April 6th 2016
50% of schoolchildren surveyed by the NSPCC admit they've seen sexual, violent and other adult material on social media sites, apps and games.
And 78% of children reported that they had joined social media sites before reaching the minimum age of 13 as stipulated by many in the terms and conditions.
The findings are revealed in the latest update of the Net Aware guide, produced by the NSPCC in partnership with O2. Now available for the first time as a free mobile app, it is claimed to be the UK's only parents' guide to 50 of the most popular social media sites, apps, and games, that young people use, designed to help them talk to their children about socialising safely online.
To inform the guide, NSPCC and O2 asked 1,725 children and young people and over 500 parents on the O2 / NSPCC Parent Advisory Board to review and rate the most popular social networking sites and apps.
The top five sites where young people reported seeing inappropriate content were Sickipedia (100% of children surveyed), Chatroulette (92%), Omegle (89%), Ask fm (88%), and Yik Yak (74%).
Despite repeated calls for improvements in online safety, the Net Aware results have highlighted the scale with which children and young people are being exposed to inappropriate content on social media sites.
The research revealed young people were more likely than parents to report seeing harmful content on three quarters of the sites they looked at. And while young people rated Chatroulette, Omegle and Tumblr as high risk for sexual content, parents rated them as low risk – highlighting the need for parents to find out more about these sites so they can have informed conversations with their children about staying safe online.
Neil Anderson, head of service for NSPCC Northern Ireland, said: "This research underlines the danger that young people can face when on social networking platforms. We know that parents can struggle to keep track of social networking sites and the potential risks involve, and this Net Aware guide will help give them the knowledge and confidence to talk to their children about what they are doing and seeing online.
"Online safety continues to be a priority child protection issue in Northern Ireland and we hope this research and our updated Net Aware guide will support the developing Safeguarding Board e-safety strategy and feed into the wider goal of protecting local children online and keeping parents informed.
"More than 60% of young people we asked said social media platforms need to do more to keep children safe. These companies need to take more responsibility for keeping children safe online. We think there should be minimum standards in place and a new regulator may be required if industry cannot regulate itself.3
"Thankfully, it's not all bad news. Around half of the sites in Net Aware have made improvements to their privacy settings and reporting functions; a trend I hope will continue. The NSPCC will continue to campaign for a safer internet, provide support for children through ChildLine, and advise parents through our partnership with O2."
Nina Bibby, Marketing and Consumer Director at O2, said "As a parent it can be difficult to keep up with the many different websites, apps and games our tech-savvy children know so well. It's vital that parents actively participate in their children's digital life to help them stay safe online. At O2 we believe we have an important role to play in giving both parents and children the necessary digital skills to safely make the most of technology. That's why the latest Net Aware guide and our partnership with the NSPCC is all about giving parents the support, advice and information they need to have the right kind of conversations about the online world."