Almost one in four eight to 11-year olds – and three in four 12 to 15-year olds – have a social media profile, according to the NSPCC. Consequently, one in four children have experienced something upsetting on a social networking site.
Internet consumption is at its highest, and there are many vulnerable children now profiling themselves on social media for anyone to see.
As a result, we must ask the question: Are social media sites doing enough to combat both the restriction of sensitive information and the threat from malicious accounts?
Understanding how social media is used to target vulnerable children
In April, The New York Post published an article titled ‘Sex traffickers are using social media to target children’. According to the article, predators are logging into social media and friending vulnerable children. As Peter Wanless, the NSPCC’s Chief Executive, explains:
‘We've seen time and time again social media sites allowing violent, abusive or illegal content to appear unchecked on their sites, and in the very worst cases children have died after being targeted by predators or seeing self-harm films posted online.’
As serious as predatory behaviour is, a more common scenario is online bullying. In fact, the NSPCC report that one in eight children have been bullied on social media, the effects of which can last an entire lifetime.
How organisations are combatting online targeting
It is of vital importance for parents and organisations to keep children as safe as possible on social media.
First and foremost, most social networking sites have a lower limit age of 13-years-old in order to sign up for an account. But of course, it is easy to lie about your age online. ‘We need legally enforceable universal safety standards,’ says Peter Wanless. ‘Enough is enough.’
Social media sites also have parental controls available so parents can filter and block access to harmful information on the internet. This is an effective tool that gives parents the control to restrict access to dangerous content online.
Many child safety organisations are beginning to lobby the Government to introduce online protection laws too. These laws will mean social media sites must give under-18s ‘Safe Accounts’, which have extra protection built in. These include:
- High privacy settings as default. Location settings locked off, accounts not public or searchable using phone number or email. There should be privacy prompts when sharing personal information.
- Control over who you connect with. Followers must be approved by the young person. Video chat and live streaming should be restricted to the young person's contacts.
- Clear and child-friendly rules and reporting buttons. They should be easy to find and easy to read.
As well as safe accounts, organisations like the NSPCC are calling for things like groomer alerts and the hiring of child protection experts within social media companies. As a punishment for failing to meet these standards, social media sites ‘should be sanctioned and fined,’ explains Peter Wanless.
Understanding how to keep children safe online
There are many things that can be done at an individual level to keep vulnerable children safe on social media. For many organisations directly involved in the safeguarding of vulnerable children, online courses are often the best step to understanding how to take action against online dangers.
By understanding how to spot things like online bullying, abuse, and potential predators, adults (including parents) can mitigate the damage caused to a vulnerable child and implement proactive measures to ensure the safe use of social media in the future.
To find out more about how you can better understand how to safeguard vulnerable children, speak with an expert today.