Social Media: The Dark Side
In the world today, over fifty percent of children before the age of 10 have used social media. Children are often pressured into getting social media by peers; however, they might not know how to deal with future problems and what could happen if they are not careful of how they use it. The anonymity of social media means young people may often be taken advantage of and are vulnerable online. You never quite know the face behind the screen, which frequently leads to invasion of privacy, grooming and online bullying for children.
Social media sites defend themselves by saying they have age limitations, therefore the audience is age appropriate. However 52%* of eight to sixteen year olds ignore age limitations on social media sites. Children must know the limits are justified; the content of sites may not be suitable for below the specified age. Despite privacy settings, 43%* of children have made contact with strangers online. Strangers might not seem threatening online but young people can quickly lose control and let things escalate. When the children are young, parents have responsibility for their safety; however, guardians often don’t know the dangers of social media either; 32%* of parents feel their child is safe online despite having little or no access to their accounts.
It is important to know that anything you do on social media can be traced back to you. If anyone simply tags you in a photo or if you use your real name as a username then anyone in the world could search your name and find you. Often digital footprints are used against people, in job interviews or even by a predator. You could receive hurtful or distasteful comments about you, this may often actually break the law.
One problem among adolescents is cyber bullying. It may begin as a joke but the abuse can quickly get out of hand. Without immediate ways of catching the perpetrator these things can go ‘unseen’. There are people who watch this happen and stay silent; this is almost as bad as the perpetrators themselves. Most alarming is when this online abuse continues into the real world, risking physical harm for the victim.
One malicious form of online attack is hacking. The hacker may do this out of personal gain, jealousy, or just to make trouble. They break through privacy settings to get into someone else’s account. Hackers can then misuse the account, pretending to be the victim. This can affect the victim’s future and relationships with others - they are left to explain the damage done on their social media account. The hacker gains their private information and uses this against the victim. The most well-known and dangerous part of social media is child grooming. The child is led to believe they have made an appropriate friend, despite a lack of real life contact. This relationship can quickly become dangerous for the child. For example, the predator might make the victim keep this relationship a secret, they may request inappropriate and illegal photos of the child, and messages could become more and more sinister. Eventually the criminal may suggest meeting in person. This is usually when the victim may find they have not been talking to who they thought they were, and is therefore when the situation becomes extremely serious and there is little that can be done unless the child sees the situation as an issue.
We interviewed a student from Beaconsfield High School about their use of social media:
Have you ever accepted a follow by a complete stranger?
‘Yes, but I have known them for a long time now. I have multiple friends that I did not know before social media. Sometimes there is no way of telling if they are genuine, so I keep my details to myself.’
Do you have your social media on privacy settings?
‘My personal account has all the privacy settings possible, but one of my accounts is not on private. This is okay as there are no personal pictures or information of mine. I just post pictures of landscapes that I like.’
Have you ever been hacked?
‘No, I have not been impersonated either. I keep my personal account to myself and only add close friends. I don’t tend to take pictures of myself, or pictures of me in my school uniform. So I seem to be safe from hackers.’
Many parents worry and wish there was more that they could do to save their children from the ‘dark side’ of the internet. Parents should be educated so that they are aware of what to do in certain situations and how to keep their children as safe as possible. The key thing is making sure children feel that they are able to share with parents about their online presence. Young people need to be able to approach their parents or a responsible adult to help when certain issues arise; it’s important that a child feels safe when online and is aware of right and wrong situations. Children require good education on appropriate behaviour and how to avoid risks to themselves and others. Knowing the course of action after online bullying is important for schools to assure the wellbeing of their students. If you ever feel the need to contact someone, and you are too nervous to tell a guardian or teacher, then you can always report your problems to Ceop. Ceop is a web safety app which reports any worries to the police if necessary and can help you talk through your thoughts.
Children need to be able to form healthy relationships outside a computer screen. It is important that young people are not pressured into maturing too quickly and going into situations they are not ready for. Support networks need to be put in place so that children are in the correct and safe environment online and offline. It’s true that these things could happen to anyone at any time, but despite these risks - when used appropriately, social media can be a great platform to keep in touch with friends and family.
By Emily and Izzy