eSafety: Staying safe on social networking sites

Facebook, Club Penguin and Moshi Monsters are amongst the networking sites that are popular with children, even though Facebook has a minimum user age of 13 (this is due to advertising rules in the United States - not for eSafety reasons!). These sites allow children to be creative online, keep in touch with their friends and express themselves using a range of different media and applications such as video, photos, music and chat but it is very important to establish rules and boundaries about using these sites.

Children can put too much personal information in these sites, exposing their information to adults with an inappropriate interest in children. Posting or chatting about personal details might enable someone to identify and contact your child online or in person. There is also the more likely risk of cyberbullying with young people intentionally harming another person online.

Kidsmart has produced 5 P's that should be considered about social networking sites:

1.POSITIVE: Stay positive about social networking sites – try to strike a balance between educating children and young people to behave safely and trusting them to get on with it. Get involved – ask them how to create a profile, get them to show you theirs and ask them to add you to their friends list!

2. PRIVACY: It’s important to discuss the value of privacy with children. Encourage your child to keep their passwords private and work with them to check the privacy settings on their account which limit how much of their information can be seen by others – for example, encourage your child to change their settings to private so that only people they allow can see what they post and comment on their space, rather than public.

3. PHOTOS: It’s natural that children will want to include a photo on their profile, but help them think about the implications of posting photos and what is suitable. It is important to think about the type of picture and the kind of attention it might attract, the information it could divulge and who could see it. Suggest that your child ask permission of other people in the images that they post. Also, be aware that photos can be easily copied, changed, shared, used elsewhere, and can potentially stay online forever.

4. POSTINGS: The ability to comment on other people’s sites is part of what makes these sites so attractive. However, make sure you help your child to think before they post. Set some ground rules about what is and isn’t OK to say. This relates to what the child says about others as much as about themselves. What starts off as a joke or gossip can quickly escalate to cause real pain which cannot be taken back.

5. POLICE: It’s really important that you encourage your child to tell you about inappropriate or illegal activity they may come across. If you suspect your child is being groomed by someone with an inappropriate interest in children, it’s vital that you help them keep a copy of the offending images or messages and report them to the police via the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre website www.ceop.gov.uk/reportabuse. If they are being harassed by another user, report that person’s screen name to the provider which hopefully will act on violations to its terms of service.