Social media use as we have already reported this week is prevalent among children, with an estimated 20% of children aged 8 to 11 years old said to have a social media profile in the UK, notwithstanding that the social media providers require all users to be over age 13 before having their own profile. The figure rises to 70% among children aged 12 to 15 years old1. The potential for online grooming is huge and is already being exploited as we have noted when commenting on the rise of sexting.
Across the UK in the last three years, 22 police forces have cumulatively reported an increase of 44% or 7,000 sexual offences involving children and young people where social media applications have been the means to facilitate the contact. Some of the reports have involved children as young as three years old. A separate, but related, concern is the access to inappropriate material children and young people can obtain through the use of social media and the internet.
With the emergence of new technology, it is sadly not surprising that it is used by some for purposes other than intended, including to gain access to groom and manipulate children. Increasingly, children have access to the internet via their phones and tablets. Historically paedophiles have entered organisations (such as schools, sports, youth and faith groups) to enable them to come into contact with children, whereas now they can gain access to children online through the use of various websites and apps.
The issue of abuse and how it relates to our everyday lives was again highlighted in a new ruling in the High Court in Northern Ireland. An unidentified woman has succeeded in obtaining an order against Facebook which requires them to freeze access to accounts held by two individuals. This comes in parallel proceedings to a claim by the lady against the individuals for damages for breach of privacy. This order bans the users from accessing or altering their accounts in any way.
We are all aware of the positive and negative uses of social media. Current Inquiries in to non-recent abuse are using social media as a way of making their work known to a wider audience. In fact, the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse twitter page (@IICSA_media) has over 1200 followers and the hashtag #CSAInquiry is used widely by those commenting on the Inquiry.
However social media use has also resulted in online bullying and trolling with reports of young people driven to take their own lives due to comments and campaigns on such platforms as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat. Sexting and revenge porn posts, trolling, online blackmail and anonymous abusive posts are a new phenomenon not even contemplated a few years ago. Light hearted comments between friends, always intended to be private, can be hurtful to others who see them inadvertently.