Recently, the Guardian revealed that Facebook had to assess approximately 54,000 potential cases in a single month, consisting of revenge pornography and “sextortion”. Sextortion happens when an individual coerces a victim into sending his or her naked or sexual image, or engaging in sexual acts via webcam and then blackmails the victim with the threat of distributing the sexual image or video if he or she does not comply with the demands for money or providing more sexual images or videos. Facebook has had to disable over 14,000 accounts relating to these types of sexual abuse.
Just last month, in the Independent, the NSPCC revealed shocking new figures illustrating a rise in cyber related sex crimes against children. Statistics revealed that there were 5,653 child sex crimes recorded in 2016/17 involving the internet, which amounts to an average of 15 sex crimes each day in the UK. NSPCC said the number has risen by 44% compared to 2015/16. The figures which were obtained by NSPCC through a Freedom of Information Request revealed that for offences where age was recorded, 13 was the most common age of the victim but there were nearly 100 offences committed against children aged ten and under, with the youngest victim aged just three years old.
Now the NSPCC wants to see the Government ensure that online safety precautions for children are a top priority and rightly so! The Charity is demanding that:
- An independent regulator to hold social media companies to account and fine them where they fail to protect children
- The Government draw up minimum standards that internet companies must meet to safeguard children
- Children to be automatically offered safer social media accounts, with default privacy settings, to protect them from harmful content and offenders who seek to prey on them
- Police forces ensure all officers understand how people use the web to prey on children, how to investigate such crimes, and effectively safeguard victims
Social media groups are facing huge pressure to do more to keep abusive and illegal content off their sites or else face substantial fines.
A generation ago, we were told not to talk to strangers in the street. However in a world where children spend more and more time online, the digital age has created more vulnerability for them. Given that their sense of curiosity is far more developed and their sense of caution is far less mature, the statistics above demonstrate that the internet is being used as a gateway or access to abuse our children.
What can you do to keep your children safe online?
There are so many ways that we can protect our children online and there is a wealth of information available on the internet for parents. Here are just a few tips for you:
- Start discussing online safety at an early age – With more and more children having access to the internet via smart phones, tablets and desktop PCs, one of the key things is to discuss online safety when they start doing anything on the internet. Remind them of safe online behaviour regularly such as not accepting friendship requests from people they don’t know or verify requests even if they look to be from someone they do know and never post their mobile number or home address online for all to see.
- Explore sites and apps together – show them how to use privacy settings and block functions on sites they use. Also talk to your children about what’s appropriate for their age. Social networking sites aimed at adults such as Facebook and Twitter are not appropriate for children.
- Be open, approachable and understanding – this makes it easier for your children to come to you with any problems they may encounter online
- Initiate conversations about sexting and relationships with your children – you can download our sexting safeguarding checklist
- Get tech savvy – add parental controls to block access to specific websites and programmes. Also mobile phones, computers, tablets and games consoles all come equipped with their own parental controls so only you can authorise the apps they download and the websites they view.
- Are you a “sharent”? – Consider carefully the impact of anything you share on your own social media networks about your child, and think about whether your post could identify them to strangers, compromise their safety, humiliate them, or cause them distress now or later in life. Just remember that by the time your children are old enough to use social media themselves, many already have a digital identity created for them by their parents!