DARK SIDE OF
|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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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
site regularly to ensure that inappropriate content has not been
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
| If you know of
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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.
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