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Social networking and safety

Posted by cotojo on July 29, 2007


Social networking sites are taking the internet by storm, largely because of their popularity with kids and teens.  However, they are also attracting “groomers” who pretend to be kids in order to stalk young people and abuse them.

What exactly are social networking sites?

It’s a rather long name but it means sites which allow people to put up information about themselves such as interests, favourite music, photo galleries and diaries.  People make friends by adding new contacts to their list of friends, giving them access to personal information and then chatting via instant message or email.  Some sites even allow users to chat via webcam.

Popular social networking sites include MySpace, Bebo, Faceparty, Friendster, Orkut and MSN Spaces.

What are the dangers?

Making a fool of yourself.
If people put up pictures of themselves, or write personal diaries then they need to remember that, apart from their friends, there are other people who may use this information in a nasty way.

Child abusers making friends with kids.
If youngsters put lots of information about themselves on the Internet this gives “groomers” lots of ways of making friends with them (pretending to be kids themselves) and contacting them.  If they put their school name and where they hang out then it’s easier to do this.

Bullying.
If a bully gets hold of a kid’s private pictures or diary then they can use this to be cruel and send round to others with unpleasant messages and so on.

Keeping you and your kids safe:

Don’t let young kids use social networking sites.
Many sites say you should be over 14 or even 16.  Most parental control programs block these sites.

Don’t add unknown people to your friends list.
Only add people who are your “real” friends (not people you meet on the Internet) to your friends list or provide access to your area.

Don’t meet up with people you meet on the Internet.
If kids must do it, make sure an adult comes along, at least for the first time.

Remember that people aren’t always who they say they are.
The worst is that they may be child abusers “grooming” and so pretending to be kids in order to meet up, or they may be people who are bullies wanting to be unkind or even criminals who want to defraud you.  If people are unpleasant you should be able to block them from contacting you.

Don’t put your personal information on your site.
Don’t put your address, mobile number, school name and things like where you hang out – people may use this against you.

Tell people what you are doing.
Kids should tell their parents about what is going on and who they are chatting with. Likewise, parents should be open so that kids feel comfortable talking about what goes on, so they have someone to turn to who won’t over-react.

Report abuse.
Find out how you can report bad behaviour on the site you are using or if it’s more serious to the authorities.  Kids should talk to an adult they trust about bullying.

Top tips for kids

1.Tell your parents what you are doing.
If they understand it, they’ll be happier with you using the internet.  Don’t give anyone your password, except maybe your parents.
2. Be careful with your mobile
Don’t send pictures that might embarrass you, even to your best friend.  Someone can get hold of your camera and be nasty to you.
3. Don’t give anyone your school name
Don’t give your school name, address or phone number to people you communicate with on the internet.
4. Don’t meet up with internet friends
If you must, then take an adult with you.  People are not always who they pretend to be.
5. Tell someone
Tell someone if people are saying things you don’t like or bullying you.  If you don’t get help, ask advice from another adult.
6. Report it
Report bad behaviour to the website you are using.
7. Don’t let bullies win
Print off and save any messages and show someone like a parent or teacher and ask them to help.  If the first person doesn’t help, then ask someone else.
8. Don’t respond to nasty emails
Don’t respond to nasty emails or messages.  Block or ignore the sender.
9. Could it embarrass you?
Don’t put photos or things that might embarrass you on the internet.
10. Be nice even if they’re angry
Be as nice online as you are offline.  If someone makes you angry don’t be angry back.  Tell someone else or report it, but don’t get into a fight online.

Top tips for parents

1. Get involved
Open the lines of communication between you and your kids about what they are doing.
2. Don’t go overboard
Know the risks but don’t ban the internet outright, it’s a great tool.  If you are over-anxious your kids won’t tell you what they are doing.
3. Agree on the ground rules
These will depend on the age of your children and the type of websites you are happy for them to view.
4. Put the computer in a main room
With your PC in a main room such as the living room, you will be able to keep an eye on what’s going on.
5. The internet is part of school life
Schoolwork these days often includes internet research and used safely the web represents an important learning resource.
6. Parental control software
Install software which is designed to block websites that are not suitable for kids.
7. Chat and instant messaging
If you are in the dark as to what these things are, then ask your kids to teach you.
8. Be careful about plagiarism and homework
The internet makes it very easy for kids to search the net and copy other people’s work. They need educating about the difference between research and plain copying.
9. Bullying on the internet
Be aware that this is a growing problem for kids particularly when using email, chat rooms or messageboards.  Make sure you are there to listen if they need to talk.
10. Report abuse when you see it
Forums aimed at children are generally well-moderated and should respond to complaints.

Child abuse
The Child Safety and Online Protection Centre handle all child related reports.  If you are in the UK then this is the best place to make reports.  If it’s international (for example on a US website) then you should go to the Virtual Global Taskforce (VGT). The VGT is a partnership of international law enforcement agencies, working together to make the Internet a safer place.  The VGT aims to identify, locate and help children at risk, to hold perpetrators appropriately to account, and help prevent child abuse around the world.

Internet Watch Foundation
The Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) works with Internet Service Providers, Police and Government to try to reduce the availability of illegal Internet content, particularly child abuse images.  If you wish report the content of a particular site to the IWF, you can do so on their website at iwf.org.uk

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6 Responses to “Social networking and safety”

  1. cotojo said

    icarol1461 – Thank you for your comment. Yes the internet can be a safe haven for predators etc. and hopefully this will make people more aware of the risks involved.

  2. icarol1461 said

    Very important information that every parent should know and share with their children. The internet can indeed be a safe haven for predators.

  3. cotojo said

    Lisa – Thank you, I’ve tried to cover most of it and it’s not just aimed at kids but parents too, and hopefully it will be of benefit to some :o)

  4. Sophiagurl said

    this is good Colin, thank you for the very useful information. =)

  5. […] articles: 1. Social Networking and Safety 2. Dumb Things You Can Do To Ruin Your PC 3. CCleaner – Erase your browsing history safely … […]

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