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We are living through the age of technology. Statistics show that the average person checks their phone or smart device on average of 150 times a day. It has entirely changed the way we live our lives. Through our devices, we can shop, we can speak with family and friends all over the world and we can access information all through the tap of a screen or the click of a few buttons.

For children growing up today, their world and, their perspective on it, is entirely different from any that we have ever known. There is no doubt that the internet has changed the world but has it been for the better?  Children, some as young as three years old, are given access to smart devices as a way to watch cartoons or play games. For these children, they are growing up with the internet as their way of socialising. It is a scary thought but do you really know who your children are speaking to online?

‘Social’ Gaming

There has been an increase in children using online games that can be accessed by anyone, anywhere in the world, such as ‘Roblox.’ Roblox is an immersive game which encourages social interactions between users within a vast online platform. There are filters in place within the chat which will block inappropriate words and phrases but this does not protect a child from being targeted by online predators.

The problem is not limited to Roblox but to any platforms that market themselves to children as ‘social games’. As there are no restrictions on who can join, predators can use platforms such as Roblox, to gain access to children. Through this, they are able to build a relationship with them, before encouraging them to move to other social media platforms, such as Facebook and Skype.

Since March 2020, Police Scotland have recorded a higher number of online child sexual abuse crimes than in any other time on record. Between April and June, there was 530 online child abuse crimes reported to Police Scotland. This was an estimated increase of 21% against the same period last year. It was also 34% higher than the 5-year average. The use of the internet and smart devices has undoubtedly opened up our homes to online predators.

The danger is using ‘social’ gaming as a means to socialise. The predators are able to play on the innocence of a young child that would be willing to speak to anyone, including a stranger.

Cyber Attacks

There are serious concerns over whether the current security measures in place for popular websites and applications are doing enough.

Earlier this year, hackers targeted a live Zoom session which was hosted by Scottish Swimming. The event was designed for children and parents to exercise alongside some professional swimmers. In attendance, there was over 200 adults and children. During the event, it was hijacked and pornographic images were shown on screen to the audience. The live stream was immediately ended but the images were still seen by many young children.

This is just one of many examples of the increase in cyber abuse over the course of this year.

One of the most popular platforms is ‘TikTok’, an application which allows users to upload short videos of music, lip syncs and comedy, with the potential to be watched by thousands. It is particularly popular with younger children, due to the videos of dance routines. TikTok has security risks and its filters for younger children are not as stringent as similar applications. When a profile is made, it is automatically set to public. Without the proper measures or monitoring, the profiles of young users are easy to access.

There have also been a number of examples of malicious content being deliberately hidden within ‘TikTok’ videos which target children, one that included the clip of a suicide. Users reported that these videos were coming up within their recommended feed. The clip was live for over twenty hours before efforts were made to try and remove it from the site.

There is no doubt that viewing violent and, arguably, traumatising images, will have an impact when seen at a young age.

Staying Safe Online

There are a number of steps that can be taken to ensure that children are safe whilst using the internet.

Many platforms will have a ‘parental control’ option. This enables you to put in place time limits and content filters onto a smart device. If a child is young and using social media, it is essential to be aware of what they are accessing.

It is also important to have open conversations with children to make sure they feel comfortable to speak to you about what they are doing whilst using the internet. This creates an environment where children are more likely to say if someone new starts to speak to them or if they see something that has scared them. In taking these steps, the internet will slowly become a safer environment for the children that are being raised with technology.

Blog by Emma Wheelhouse, Solicitor

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