80% of children don't feel safe on social media, study finds

May Bulman
The NSPCC said parents need to do more to keep up to speed with online social media developments: Getty

The majority of children in the UK feel social media companies are not doing enough to protect them from pornography, self-harm, bullying, and hatred on their sites, a study has found.

Four out of five children surveyed said websites needed to do more to protect them from inappropriate or harmful content, saying that the lack of strict controls led to “hurtful messages” that could cause them to feel negative about themselves and even self-harm.

The findings, published by the NSPCC and O2 from a poll of 1,696 children and young people, showed that among the sites children rated to be most risky were ASKfm, Omegle and IMVU, as well as Facebook, prompting the NSPCC and O2 to urge parents to look beyond the “big names” and find out about the lesser known apps their children are using.

One 16-year-old girl said of ASKfm: “It had no strict controls which led to lots of hurtful messages being spread about people, which I believe contributed to people self-harming or just feeling negative about themselves.”

A 15-year-old girl who reviewed IMVU meanwhile said: “There are some people on the site who are very unstable and vulnerable who are taken advantage of.”

The findings are revealed in the latest Net Aware guide, the UK’s only parents’ guide to 39 of the most popular social media sites, apps, and games used by young people, produced by the NSPCC.

While 87 per cent (1,470) of young people nonetheless said they knew how to keep themselves safe online, the NSPCC encouraged parents to visit Net Aware so that they could stay up to speed with apps and their safety issues so that they could help their child protect themselves online.

Peter Wanless, chief executive of NSPCC, said the findings showed it is “vital” that parents are aware of their child’s online activity and regularly talks to them about how to get help if they need it.

“Social media is a great way for young people to stay in touch with their friends but our research clearly shows that children do not feel that they are shielded from upsetting, dangerous, and adult content,” said Mr Wanless.

“It’s vital parents know about their child’s online world and regularly talk with their children about how to get help if they need it. We all know that the internet develops at breakneck speed and it can feel nearly impossible to keep up with all of the constantly changing sites, games, and apps that young people use."

Nina Bibby, Chief Marketing Officer at O2, said while technology can provide a "world of opportunities" for children, it was important for their parents and guardians to be kept "up to speed" with what they were doing.

“Young people today are a generation of digital natives and, whilst many of them have grown up knowing how to use the many different websites, apps and games on offer, it can often prove more daunting for their parents to keep up with them," Ms Bibby said.

“The Net Aware guide helps parents and guardians get up to speed, giving them the knowledge and advice they need to help their kids stay safe online. Technology provides a world of opportunities, and at O2 we want to make it as easy as possible for parents to help their children safely make the most of all it has to offer.

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