By LIM MAY LEE
THINGS got a little emotional for Lisa Surihani during a recent shoot with R.AGE. It was for a PSA in support of our Predator In My Phone project.
The actress was reading a transcript of an actual conversation between an online child sex predator and a R.AGE journalist posing on WeChat as a 13-year-old.
Seated on her couch, surrounded by baby products, the mother-of-one was barely able to contain her anger and disgust.
“‘I’ll massage your breasts to prevent sagging. What do you think?’” she read out loud for our cameras.
“What do I think? I want to beat the s*** out of you, that’s what I think!
“This conversation is with someone the man thinks is 13,” she added angrily. “Imagine if she really was 13, and not experienced enough to know a conversation like this isn’t okay?”
As an actress with a huge following on social media, Lisa is no stranger to online harassment. But it was only after she watched Predator In My Phone that she started to realise just how dangerous the Internet has become for young children.
As part of the shoot, Lisa also posed briefly as a 15-year-old on a chat app. The questions she received seemed innocuous, but were disturbing nontheless – What are you doing? Where do you live? How old are you? Want to meet up?
After all, this was a man she had never met before, and as far as he was concerned, he was talking to a teenager.
Lisa’s support for the campaign was no doubt inspired partly by her daughter, Yahaira Leanne, now nine months old.
“I have a daughter now, and she will be using a smartphone eventually, so it’s important for me to know how to educate our kids to be safe online,” she said. “I want her to really know what she’s doing before she goes on social media.”
After the shoot, R.AGE asked her a few questions about her own experiences in the digital world.
Why did you decide to support the Predator in My Phone campaign?
I’ve always wanted to champion a cause related to the dangers of social media. I’ve talked about it among friends, but I’ve never really said anything about it publicly because I still know very little. But as a mother, I really want to learn how to keep kids safe from the predators out there.
So, when Abby Latif (programme director of WOMEN:girls) contacted me to ask if I was interested in working with R.AGE, I said yes.
Have you experienced online harassment before?
I only started my social media accounts in 2009, but since then, I’ve received comments that were body-shaming, outright bullying, and even a few that were indecent. I would always delete those comments and block the person, but we have to recognise there’s a bigger problem out there.
And what do you think that problem is?
People think that the Internet is an anonymous place, so they can say anything they want.
And other people are saying “well, this thing has been happening for decades, it’s only now that we’re finding out about it on social media”. But that doesn’t make it okay! We need to figure out how we can make the Internet a safer place.
What are your thoughts on how we can do that?
I’m still learning about digital safety. I don’t have a solution to this, but maybe girls respond to men online because they think it’s just on social media.
Maybe we should talk to them, help them spot the danger signs. Once the conversation crosses the line (into explicit content), it becomes blatant. Nobody says these things to a child.
But before it crosses that line, it’s tricky. It seems platonic and innocent. So how do you recognise those signs? We all need to learn.
What would your advice be to your daughter?
I wish I could say “Please just don’t talk to strangers. He may be a good guy, but for your own safety, don’t talk to them.”
I can’t say I have any ideas on how to keep her safe online, but I still have to try. It will be an ongoing process. I want to learn more about digital safety.
I think none of us realised then how social media would impact our lives. When it first came about, everyone was just going, “hey, how cool is this?”
But now we’re only just starting to realise how little control we have on social media, from what people can post to us, to the rights over our own photos. That’s why I want to thank you for inviting me to come on board your project. Maybe now everybody will want to learn as well.