THE DARK SIDE OF SOCIAL NETWORKING
Social Networking on sites like Bebo ( http://www.bebo.com/) would appear to be innocent enough. Children can set up their own pages, post photographs, share their favourite music, jokes, quizzes, conduct polls and tell others about themselves and their hobbies. They can also sign up their school and friends and thus join a vast community of other teenagers.

Yet, hidden dangers lurk in these networking sites that you need to be aware of.
 
  1. Not everyone on these social networking sites are who they claim to be. Your child could be contacted by a complete stranger pretending to be someone they aren't. There have been many reported cases of young children being groomed for sex by older predators pretending to be young teens. There is no checking procedure before you register with Bebo, so it is easy for others to set up fictional sites.

  2. As there is no age verification, children of any age can join even if they are below the registration age. Sites like Bebo cater for high school children, yet it is easy to find children as young as 10 and 11 who have posted their information. Check that the sites your children have registered on are appropriate age-wise.

  3. Your child can give out too much information that could make them identifiable such as their name, location, address, school, phone or chat (IM) contact details. If they post their school and photograph, it won’t be difficult for someone to track them down and even worse, stalk them.

  4. Your child could be exposed to explicit photographs, suggestive comments, or worse be responsible for posting this type of material themselves. Girls' photograph albums are often full of skimpy costumes. Boy’s photograph albums are often filled with pictures of them mooning. Make sure you check your child’s site regularly to ensure that inappropriate content has not been posted.

  5. Your child can be harassed or bullied, or stalked. For example, following the killing of 15-year-old Michael McIlveen in Northern Ireland earlier in 2006, an innocent teenager's Bebo site was bombarded with 8,000 hits accusing him of complicity in the murder. You only have to surf for a short period of time on Bebo to see someone’s appearance dissected, unpopularity exposed, or their hobbies made fun of. It is easy for others to anonymously post nasty rumours and threats on your child’s site. Let your child know that abuse should be reported as it can lead to the immediate account closure of individual responsible.

  6. Social networking sites make their money from selling advertising on the site, so your child can be targeted with inappropriate adverts selling them gambling sites, dating sites as well as sexually explicit ads.

  7. Social networking sites also take advantage of "viral marketing", where children are paid by companies to slip product endorsements into their conversations. For example if a Bebo poll votes a fizzy drink as the greatest in the world, or a conversation begins with a laboured endorsement of a hair gel, it's probably because somebody has been paid to spread the message.
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To prevent your pre-teen youngsters from accessing these sites, you should download a content blocker like Net Nanny, which will block these sites on their computer.

Set rules before your child goes online, and be comfortable that he or she understands them. Draw up a Web Code of Conduct for your kids and get them to sign it. A good example can be found at http://www.microsoft.com/athome/security/children/famwebrules.mspx