Social Networking Safety
Social networking through online media has become very popular with young people, comprising 64% of the total time they spend online. Many young people engage in online social networks as a 'social lifeline' to provide them with a sense of connectedness. With more and more people embracing modern technology and joining social networking sites, it is important to keep children and young people safe as they navigate their way through these online communities.
This hot topic is written to help parents and carers promote online safety to their children by learning about the safe use of modern technology and acquiring a better understanding of online social networking.
What is social networking?
Social networking is not a new concept - for a long time it has been practiced through traditional means such as chatting to a group of friends, attending family reunions or joining sports clubs. However, with the arrival of online technology, the way people conduct their social networking activities has dramatically changed.
Today, social networking is often conducted over the Internet through a range of social media such as Facebook, Twitter and MySpace. Such sites can be accessed using personal computers or mobile phones. In addition, people can also engage in social networking through:
- Wikis sites - allowing users to create, edit and share information about a subject or topic (e.g. Wikipedia)
- Video sharing sites - allowing users to upload and share personal videos with the rest of the web community (e.g. YouTube, Vimeo, etc.)
- Photo sharing sites - allowing users to upload pictures and images to a personal account which can then be shared with web users around the world (e.g. Flickr, Instagram, etc.)
- Online game sites - allowing gamers to play individually, or against someone or a group of online users (e.g. World of Warcraft, Skyrim, etc.)
How many people are using social networking sites?
As at February 2011, there were more than 200 million unique monthly visitors to Facebook, Twitter and MySpace. Of note, Facebook jumped from 400 million active users in 2010 to more than 800 million in 2011 - 350 million of which currently access the social networking site through mobile devices i.e. smart phones, iPods, Nintendo DS, etc.
Why do young people engage in social networking online?
For most young people, social networking offers the opportunity to:
- make friends and share views and experiences with like-minded people in their local community and/or around the globe
- communicate with family members and friends
- express themselves using a whole range of different media, such as videos, photos, music, blogs, etc.
- enhance their opportunities for learning and entertainment
However, while the use of modern technology and social networking can be fun, there are also risks involved.
It is important to note that under the Statement of Rights and Responsibilities, you must be at least 13 years old to have a Facebook account. More information can be found at http://www.facebook.com/legal/terms
What are the risks?
Risks associated with the use of modern technology and social networking sites include:
- 'Luring' and 'grooming' - child 'luring' is evident in many cases where a young person is being encouraged by their online 'friend' to meet face to face. When the aim of an adult is to develop a relationship with a child as a prelude to sexual abuse it becomes child 'grooming'. Both online behaviours are criminal in nature, and if your child meets someone online whom you believe is engaging in these online behaviours, you need to contact the police immediately
- 'Cyberbullying' - social networking sites are often used to perpetrate bullying behaviours. It becomes an extension of traditional (face-to-face) bullying and can result in the child experiencing diminished self-confidence, low self-esteem, interpersonal conflicts, below-average school performance, extreme sadness and anger, self-harming behaviour, suicidal thoughts, and in some notable cases, death by suicide. For more information, view our hot topic on Cyberbullying
- 'Sexting' and access to pornographic materials - 'sexting' is the practice of creating, sharing and sending or posting sexually-suggestive messages, photos or videos usually via mobile phones and onto social networking sites. Many young people are unaware that 'sexting' can be a criminal offence when the subject of a 'sext' is a minor, even if the person committing the offence is also a minor. A young person found to have a naked or semi-naked photo of someone under 18 on their phone or computer, even if they delete it, can be charged with child pornography. They can also be charged even if it is a photo of them and they agreed to the photo being sent. For more information, view our hot topic on Sexting
- Loss of privacy - posting of identifying information on social networking sites i.e. home address, telephone number, birthday or your full name can lead to harassment and possibly identity theft. Children need to be warned not to give out personal information to someone they meet online or to store this information on their social networking site
- Viruses and spywares - viruses or spywares could be spread to your child's computer when using social networking sites, particularly when they access file-sharing links posted by their online 'friends'. These viruses may cause damage to their computer and destroy their files. Spywares on the other hand may track their online activities, collect personal details and send the information to third parties without their knowledge
- Access to offensive content - many websites allow children to access inappropriate materials. A young person searching for legitimate information online may unintentionally access offensive material. Or, children and young people may access a link on a social networking site which then opens to a site full of inappropriate content. These typically include photos and videos which are sexual in nature, contain violence, promote self-harm, suicide ideation, use of weapons and substance abuse
- Copyright law - a lot of materials posted on the Internet are copyrighted, which means that it might be illegal to reprint or share online material without permission. Children need to understand that they do not have the right to re-post or distribute copyrighted graphics, music, videos, and text from websites without permission. A person downloading or sharing copyrighted materials including music, movies and software without the owner's permission could be at risk of legal trouble
- Plagiarism - there are times when it is okay to use copyrighted material for a research paper as long as the student cites the source of the information, but they need to always check this with the teacher first. When they claim that they wrote or made something created by another person, it is called plagiarism. With readily available plagiarism checker softwares online, teachers can easily detect a plagiarised project. Committing plagiarism at school can be grounds for disciplinary action
- Validity of information - there is an over-abundance of information online and not all of it is factual or unbiased. Some websites may unintentionally be providing incorrect information because the author is not qualified in a particular field (e.g. medicine). Other websites may be deliberately biased or misleading and/or trying to encourage readers to buy a product from them. When seeking information about a particular issue or concern, it's important to assess the reliability of the information provided to determine whether or not it can be trusted
How can parents and carers help?
- Getting involved - be aware of what your child is doing online. Try to become familiar with social networking sites and if possible explore them together
- Keeping the communications line open - this will help your child feel comfortable talking to you if something goes wrong online
- Agreeing on responsible use - agree on what is acceptable behaviour and language online, which sites to visit and the amount of time they can spend online. Also, help them understand that mobile phones are like a wallet and every SMS, voice call or app they download costs money
- Reminding your child to always respect other online users - teach your child to consider the feelings of others when sending any content by mobile phone or online. Showing respect to others, whether online or in the real world is the key to maintaining a safe and harmonious community
- Agreeing on rules - make sure your children know the rules about giving out personal information and meeting with new online friends. It can be helpful for parents to stop young children accessing websites with unrestricted chat facilities and limited moderation by site moderators, to ensure that they do not receive inappropriate messages or contents
- Telling your child to exercise caution at all times - children need to be discerning about who they accept as friends on social networking sites. They also need to know that not all materials they find online are reliable
- Creating strong passwords - it is important to create passwords that are hard for people to guess but easy for you and your child to remember. One technique is to think of a sentence that your child will remember easily and then use the first letter of each word in the sentence to create their password (e.g. I started Kindy in 1995 = IsKi1995)
- Using safety tools - learn about the privacy settings of each site or service your child accesses. Software is available that restricts sensitive personal information from being transmitted online, as well as monitoring softwares that disclose which sites your child has been to and if they have entered personal information. There are also time-limiting softwares to make sure that your child can go online only when you are around, and filtering softwares that block access to sites that you feel are inappropriate
- Assessing the credibility of online information - teach young people how to determine whether online information comes from a credible source. You can do this by seeing whether information corresponds with other similar websites and whether the 'sponsor' of a website is a reputable government, professional or industry organisation. A good place to find reliable websites is 'recommended links' on reputable organisations' websites. Reputable information-based websites (e.g. health websites) will usually not be encouraging you to purchase goods or services from them
- Reassuring your child - that access to the Internet and mobile phones will not be cut off if they report inappropriate behaviour or content. However, they need to know how to deal with online risks including:
- not responding to the sender of any abusive or malicious
- hanging up or logging out immediately if they feel uncomfortable
- seeking help from parents or a trusted adult
- Encouraging your child to engage in outside activities - value face-to-face time with friends
- Never ignoring or minimising cyberbullying - if your child shows signs of being cyberbullied, you can help by listening to their concerns and working with them to take control of the situation. For more information, view our hot topic on Cyberbullying
- Becoming aware of the true nature of 'sexting' - there is no such thing as 'safe sexting'. In Australia, laws against child pornography apply to minors as much as to adults. Ignorance among young people when it comes to this behaviour can affect their future
Who can I contact for more information?
You may wish to contact your local parenting help service/s for further information.
Other useful links
- Raising Children Network - an Australian parenting website
- Kids Helpline Grownups
- Happy Child
- Cyber Smart
- Connect Safely
- Talk To Your Kids
- The Easy Guide to Socialising Online
- ACMA. (2008). Internet use and social networking by young people, No.1. Media and Communications in Australian Families Series. Retrieved from: http://www.acma.gov.au/ on 30 November 2011.
- Mashable Business. (2010). Social Networking Usage Surges Globally [STATS]. Retrieved from: http://mashable.com/ on 30 November 2010.
- Facebook. ( n.a.). 'Statistics'. Retrieved from: http://www.facebook.com/press/info.php?statistics on 1 December 2010.
- Wyn, J. (2005). 'Young People, Wellbeing and Communication Technologies'. Prepared for Victorian Health Promotion Foundation, 2005. Youth Research Centre, University of Melbourne.
- GetNetWise. (2008). Retrieved from:http://kids.getnetwise.org/safetyguide/ on 4 November 2011.
- Loughlin, J. & Taylor-Butts, A. (2009). 'Child Luring Through the Internet.' Component of Statistics Canada catalogue no. 85-002-X Juristat. Vol. 29, no. 1.
- Cybernetrix. (2008). Case study: Jeremy's friend - Grooming and luring. Retrieved from: http://www.cybersmart.gov.au/cybernetrix/shared/pdf/case_jeremys_friend.pdf on 29 November 2011.
- Price, M. and Dalgleish, J. (2010). 'Cyberbullying: Experiences, impacts and coping strategies as described by Australian young people', Youth Studies Australia, vol. 29, no. 2, pp. 51-59.
- ACMA Cybersmart. (2009). 'Sexting': The Cybersmart parents: connecting parents to cybersafety resources. Retrieved from: http://www.cybersmart.gov.au/ on 18 November 2011.
- Online Safety Guide. (n.a.). Retrieved from: http://kids.getnetwise.org/safetyguide/ on 25 November 2011.
- ThinkUnow Parents. (n.a.). Retrieved from: https://www.thinkuknow.co.uk/parents/ on 25 November 2011.
- ACMA Cybersmart - Parents. (2009). Retrieved from: http://www.cybersmart.gov.au/Parents.aspx on 25 November 2011.
- BoysTown Submission. (2010). Inquiry into Cyber-Safety. Parliament of Australia. Retrieved from: http://www.boystown.com.au/ on 23 November 2011.
- Lenhart, A. (2009) 'Teens and Sexting: How and why minor teens are sending sexually suggestive nude or nearly nude images via text messaging'. Pew Internet and American Life Project.
- Feyerick, D. & Steffen, S. (2009). "'Sexting' lands teen on sex offender list." Retrieved from: http://www.cnn.com/2009/CRIME/04/07/sexting.busts/ on April 2009.
Published: 11 March 2012