Despite the fact that most social networking sites have a policy of not allowing registered users under the age of 13 or 14, a study by Ofcom into social networking online has said that a quarter of all eight to 11 year olds in the UK have one or more profiles on sites such as Bebo and MySpace.
The study by the watchdog Ofcom, which has no regulatory powers over these sites, says that 16 percent of parents do not know if their child’s profile is publicly visible ; 33 percent of parents say they set no rules for their children’s use of social networking sites ; and a higher proportion of children, 43 percent of them, say that their parents set no rules.
The study shows that 49 percent of British 8 – 17 year olds have profiles on social networking sites, with 63 percent using Bebo and 37 percent MySpace, whilst 18 percent use Facebook ; and 41 percent of British children say that they have their profiles on these sites open for anyone to see.
The study is one of a litany of sources telling us that parents do not have a great deal of visibility into their children’s activities online ; and that the social networking sites themselves have very little ability to weed out under-age users without a verifiable form of age verification.
The main issue highlighted in the study is the disparity between parents and their children as to knowledge of and concerns about these sites. Many parents know nothing about their children’s social networking habits, yet are concerned for their safety online. Many children meanwhile know all of the ins-and-outs of social networking online, except for the security aspect, which they often do not consider.
It is not simply a question of bogey men approaching children for online grooming, though obviously this is the nightmare scenario. Many users of social networking sites – adults included, but children being the more vulnerable group – leave themselves open to identity fraud, now and in the future, through the vast amounts of personal details contained within their profiles.
It has been a long running internet stereotype : Children, knowing more about the technology than their parents, putting themselves at risk unbeknownst to their elders. The Ofcom report is just one more set of statistics and figures painting a clear picture for us : Parents need to get involved in their children’s online lives far more. It is not in the interests of social networking sites to see a child come to harm, thus ending their business very swiftly we daresay, and they are doing a good deal to try and help keep children secure online. Now parents too must step up and take an active role.