Pae­dophiles pose as roads on­line

Irish Examiner - - Front Page - Gor­don Dee­gan

Pae­dophiles are set­ting up fake so­cial me­dia ac­counts pre­tend­ing to be chicken nuggets, ice-cream, and even roads in or­der to “friend” Ir­ish pri­mary school chil­dren on­line.

They set up an ac­count which would, to a child, seem to be an in­nocu­ous topic which they would see no rea­son not to “friend”. That then gives the paedophile ac­cess the child’s data, in­clud­ing pic­tures.

Mau­reen Grif­fin, a foren­sic psy­chol­o­gist and lead­ing ex­pert on so­cial me­dia safety, is­sued the warn­ing and added that, as chil­dren have adapted so well on the dan­gers of stranger dan­ger on­line, sex of­fend­ers have “come up with new and novel ways of gain­ing ac­cess to our chil­dren’s in­for­ma­tion”.

In a pre­sen­ta­tion for the En­nis Men­tal Health As­so­ci­a­tion, Dr Grif­fin said she had, at pri­mary school level, dealt with ac­counts set up pre­tend­ing to be chicken nuggets and ice-cream in or­der to friend chil­dren.

She gave one “hor­rific” ex­am­ple where a sex of­fender here set up a fake so­cial me­dia ac­count and posed as a road on which a girls’ sec­ondary school was lo­cated.

“Over 400 girls at the school ac­cepted ‘the road’ as a friend,” she said. “The owner of the ac­count was a known con­victed sex of­fender who made no ef­fort to con­tact the girls, he didn’t fol­low them or meet them in real life or wait out­side their school.

“He sim­ply col­lected their pho­tos, pic­tures from teenage dis­cos, girls’ sleep­overs, and a range of self­ies.”

Dr Grif­fin, who has spo­ken to teach­ers, par­ents, boards of man­age­ment and stu­dents at more than 700 schools here, along with mak­ing pre­sen­ta­tions to the gar­daí and the HSE, said one of the best ways of pro­tect­ing your chil­dren on­line is to make sure you know and trust their fol­low­ers and friends.

She said adults with a sex­ual in­ter­est in chil­dren will take ad­van­tage of any site that is tar­geted to­wards chil­dren.

She gave the ex­am­ple of the site mu­si­cal.ly. “Mu­si­cal.ly took off by storm here a year ago at pri­mary school level,” she said. “It was a place where chil­dren could lip sync to their favourite songs and in­volves short lit­tle videos of the chil­dren danc­ing around singing their songs and post­ing the videos on­line.

“It is for 5, 6 and 7 year olds and I dealt with a case dur­ing the sum­mer of a girl on mu­si­cal.ly who had 20 fol­low­ers — she did not know four of them. One of her fol­low­ers told her that he would get her more likes for her songs if she sang her song again, this time in her un­der­wear.”

Mau­reen Grif­fin: Warns par­ents to make sure they know their chil­dren’s friends.

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