Doctors and parents are concerned about the impact videos with harmful content are having on children.
|A student seeks a doctors’ consultation at the National Children’s Hospital after exposure to harmful content on the internet. Photo baotintuc.vn|
H, a Hanoian, recently noticed a change in the mental health of her 15-year-old daughter. She became quiet and preferred using her phone to communicating with anyone. Her studies were also negatively impacted.
H brought her 15-year-old daughter to the National Children’s Hospital for an examination, where doctors said her child was depressed as a result of playing games and watching YouTube channels with negative content.
H’s daughter is just one of many children who have been affected by online content, with some children risking their lives after watching harmful videos.
Last October, a nine-year-old boy in Phu Tho Province swallowed a nail clipper after watching a video on YouTube. Luckily, he received medical help in good time and escaped any long-term harm.
According to Tran Thanh Nam, a psychological expert from Hanoi National University, children do not know always know right from wrong and can be easily swayed by others.
“Many things are repeated over and over, making them think they are correct and should be imitated. It is easy for them to become addicted and make them move away from real life,” he told Tin Tức (News) newspaper.
Adults can have similar problems distinguishing right from wrong when flooded with information which spreads doubt and a lack of trust, Nam said.
Ngo Anh Vinh, Deputy Head of Adolescent Health Department at the same hospital, said his department has treated a number of children for excessive use of social media, such as watching videos that are not age-appropriate and spending too long online.
“When admitted to the hospital, some children showed signs of agitation, anxiety disorders, depression. Due to late detection and the family being unable to control the child's internet use in the first place, there are many difficulties in the treatment,” he said.
There are a lot of harmful videos online featuring violence or sex that can affect the development of a child and can lead to psychological disorders, he said.
If a child is exposed to such content for a long time, it can affect their social interactions, Vinh added.
It also has an impact on learning because once children are addicted to watching harmful videos, they will feel bored at school, he said.
Mental illnesses such as depression, agitation and behavioural disturbances might occur, he said, adding that the consequences would be very regrettable without timely intervention.
According to experts, the producers of the videos are only focused on increasing views and think little of the consequences of the methods they use to attract viewers.
To be eligible to apply to the YouTube Partner Programme and monetise videos, a channel must have 1,000 subscribers and have earned 4,000 watch hours in the previous 12 months.
YouTuber Thơ Nguyễn recently uploaded a clip on her TikTok page in which she asked a Kuman Thong doll to give luck to students in their studies. She was later fined for posting superstitious content.
Other YouTubers have also been criticised for misguiding children.
Late last year, Hưng Vlog has uploaded on his channel a clip depicting him stealing money from the piggy bank of his brother and sister.
Despite receiving sanctions from local authorities, Hưng Vlog continues to produce videos with questionable content.
The Hưng Vlog channel with 3 million followers can earn at least VND350 million (US$15,150) per month, according to SocialBlade, an American website that tracks social media statistics and analytics.
A report from the Ministry of Information and Communications (MoIC) shows that there are currently 15,000 Vietnamese YouTube channels with advertising revenue and 350 channels with millions of followers.
The country has more than 60 million internet users and is one of the 10 countries with the highest number of Facebook and YouTube users in the world.
Besides the positive aspects of social networks, there are also many risks of exposure to harmful and violent content and children are the most vulnerable.
According to the Department of Child Affairs under the Ministry of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs, the national hotline for child protection at 111 received hundreds of calls from parents expressing concerns about their children’s use of the internet while at home during the social distancing period.
Psychologist Tran Thanh Nam said Vietnam needs a more synchronous strategy to handle toxic content.
In addition to the improvement of the legal framework and imposing strict punishment for those who spread harmful content, it is necessary for authorities and agencies to teach children how to use the internet safely, he said.
|Students are provided with digital security skills at schools in Hanoi. Photo baotintuc.vn|
According to Hoang Minh Tien, Deputy Director of the Authority of Information Security under the MoIC, some cross-border platforms such as YouTube, Facebook and TikTok have implemented solutions to detect and handle harmful information for children and work with Vietnamese authorities when asked to remove negative information.
To tackle content that is inappropriate for children or content depicting abuse of children, the authority is establishing a Child Protection Network in the digital environment with the core the Vietnam Cyber Emergency Response Center - VNCERT, an agency under Tien's leadership.
The network involves relevant agencies including the Ministry of Information and Communications, Ministry of Education and Training (MoET), and the Ministry of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs, Ministry of Public Security and telecommunications and internet service providers (ISPs).
One of the main tasks is to receive and categorise complaints about inappropriate online content for children.
The complaints can be received via the website of the network, by phone or via email, Tien said.
The MoIC will collaborate with the MoET to introduce a set of standards for identifying harmful content in the teaching of informatics to each age group.
Director of the Ministry of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs Department of Child Affairs Dang Hoa Nam said the most effective way to deal with toxic online content is to report it.
Though YouTube was not initially designed for kids, some current content is warping young minds, raising alarm.
YouTube keeps denying that it is abetting the spread of harmful videos in Vietnam, although half of its revenue comes from the advertisements running on these videos.