The Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) has issued advice to its member clubs not to use WhatsApp, in concern about what material is shared, often in error, and how it is controlled. Group chats are often a very useful way of getting out news and arrangements for teams and clubs to the players, their parents and club members. However the ease of access to the chats, the ease of adding material and the potential for errors, makes this a potential banana skin for those who operate the chat.
Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner for England, has challenged Government Ministers to adopt her “powerful yet simple” proposals and create a statutory duty of care to all children who use online services.
Children who use these platforms are frequently exposed to harmful material and are at risk of online grooming.
A recent NSPCC survey titled ‘Young People’s Experiences of Social Networking Sites’ has estimated that as many as 200,000 young people have been groomed on social media platforms such as Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter and Twitch.
The study which used data from 11-17 year olds identified that 1 in 25 of those asked had been sent, received or been asked to send sexual content to an adult.
In the context of repeated warnings regarding the negative impact of social media on young people the Children’s Commissioner has taken a number of actions to enable children, parents and teachers to have the required information to help children develop the skills and resilience to positively handle themselves online.
The Children Commissioner’s ‘Growing up Digital’ study called for the creation of a compulsory digital citizenship programme for school children aged 4 to 14, introducing simplified Terms and Conditions for digital services offered to children; and a new Children’s Digital Ombudsman to mediate between under 18s and social media companies.
Social media use as we have already reported this week is prevalent among children, with an estimated 20% of children aged 8 to 11 years old said to have a social media profile in the UK, notwithstanding that the social media providers require all users to be over age 13 before having their own profile. The figure rises to 70% among children aged 12 to 15 years old1. The potential for online grooming is huge and is already being exploited as we have noted when commenting on the rise of sexting.
Across the UK in the last three years, 22 police forces have cumulatively reported an increase of 44% or 7,000 sexual offences involving children and young people where social media applications have been the means to facilitate the contact. Some of the reports have involved children as young as three years old. A separate, but related, concern is the access to inappropriate material children and young people can obtain through the use of social media and the internet.
With the emergence of new technology, it is sadly not surprising that it is used by some for purposes other than intended, including to gain access to groom and manipulate children. Increasingly, children have access to the internet via their phones and tablets. Historically paedophiles have entered organisations (such as schools, sports, youth and faith groups) to enable them to come into contact with children, whereas now they can gain access to children online through the use of various websites and apps.