitudes and behaviours as suspect.

More often than not cyber-crime is the extreme conclusion of cyber-bullying. Tackling cyber-bullying in schools and youth groups would be a far better approach for framing the topic. DDoS attacks, Spycamming and Trojans are all serious criminal acts; teaching yourself to program in Scratch is not. The campaign is hysterical and ignorant from roots to tip and constitutes exactly the kind of unhelpful misinformation that parents would be better off trying to avoid.

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