Parents and teachers warned about ‘social networking’

Parents and teachers are to be given lessons on the potential dangers of ‘social networking’ sites such as MySpace , Facebook and Bebo. The recently formed Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP) is looking to invite a cross-section of young adults, parents, teachers and online industry representatives to the events to be held the week beginning the 17 July.

Social networking among older children and teenagers has become immensely popular in the past few years with millions of people logging in to add their profiles and meet new people. They have also become springboards for a new breed of cyber celebrity, such as the Arctic Monkeys and Lily Allen. However, there is increasing evidence that paedophiles and other unsavoury characters have also cottoned on to the phenomenon and are using the sites to ‘groom’ children and young adults.

According to Nielsen Netratings, MySpace and Bebo are the world’s fifth and sixth biggest online sites by audience size. Almost a third of MySpace’s British visitors and half of Bebo’s are under eighteen. CEOP says that one in four children have visited chat rooms intended for grown ups and one in twelve children have met someone in real life who they met online.

Jim Gamble, the Chief Executive of CEOP explained that he wants to hear from children and teenagers so the organisation can get a deeper insight into their online experience. ‘These events are being held as part of CEOP’s commitment to understanding the online environment better, to make it safer for children and to deter those individuals who prey on children in this virtual world’. He added, ‘we are not only gaining a greater understanding of this environment but also how we make it safer by design for all young people to use’.

Anyone wishing to take part in one of the forums can volunteer by emailing[email protected].

CEOP was established in April as part of the government’s attempts to address fears that children and young adults might fall prey to paedophiles.

The organisation is also backed by Microsoft, AOL and VISA, as well as children’s charities including the NSPCC and Childnet International.

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