Sinister side of networking sitesKids in danger of finding more than just friends

14 September 2006

 

Child at a computer

Kids and teenagers using popular social networking sites such as Bebo and MySpace are in danger of being exposed to pornography and bullying, warns Computing Which?

Researchers found numerous examples of both when they signed up to these sites, which are the two most popular social networking sites used by young people.

Such networking sites are a fast-growing teen phenomenon, with millions of children spending hours each week building web pages about themselves, chatting to friends and sharing photos.

But, alarmingly, Computing Which? was able to set up an account pretending to be a 14-year-old without having to provide any proof of age or identity - there's no way of proving 'teenagers' are who they say they are online

Cyber bullying

Social networking sites monitor photographs only after they're posted onto the sites, so pornographic images can slip though the net before they're discovered and deleted. 

The sites also rely heavily on members reporting this type of rule-breaking.

The internet provides a virtual playground for 'cyber bullying' - name calling and humiliation.  Researchers found one teenage boy's web page asking friends to vote on whether a girl they knew had Aids.

Social networking sites are free to join so must rely on advertising which parents may not be happy for their children to be bombarded with. For example, MySpace in the US has an advertising deal with Burger King. 

Sinister side

Computing Which? Editor Jessica Ross said: ‘Children are spending hours every week on networking sites, building up their profiles and chatting with friends.  However, what might seem like innocent fun has a darker, more sinister side.

‘Teenage users need to be aware that there is no way of knowing who is behind the face of a "friend".   Networking sites, such as myspace.com and bebo.com, need to do more to protect their millions of trusting members.’