Sadly, terrorism is rarely out of the news.

The horrific attack in Christchurch is a stark and tragic reminder of the worldwide threat of terrorism and the increasing danger of extreme right wing violence.  I attended a vigil outside Leicester’s largest mosque, Masjid Umar, in the wake of the atrocity and whilst the solidarity and sympathy expressed by people from all faiths and backgrounds was humbling, it was clear that even though Christchurch is on the other side of the world, the horror and sense of loss has been keenly felt by local communities here in the UK.

Sadly, terrorism is rarely out of the news.  The Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre (JTAC) assesses that the current threat in the UK is “severe,” meaning that a terrorist attack is “highly likely.”  Numerous terrorist plots have been thwarted in recent years.   And whilst around 80% of the 700 live terrorist investigations taking place right now relate to Islamist-inspired violence, other forms of extremism are growing, as evidenced by a 36% spike in radical right-related referrals to Prevent, the safeguarding duty that protects vulnerable individuals from radicalisation.

Against this backdrop it is incumbent upon us to do what we can to safeguard our children and young people from extremism.  We may live in one of the safest countries in the world and it may seem that terrorism is a distant threat, far removed from our schools, but we cannot be complacent, and it is helpful to consider an attitude of “it can happen here.”  I say this because we needn’t look far to find chilling examples of how our youngest and most vulnerable can be at risk.

Consider the extremist who attempted to create a “child army” of terrorists by attempting to groom over one hundred children aged between 11 and 14.  Or the pharmacist sentenced to prison for showing ISIS/Daesh beheading videos to children of primary school age.  The UK’s Counter Extremism Commissioner notes that many young children are spouting far-right, racist, xenophobic points of view, often coming from their parents.

As a practitioner who has worked in Prevent since 2013, I have personally dealt with many cases of young people who were at risk of extremism and who received support and intervention that guided them to safety.  I recall a 15 year old who threatened violence and spoke openly about his racist views, stating that white people were a 100% pure master race, and that a race war was on the horizon.  I worked with a teenager who stated that he felt obliged to travel to Syria and fight because it was his religious duty.  He said that one of the killers of Fusillier Lee Rigby in Woolwich was his “brother in Islam.”

What would you do if you heard those views within your setting?

Since 2015 schools and childcare providers have had a legal duty to have due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into extremism.  But I passionately believe that we also have a moral duty to protect our children.  That is why I have helped to create a Prevent CPD with Gooseberry Planet.  Based on my practical experience and expertise we have developed an accessible programme that will empower education professionals with the confidence and knowledge to approach radicalisation and extremism in an effective and responsible way.

The education sector is the biggest source of referrals to Prevent and there is widespread acceptance that it should be understood as part of wider safeguarding responsibilities.  It is vital that we all play out part in keeping our children and communities safe.

Copyright in education

When I first thought of putting together a Copyright webinar and training material for our Gooseberry Gurus, I was under the impression that I would struggle to talk for 30 minutes.  I even contemplated adding information about Fake News to try and pad things out.  All I can say is that I had no idea how complex the copyright laws were! 

I then started to ask my son about his awareness of the legal aspects of using songs on YouTube videos.  He had no idea, and I don’t think that he is any different from most children.  It seems to me that it is important that we educate children about this, both so that they appreciate the reason these laws exist and so that they don’t fall foul of the law.    My son is a keen scooter rider and his whole group love to create videos of their days out at skate parks.  He was pleased to know that he owns the copyright in any videos that he creates and that he could potentially stop other people using them.  Understanding that the law can benefit him gives him an understanding of why the law is there to protect others, especially professional singers, film makers etc who spend significant sums creating entertainment for us, protected by the ability to reap the financial reward.  Piracy is quite a big problem for them and there are serious penalties for those who break the law. 

Most young people are either watching or creating content on service providers such as YouTube.  I suspect quite a lot of them unwittingly breach the copyright laws and get caught out by the ‘Content ID’ software which scans uploaded content against a database of files in order to identify copyright material.  If identified, the copyright owner is notified and can choose whether to Block, monetise or track the upload.  If a user is regularly breaching copyright it could affect their reputation and potentially lead to prosecution.

There is an opportunity for schools to use video production as part of lessons.  Look at our Gooseberry Alert suggestion that children research an aspect of copyright law and produce a video about it.  Why not encourage the children to identify their creations with the date and copyright symbol and upload them to YouTube or another platform. 

The next issue is, do you and your staff know the laws?  (On the 25th March we have a webinar covering this area and if you are a Gooseberry Guru you get the link to share with your school community.)    Learn about the “fair use” exceptions for private study, research, reporting current events and creating parody.  Learn about the special provisions for educational establishments and how to get permission to use copyright materials.

Copyright is not specifically mentioned in the Computing Curriculum, or in PSHE, but it does come under the UKCISS Framework.  I feel that if a child could potentially get a fine or criminal record for doing something that many young people do, surely, we should be educating them about it.  It also ties neatly into a discussion about plagiarism in school work – perhaps not such a big issue in primary school but a real issue in secondary and at university.    

Safeguarding Children and Young People from Social Media Dangers

Safeguarding Children and Young People from Social Media Dangers

Social media was designed to be a positive tool to bring people together from all over the world. It has changed the way we communicate with each other and provided us with channels to share our lives with friends and family. At its very heart, social media was created with good intentions.

The Dark Side of Social Media

Sadly, social media channels can also broadcast upsetting and dangerous content, and enable people to exploit children, young people and vulnerable adults. Issues such as child grooming, sexual exploitation, bullying and propaganda driven extremism pre-exist social media, and sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram do not promote abuse and exploitation themselves. They do, however, provide a platform where victims and their information are easily accessible, facilitating those who wish to cause them harm. It feels like every day another story hits the headlines, warning us of the dangers of a specific platform.

Instagram’s Link To Teenage Girl’s Suicide

Very recently, we heard the tragic news that 14-year-old Molly Russell’s death by suicide was linked to her exposure to harmful and graphic images of self-harm and suicide on Instagram. Like many other sites, Instagram uses algorithms to suggest content based on things you regularly search for. These algorithms can be harmless (and even helpful) if you are searching for innocent things such as fashion or sports, but if a person who is vulnerable types in a search phrase such as “depressed”, “suicidal” or “self-harm” this algorithm can aid them in finding even more harmful content. It is easy to see how this could spiral out of control and even become addictive.[1]

“Suicide isn’t a hashtag. It’s an unimaginable, devastating tragedy.” – Ged Flynn, Papyrus (Prevention of Young Suicide)

Momo Challenge – The Danger of Fake News

Recently, the ‘Momo Challenge’ went viral. It was suggested that this terrifying ‘Momo’ was encouraging children and young people to harm themselves and others through suicide or other violent acts. Some reports even suggested that this challenge was being broadcasted through Fortnight, Peppa Pig and other videos aimed at young children on YouTube.[2] It didn’t take long for this to turn into widespread panic.

After looking into the matter and finding absolutely no evidence to support the idea, this turned out to be nothing more than a hoax. The only harm that this challenge will bring will be caused by the hysteria of the media, which could draw children, young people and vulnerable adults to think of suicide and self-harm. While the story spread due to legitimate concern, this has now exacerbated the issue[3].

Video and Livestreaming Apps Like TikTok Put Children at Risk

The risk for children being targeted, groomed and exploited on livestreaming sites isn’t new. In a survey by the NSPCC, it was discovered that 25% of children have livestreamed with a stranger. It also found that 1 in 20 children had been asked to take off their clothes in a livestream, or in the comments of a posted video.[4]

The most recent app to hit headlines for this is TikTok, a livestreaming site which is becoming increasingly popular amongst children and young people. TikTok is reported to be putting children as young as 8 years old at risk of sexual exploitation, with abusers using the comments section of videos to encourage children into sexual activity online.[5]

Social Media Platforms Must Do More

Most, if not all platforms have some kind of system or mechanism which allows them to tick a box saying they are putting in steps to protect their users. For example, by using age restrictions, putting warnings on graphic content and filtering for worrying search terms. These are easy for users to work around and any warnings raised can be ignored at the click of a button.

It is clear that social media networks need to do more to promote the safety and wellbeing of children, young people and vulnerable adults. The government has indicated that it will make social media firms sign and adhere to a legally binding code of conduct, which will enforce their duty of care towards all users, especially children.[6] This is a step in the right direction.

Useful Guidance:

In the meantime, schools, colleges and parents are left with the challenge of preparing children and young people for a life online. A challenge that they do not need to face alone. There are a huge number of organisations on hand to offer advice, guidance and free resources to safeguard children and young people online. Gooseberry Planet, for example, is an excellent resource to be used by schools due to it’s fun and engaging ‘game-based’ learning techniques and expert support. Some other organisations which offer support include:

  • UK Safer Internet Centre

UK Safer Internet Centre has an advice centre, hotline for reporting and removing sexual images of children online and a helpline offering support via phone or email. They are also the organisers of Safer Internet Day which is celebrated annually and offers some fantastic free resources to support schools and children.

  • NSPCC

The NSPCC has some really useful resources to keep children safe online. They have easy to follow guides which walk parents through things like setting up controls on devices and accounts, as well as how to start conversations about online safety. The NSPCC also works with Net Aware to provide up-to-date news and information for parents and schools on the apps and networks most popular with children.

  • Internet Matters

Internet Matters provides advice to schools and parents. Their ‘Digital Resilience Toolkit’ offers different guidance based on the age group of a child and covers the essential things that today’s children and young people need to learn. They have a series of step-by-step guides on all of the most popular apps used by children, showing parents how they set these accounts up to best protect their children from harm. They also share well-informed articles covering the latest online issues affecting children.

We are also delighted to be holding a guest webinar for Gooseberry Planet: “When the Virtual is the Reality – a holistic approach to digital and ‘real world’ safeguarding.” In this session, we will discuss current online risks such as grooming, online bullying, county lines and more. We will cover ways in which schools can enable early intervention to prevent risk from harm and also explore what happens when virtual and real-life boundaries become blurred. During this session we will explain how digital recording and case management can help you manage the increasing wellbeing concerns facing today’s young people. You can register for this free safeguarding webinar here.

Written By Mike Glanville


[1] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-47114313

[2] https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/gadgets-and-tech/momo-challenge-youtube-fortnite-peppa-pig-video-parents-a8799776.html

[3] https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2019/feb/28/viral-momo-challenge-is-a-malicious-hoax-say-charities?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other

[4] https://www.cnet.com/news/tiktok-live-streaming-apps-are-hunting-ground-for-abusers-warn-childrens-advocates/

[5] https://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/2019/02/11/eight-year-olds-risk-sexual-exploitation-apps-like-tik-tok-charity/

[6] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/feb/05/tuesday-briefing-social-media-behaves-as-if-it-is-above-the-law

Breck’s last game

I set up the Breck Foundation five years ago because I wanted something good to come out of what happened to my son Breck.  Breck was a regular 14-year-old boy who loved science, computing and gaming.  He was invited into a gaming group by ‘friends of friends’ from school so this seemed to be a safe place to spend time enjoying his hobby.  Unfortunately, the man who ran the server was known to police and he groomed Breck and the boys through their shared interests and passions.  Over a period of a year the predator built up a relationship with the boys and gained their trust through sending them gifts, having a laugh, and ‘being there’ for them.  Even though I spoke to Breck and many people about my concerns, the predator lured Breck to his flat with promises of job opportunities and apprenticeships.  Breck sadly did not make it home.  There were so many missed opportunities within Breck’s story to report the grooming and get help, but people either were not educated or not empowered to help. 

We now speak in schools to pupils of all ages, as well as parents and staff using Breck’s story to engage in a very real way, Breck’s lessons are a platform for open discussions.  We also offer training sessions to police and safeguarding professionals as well as presenting at conferences across the UK. 

We teach concepts such as:

  • Boys can be groomed too
  • ‘Friends of Friends’ may not always be safe
  • Predators can be any age or gender
  • ‘Do you Really Know your online friends?’
  • The Signs of Grooming
  • Play Virtual/Live Real
  • What to do if concerned about self or others

We strive to educate the digital generation to be empowered to keep safer online.  This issue is not a personal issue, but a community one.  The child being groomed and exploited may not realise what is being done to them as they will be getting attention and compliments whilst being controlled and manipulated.   It is important that we work on these issues as a community so that we report and stop predators as otherwise they will go from child to child until they find one that doesn’t see the relationship as unhealthy and possibly makes a mistake that could harm them.

When I first viewed the short film Kayleigh’s Love Story, I was just shocked.  Another innocent life taken by an online predator.  Her grooming had so many of the same characteristics and horrid outcome as Breck’s did, yet was a very different scenario.  I always wondered if Kayleigh and her friends had heard about Breck’s story at school, that maybe things could have turned out safer for her.  I knew straightaway that I wanted a film in a similar vein as this to reach as many young people as possible with awareness of the dangers they could face online.  In every police training or conference that I delivered, I would state how I wanted help to create a film. I then approached Leicestershire Police force, who had commissioned Kayleigh’s film.  They came to see me and to explain how to go about creating such an important piece of education, but I was down heartened as I didn’t have the funding at this point.  A few weeks later, they phoned with the exciting news that they would help commission the film together with Northamptonshire, Essex and Surrey Police Forces, I was so pleased.   It wasn’t easy for me, but we created Breck’s Last Game so that teenagers everywhere could see how grooming could happen through gaming and social interaction online.  We also have lesson plans to go along with this and to prompt open discussions on the issues.  The film has first been used in schools with very positive impact, even prompting disclosures, and on April 3rd will go public so that everyone can access this resource.  We hope everyone shows it to teenagers along with implementing the lesson plans so that young people everywhere can contemplate “Do You Really Know Your Online Friends?” so that they remember to PlayVirtual/Live Real.

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Best from all of us at Team Breck!!