| Cyberbullying

Is AI enabling a new wave of cyberbullying?

Alžbeta Kovaľová | 07 May 2024

The digitally native generation uses digital means to have fun, but also to hurt each other.

In today's digital age, children are not only growing up amidst technology but also within the ever-expanding realm of artificial intelligence (AI). While AI offers convenience and efficiency, its pervasive presence in children's lives has also introduced a new set of concerns, notably the emergence of digital extortion schemes targeting our society's youngest members. From social media platforms to online gaming communities, AI tools have become a huge part of kids' lives, setting the stage for new ways of misusing them and giving children a new tool that they can use against each other.

According to a recent FBI warning, there is a growing trend of AI-powered sextortion. The new tools and technologies, such as deepfakes and voice cloning, give a new opportunity to criminals and bullies to find ways to extort and hurt others.

Sextortion is when someone pressures others into doing sexual things or sharing explicit pictures or videos by threatening to expose embarrassing information about them.

Cybercriminals have realised that you can use deepfake models to create new videos, make them look like someone, and then pressure them into doing something they otherwise wouldn’t have done. These models can be trained on very little material, making their misuse very easy. These new videos and photos are not the person they claim to be; however, they are enough to embarrass the victim and thus make them more vulnerable. This creates leeway for the criminal to use the faked video to demand money or information.

Children creating deepfake porn?

Yes, you read that correctly. Your precious child’s face can be stolen and misused by criminals to create all sorts of explicit content. And not just that kids are doing this to each other.

It’s fairly easy to figure out how to create deepfakes, and for tech-savvy kids, it’s nothing difficult. And so, a new wave of cyberbullying is born. They (mostly the older ones) have figured out that explicit content can be used against their peers. They have also grasped the ins and outs of new technology and are now using it to hurt each other.

Emotional impact

Some kids may be doing it for fun, some out of curiosity, and some may be trying to hurt their classmates. But one thing is for sure, falling victim to a sextortion scam is emotionally draining and very hard to “get over.”

This new form of cyberbullying brings about a whole new level of concern for parents, educators, and IT professionals. The outcomes for a child are far more serious than they might realize. From trauma that can last years, to loss of trust, to future employers and love interests finding out about it, the list of long-term consequences goes on.

Are stricter limits the answer?

Some say that the only thing that can help a spreading problem like the one at hand is stricter rules and regulations. Some call for a higher age requirement for kids who are able to open social media accounts, and some call for stricter rules when it comes to content moderation.

What can parents do?

1.       Understand the world your kids are living in – you did not have social media when you were their age, but your kids are growing up in a completely new age. Understanding the world that surrounds them is key to any progress.

2.       Explain, explain, explain – strict rules on technology use have long been proven not to work. Kids always find a way. So a better way is to talk to them and explain the risks and downsides of social media, or improper netiquette, and of hurting others online.

3.       Be their safe place – both the perpetrator and the victim need someone to talk to. Being a safe, non-judgemental person for your kids can prevent so much of the damage that can happen to your kids online and offline.

4.       Show them their worth – healthy self-esteem starts at home. If they have this, they won’t need to look for validation elsewhere.

5.       Your kids are never too young to start learning about technology – the more you tell them, the better prepared they will be when or if something bad happens. You need to role model proper internet use and be their guide.

The rise of cyberbullying, facilitated by AI tools, presents a problem in this day and age. As technology progresses, parents and educators need to stay alert and informed. Tackling a problem like sextortion and cyberbullying has never been easy, but to succeed we need to talk to our kids and make sure they understand the good and the bad about the internet. It is one thing to craft ethical AI and enforce its proper use, but it’s another big task to create a culture of empathy, respect, and responsible online and offline behavior. Be an example of that to your kids and create a safer space for them online.



About the author

Alžbeta Kovaľová /
Security writer

Alžbeta has worked at ESET for two years...

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