Social Media: How Safe are Children from Abuse?

Author:
Nathalie Swanwick
Abuse Claims Solicitor
Date:
11/05/2021

3.96 billion of us worldwide use social media – a figure that’s almost doubled since 2015. For many, social media can be both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, it’s a great way of keeping in touch with others, but there can also be a dark side to social media, including cyberbullying, online abuse, and social anxiety and depression.

With children spending more time online than ever during Coronavirus, many parents may be concerned about their children’s safety.

And what’s more concerning is Facebook’s upcoming plan to end-to-end encrypt private messaging across its apps. The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty for Children (NSPCC) has warned that this move could cause 70% of global child abuse reports to be lost.

Chief Executive at the NSPCC, Sir Peter Wanless described private messaging as “the frontline of child sexual abuse but the current debate around end-to-end encryption risks leaving children unprotected where there is most harm.”

What is end-to-end encryption?

End-to-end encryption is when a message is encrypted on one device, and only the device receiving that message can decrypt it. This means the content in the message will be hidden from any other users, and the messages cannot be intercepted or changed.

While there are benefits to encryption, such as helping organisations protect personal data against hacking, end-to-end encryption could make it harder to regulate children’s messages on social media, and pick up on indecent images and abuse.

According to a NSPCC poll, public support for end-to-end encryption would almost double if social media platforms could demonstrate that children’s safety would not be compromised. Many social platforms already use technology to identify child abuse images, grooming and sexual abuse in private messages, but there are concerns that end-to-end encryption could hinder this.

Online Safety Bill

The government are introducing a new Online Safety Bill, which will see social media companies fined up to 10% of their annual turnover or £18 million if they fail to tackle online abuse such as racist hate crime, harassment and threats. 

We hope this new legislation encourages social media companies like Facebook to take accountability for the safety of their users and rethink their decision about end-to-end encryption, as children’s online safety must always come first.

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Tips for Keeping Children Safe on Social Media

  1. Encourage open and honest communication - let your child know that they can talk to you about anything that’s worrying them, free of judgement. Tell them what behaviour they should look out for when talking to someone online and to raise any concerns with you.
  2. Check parental controls and privacy settings on devices - internet networks and devices usually come with parental controls that you can set up yourself, which will block suspicious looking websites and content. If you’re unsure, you can check with your internet provider.
  3. Enforce age limits - social media platforms all have different age restrictions in place, and while children can sometimes find ways around this, you might want to consider giving your child an age limit for using social media.
  4. Make sure profiles are private - if your child already has social media accounts, talk to them about the importance of setting these to private.
  5. Don’t include personal details - you should also make sure that they’re not including any personal details such as their phone number, address or email address on their profile.
  6. Friend requests - make sure your child is only accepting friend requests from people they know. This can again be hard to monitor, but talk to them openly and honestly about internet safety.

Paedophile Jailed for Abusing Boys through Snapchat

Former junior football coach, John Smith, has recently made it back into the news after he was jailed a second time for using Shapchat to groom and abuse a boy. He was first jailed in 2019 after using the app to send indecent images to another boy.

The Court heard how Smith first contacted the boy on a different app before suggesting that they continue talking on Snapchat. It was after this that they exchanged numbers and FaceTimed each other. As well as sending indecent images and videos of himself, the 24-year-old also asked the boy to send pictures of his genitals.

It’s cases like this that show just how easily a seemingly innocent conversation on social media can lead to children being vulnerable to grooming and sexual abuse. Social media platforms such as Snapchat can be difficult for parents to monitor as users can send photos with a time limit, after which they will disappear forever.

If your child has experienced abuse, or you’ve been a victim of child abuse yourself, you can get in touch with our Abuse Solicitors for free initial legal advice. Everything you tell us will be kept strictly confidential.

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