We all know that social media can be a great way to communicate with others from around the world, share thoughts, opinions and photos with each other and discover new things. But for children, it can often be dangerous territory.
Generation Z – better known as ‘Generation Social’ – may be racking up hundreds of likes but they are also making themselves extremely vulnerable by utilising location services, public profiles and sharing personal information online. It is causing so much concern that towards the end of last year, the Children’s commissioner Anne Longfield called for there to be greater representation in UK government to protect children online and on social media. She also called for there to be a broader digital citizenship programme, obligatory in every school from ages four to 14. Many other educational representatives have been asking government to consider “implementing legislation protecting children’s privacy and data online, similar to what is being proposed by the EU” after a year-long study published highlighted the serious dangers children face on social media. It is rapidly becoming a very worrying issue.
Whilst most kids seem more tech-savvy than their parents, many of them do not read the terms and conditions they agree to when signing up to social media sites – and others simply do not understand them. They regularly and unknowingly leave themselves at risk of cyber-bullying, harassment and exposure to inappropriate content, as well as their personal information being publicly released or even sold.
Deputy Headteacher of The Charter School, Simon Williams, recognises the dangers kids are facing online:
“We regularly remind our students and parents about safe use of the internet and especially social media. It is fascinating that when students have found themselves in difficulties, even though they knew the dangers, they had gone ahead and behaved riskily regardless – such is the draw of this medium.”
Looking at the terms and conditions of these social media platforms, the small print can even be difficult for some adults to understand. Whilst it is clear on most platforms that services can only be used by those 13 or over, alarming studies indicate that children as young as seven are using these platforms, with 92% reportedly online “daily”. This recently led to a lawyer rewriting Instagram’s terms and conditions so that children could understand them, surprising many. However, Instagram defended their platform;
“We go beyond our terms and guidelines to offer in-app safety and privacy help – from reporting, to industry-leading comment tools and self-help resources. We have also produced a guide for parents to help them talk to their teenagers about internet safety.”
Snapchat have taken a stand for children by attempting to simplify their terms:
“We’ve drafted these Terms of Service (which we call the “Terms”) so you’ll know the rules that govern our relationship with you. Although we have tried our best to strip the legalese from the Terms, there are places where these Terms may still read like a traditional contract. There’s a good reason for that: These Terms do indeed form a legally binding contract between you and Snap Inc. So please read them carefully.”
Is this really enough though? Surely there needs to be tighter regulations, more support for children and parents on social media safety, and better guidance on where your information goes once it is uploaded.
What are your thoughts on protecting children on social media? Do you think more action needs to be taken? Share with us on Twitter @24_fingers, we’d love to hear your views and any situations you’ve experienced.