SO­CIAL ME­DIA FAM­ILY SNAPS ALARM

Mother’s chill­ing safety warn­ing that ev­ery par­ent must read:

Wales On Sunday - - FRONT PAGE - LIZ DAY Re­porter liz.day@waleson­line.co.uk

FIRST day at school, a visit from the tooth fairy, birth­day party, swim­ming les­son, school play, Christ­mas, rid­ing a bike, fam­ily hol­i­day, sports day, school prom.

These are all im­por­tant mo­ments proud par­ents want to cap­ture on cam­era. They may then wish to share their pho­tos and videos with fam­ily and friends on Face­book and In­sta­gram.

But par­ents and guardians are be­ing warned to think care­fully be­fore pub­lish­ing im­ages of their chil­dren on so­cial me­dia – as they could be un­wit­tingly hand­ing them to sex­ual preda­tors.

Mum-of-one Sarah Wil­liamson said: “I’m des­per­ate to get par­ents to re­alise that it can, and pos­si­bly has, hap­pened to them.”

Sarah, who used to vol­un­teer as a “pae­dophile hunter”, warned that of­fend­ers are ac­cess­ing im­ages such as chil­dren in swimwear on sites like Face­book be­fore down­load­ing and shar­ing them.

The 38-year-old from New­port said she has en­coun­tered pae­dophiles com­ment­ing on how “sexy” the chil­dren are and rec­om­mend­ing pro­files to others.

She said she wants to ed­u­cate fam­i­lies about the po­ten­tial dan­gers of post­ing im­ages on­line, adding: “What I have seen in these groups needs to be ad­dressed.”

The lo­cal author­ity worker said pae­dophiles trawl so­cial me­dia look­ing for pic­tures of ba­bies, tod­dlers, young chil­dren and teenagers – both boys and girls.

Sarah added: “They’re just the usual pho­tos we all take of our chil­dren. Just in­no­cent fam­ily pho­tos.”

That could in­clude, for ex­am­ple, pic­tures of foot­ball prac­tice or gym­nas­tics class, a fam­ily day out at the beach or friends play­ing by the river.

She said preda­tors even tar­get pho­to­graphs on some school web­sites if they are not pass­word pro­tected.

“These pho­tos could be stolen by any­one, any­where in the world and shared,” warned Sarah.

She said the of­fend­ers, mostly men, but also some women, take such im­ages from wher­ever they can, but mostly sites such as Face­book, In­sta­gram and Snapchat.

Sarah re­called en­coun­ter­ing one of­fender with a fetish for boys in sports­wear, so he fol­lowed a num- ber of Face­book pages for chil­dren’s foot­ball teams, both lo­cal and fur­ther afield.

She said an­other of­fender had a foot fetish and sought out im­ages of chil­dren sit­ting on the sofa with their feet show­ing.

Sin­gle mum Sarah ex­plained that the pae­dophiles down­load the pic­tures and share them with others, adding com­ments like “mm­mmm” and “sexy”.

The im­ages them­selves are not ex­plicit, but the com­ments on them by strangers sex­u­al­ize them.

Sarah said some preda­tors dis­cuss the ma­te­rial and make rec­om­men­da­tions, giv­ing de­tails about where to find more pic­tures or videos of a par­tic­u­lar child.

Others post re­views and give rat­ings ac­cord­ing to how likely the pro­file is to ac­cept a friend re­quest and how many more im­ages are avail­able.

Sarah added: “The re­marks on these pho­tos are aw­ful.”

In her ex­pe­ri­ence, she said most of the ma­te­rial would be classed as Cat­e­gory C in­de­cent im­ages.

Ac­cord­ing to the Sen­tenc­ing Coun­cil, Cat­e­gory C cov­ers in­de­cent im­ages which do not show pen­e­tra­tive or non­pen­e­tra­tive sex­ual ac­tiv­ity.

Sarah re­ports cases to the In­ter­net Watch Foun­da­tion – an in­ter­na­tional or­gan­i­sa­tion aim­ing to make the in­ter­net a safer place.

Many are re­ferred to Child Ex­ploita­tion and On­line Pro­tec­tion, which is a com­mand of the Na­tional Crime Agency, work­ing to pur­sue and pros­e­cute child sex of­fend­ers.

Sarah be­lieves many fam­i­lies have no idea about the po­ten­tial dan­gers of post­ing pho­tos of their chil­dren on­line and she ad­vises par­ents and guardians to check their pri­vacy set­tings.

“It’s in­cred­i­ble how unsafe so­cial me­dia is,” she said. “It hor­ri­fies me when I see kids’ pho­tos shared on there. Many peo­ple’s ac­counts are wide open to the public. Peo­ple think it wouldn’t hap­pen to them, but it could and prob­a­bly has.”

Sarah said she would urge par­ents not to pub­lish im­ages of their chil­dren on­line, un­less they are sure ev­ery­one with ac­cess to their pro­file is safe.

She ad­mit­ted she finds her vol­un­teer work har­row­ing, but copes by de­tach­ing her­self and hav­ing coun­selling ses­sions.

“Some of it has dis­turbed me greatly, but I’ve learnt to deal with it and talk if I need sup­port,” she said.

The is­sue was brought to the at­ten­tion of Mem­bers of Par­lia­ment on the Govern­ment’s Science and Tech­nol­ogy Com­mit­tee last month.

Par­ents were urged to set up the right pri­vacy con­trols to stop their pho­tos end­ing up in the hands of sex­ual preda­tors.

Chil­dren’s char­ity Barnardo’s warned that pae­dophiles could find this type of con­tent and cir­cu­late it on­line.

The or­gan­i­sa­tion was on a panel of ex­perts that high­lighted the risks chil­dren are ex­posed to on so­cial me­dia.

Barnardo’s has called for greater over­sight of the in­ter­net in­dus­try, in­clud­ing an in­de­pen­dent reg­u­la­tor.

It is also call­ing on the Govern­ment to pro­vide bet­ter safety in­for­ma­tion and ed­u­ca­tion for par­ents and teach­ers.

Sarah Craw­ley, Direc­tor of Barnardo’s Cymru, said par­ents should en­sure they have their pri­vacy set­tings on and think care­fully about the im­ages of their chil­dren they are shar­ing.

She said: “I think par­ents need to be more in­formed of the pos­si­ble dan­gers and lack of con­trol re­gard­ing pic­tures and video be­ing ac­cessed and used by strangers.

“Pri­vacy set­tings can be used on Face­book pro­files and YouTube, but if these are not en­abled and par­ents are un­aware of them, then all their pho­tos and videos are open to ev­ery­one.”

Ms Craw­ley added: “Their own chil­dren and teenagers may also be post­ing con­tent that their par­ents don’t know about which is then shared and used il­le­gally.”

Barnardo’s has warned that on­line abuse can have a “dev­as­tat­ing im­pact”.

The char­ity urges par­ents to learn about the games and apps their chil­dren are ac­cess­ing, as well as mak­ing sure parental con­trols, pri­vacy set­ting and on­line fil­ters are be­ing cor­rectly used.

A spokesman for NSPCC Cymru said: “Each time a photo or video is up­loaded, it cre­ates a dig­i­tal foot­print of a child which can fol­low them into adult life. It is al­ways im­por­tant to ask a child for their per­mis­sion be­fore post­ing pho­tos or videos of them.

“For very young chil­dren, think about whether they would be happy for you to post or if it will em­bar­rass them. If you aren’t sure, it’s best not to post.”

The ed­u­ca­tion pro­gramme Thinku­know was set up by the Child Ex­ploita­tion and On­line Pro­tec­tion com­mand of the Na­tional Crime Agency in 2006.

It aims to keep chil­dren and young peo­ple safe by pro­vid­ing ed­u­ca­tion about sex­ual abuse and sex­ual ex­ploita­tion.

The web­site has ad­vice for par­ents about post­ing pic­tures of their chil­dren on­line.

Guid­ance says: “Most par­ents love shar­ing pho­tos of their chil­dren with friends and fam­ily. But re­mem­ber – pic­tures you share on­line could be out there for ever.”

For many chil­dren, on­line life be­gins be­fore birth, when their ex­cited par­ents-to-be post ul­tra­sound im­ages on so­cial me­dia.

A re­port pub­lished by Of­com last year stated that 42% of par­ents share pho­tos of their chil­dren on­line, with half of those post­ing pic­tures at least once a month.

The guid­ance adds: “The in­ter­net can pro­vide fan­tas­tic tools for shar­ing special mo­ments from your child’s early years.

“And on­line par­ent­ing fo­rums, net­works and blogs of­ten pro­vide valu­able sup­port and re­as­sur­ance through par­ent­ing’s ups and downs. But be­fore you share, you should give thought to ex­actly who can see pho­tos and com­ments fea­tur­ing your child, and how this on­line foot­print might af­fect your child in years to come.

“Re­mem­ber that any­one who can see a photo can also down­load or screen­shot it, and could go on to share it.”

De­tec­tive Su­per­in­ten­dent Leanne Brus­tad, from Gwent Po­lice, said any par­ent con­cerned that con­tent they have posted has been used in­ap­pro­pri­ately should re­port their con­cerns to the po­lice im­me­di­ately.

She added: “As a mat­ter of course we would ad­vise all par­ents to ex­er­cise com­mon sense and reg­u­larly re­view their pri­vacy set­tings to con­trol who is able to view their con­tent.”

Adults con­cerned about in­de­cent im­ages or the well­be­ing of a child can call the NSPCC helpline on 0808 800 5000. Chil­dren can con­tact Child­line with any con­cerns on 0808 1111.

For more in­for­ma­tion, visit Net Aware, Thinku­know and In­ter­net Mat­ters .

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