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