Web 'facilitates risk to children'

Published Thursday, 22 November 2012
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More needs to be done to address the issue of online environments which facilitate those who pose a threat to children - cyber bullies and online trolls - an expert has told UTV's The Issue.

Web 'facilitates risk to children'
Yvette Shapiro hosts The Issue. (© UTV)

Technology is continuing to open up the world to those who embrace it, but there are also increasing reports of websites and social networks being manipulated by anonymous users.

"In the last four years, prosecutions for online comments - such as those made through Twitter - have gone up over 150%," Jim Gamble, an online child protection expert, said.

"There were 1,200 prosecutions last year."

If you publish a defamatory comment about somebody online, on Twitter, on Facebook, you are just as liable as if it had been published in a national newspaper.

Paul Tweed, libel lawyer

It was with that in mind that UTV's new current affairs programme looked at the power of the Internet, the ways in which it is being used, and how it is affecting lives.

Studio guests - including experts in online child protection and digital communication, a clinical psychologist and a parent - debated the pros and cons of being plugged in to the online world.

"People jumped very quickly to this idea that everyone is telling everybody what they are doing all the time," Tim McCaine, digital communication expert, said.

"Actually, what they're doing is engaging in proper conversation online. They're looking at news online. You don't have to follow Stephen Fry or Jonathan Ross or any celebrity at all."

Among the topics on the agenda for Thursday night's programme, fronted by Yvette Shapiro, was whether some people are addicted to the Internet.

"We've had these suggestions over video games in the past and ever over television, going right back to the 60s," Roger Bailey, a consultant clinical psychologist, said.

"There is no evidence to suggest that there is a significant number of people who are addicted."

The panel also looked at the issue of ill-advised Twitter messages landing users in court, what can be done to protect children while they surf the net, and what drives people to become cyber bullies.

"It's the anonymity and the feeling that there will be no consequences for their actions which drives those people," Jim Gamble said.

"They are the cowardly people that hide behind anonymity to pick on someone and people who wouldn't actually get involved in off-line bullying, in my experience."

Chatrooms that you see children going on to ... You don't walk into a restaurant and start talking to a bunch of strangers.

Lata Sharma, commentator and mum

Commentator Lata Sharma is an online enthusiast but, as a mother-of-three, she also has her concerns about the doors being opened for children by advances in technology.

"You hear about horrendous things that children end up getting lured into because, in a chatroom, they don't know whether that person is telling them the truth about who they are," she said.

Children seem to be particularly at risk because of peer pressure to have a social networking account - because everyone else does - and the need to compete for 'friends' to prove their popularity.

While many adults will limit their contact to people they know and reputable organisations, children can be prone to introducing fewer boundaries in their online activities.

"In my experience, few children limit their friendships to those people who they actually know," Jim Gamble, who has called for action against websites which don't adequately protect users, added.

"A child with 1,000 friends doesn't know them all. A child with 400 friends doesn't know them all."

We need to hold those people to account who create online environments which create risks for our children.

Jim Gamble, online child protection expert

One young man was prompted by his own experiences to launch an anti-bullying online group, Bullying By Social Network Awareness, to help provide support for those affected by the issue.

"People who are bullied keep it within themselves most of the time, because they're scared to talk out loud in case it comes back on them from the bully," Ryan Gamble said.

If you're subject to online threats and harassment you can contact the PSNI on 0845 600 8000.

The Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre can be contacted on 0870 000 3344, but CEOP advises calling 999 if you think a child is at immediate risk.

If you are experiencing distress or despair for any reason, you can contact Lifeline on 0808 808 8000.

If you missed the first instalment of The Issue, you can catch up on the UTV Player.
© UTV News
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