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One in five children exposed to dangerous content on Internet

Children have unknowingly come across information which promotes anorexia and suicide techniques.

Image: Steve White/The Canadian Press/Press Association Images

A NEW SURVEY has revealed that at least one in every five children have seen potentially dangerous content online, including websites which promote anorexia and suicide techniques.

About 14 per cent have also been exposed to sexual images while browsing the Internet.

According to research commissioned by the EU Kids Online network, eight per cent of 11- to 16-year-olds saw pornographic images of people having sex and/or genitals, while two per cent saw violent sexual images.

Almost one third of all children who had seen such images said they were upset by them.

Worryingly, the report also found that reporting tools were not effective for those who were affected by what they see online. In relation to pornographic images, about one quarter just “hoped the problem would go away”. Another 22 per cent tried to fix it themselves, 19 per cent deleted unwelcome messages and 15 per cent blocked the sender. Only 13 per cent reported the problem online, but most found the results unhelpful.

The researchers for ‘Towards a better internet for children’ said one of their strongest conclusions is that “existing reporting tools do not work”. They say that the industry needs to “do much better” given that only one in ten children reported their problems through an online mechanism.

Members of the Internet industry will gather today at a European Commission-backed meeting to discuss current efforts to keep children safe online. The report is recommending more focus on child-friendly communication and accessible tools.

Parental worry

Parents continue to worry about what their children are at risk of when they spend time online. Being contacted by strangers or seeing inappropriate content remain high on a list of day-to-day concerns – ahead of alcohol, drugs and getting into trouble with police.

Children also revealed that they were dissatisfied with the help received from online services after reporting problems, such as sexting or cyber-bullying, with contacts met through the Internet.

“Given the relatively low take-up of online reporting mechanisms, there is considerable scope for further promoting their availability, age-appropriateness and use,” says Sonia Livingstone, one of the lead researchers.

Parental mediation is also important, she added. Doing shared activities online or encouraging children to learn things on their own but remaining available if needed reduces the probability of exposure to online risk. Such methods have also been linked to decreased experiences of harm among nine- to 12-year-olds - without reducing the many positives of online activity.

However, those with more digital skills are more likely to encounter content-related risks.

Social networks

Of those surveyed, more than one quarter have a public social networking page with no privacy settings. Less than half keep their profiles private, while 28 per cent have set them to partially private. The research found that children who have their profile set to public are also more likely to display their phone number or address online.

According to the authors, more efforts are needed to promote the use of privacy settings and make them user-friendly.

Children are more likely to have a public profile if they cannot understand or manage the privacy settings, if they are a boy, if their parents have banned their SNS use, or if they experience psychological difficulties.

Ireland was placed in the ‘Lower use, some risk’ category along with Portugal, Spain and Turkey. Higher risk countries include Denmark, Norway and Sweden. Ireland also has one of the highest levels of parental monitoring and filtering and one of the higher levels of private social network pages.

Other key figures:

  • 12 – the percentage of 11- to 16-year-olds who have seen potentially harmful user-generated hate sites.
  • 7 – the percentage of 11- to 16-year-olds who have seen self-harm sites
  • 19 – the percentage of 14- to 16-year-old girls who have seen pro-anorexia sites.
  • 26 – the percentage of children to have public social networking profiles.
  • 30 – the percentage of children who have had contact on the Internet with someone they have never met before.
  • 3 – the percentage who admitted to being nasty or hurtful towards others on the Internet.

Irish figures:

  • 8 – the percentage of children in Ireland who have a public social networking page.
  • 7 – the percentage of children who have seen images or videos of someone naked online.
  • 6 – the percentage of children who have seen someone having sex online.
  • 4 – the percentage of children who have seen ‘ways of committing suicide’ on the Internet

The research, which can be downloaded in full here, was funded by the EC Safer Internet Programme and led by the London School of Economics. EU Kids Online conducted a face-to-face, in-home survey of 25,000 nine- to 16-year-olds across 25 countries, including Ireland, for the survey.

Download the full report here>

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