With the number of chat rooms, social media channels and IM (Instant Messaging) apps now available, it is easier than ever to meet new people from anywhere in the world.
You can sign up to thousands of platforms and within minutes be chatting with strangers from the opposite side of the world.
It’s easy to see certain benefits of this; meeting new friends that you’d never meet otherwise, finding other people who share the same interests as you, the ability to chat with your real life friends. Unfortunately, there are also a lot of risks that come with these types of platforms.
Verification processes aren’t as thorough as we would all like. All you have to do is change the year in your date of birth and you can go from 50 to 15 in a minute. This allows a lot of people to crawl through these sites looking for underage people to speak to and as far as the children are aware, the person they are talking to is the same age.
People can also easily pose as the opposite gender with ease and they do this as they believe it makes it easier to befriend the children.
The problem is that there are no easy ways to improve these verification processes. All that most platforms require is a name, email address and date of birth, all of which can be easily fabricated.
Companies are in a difficult position as most ways to improve this verification would dramatically reduce the amount of users they get. For example, if they require users to provide a form of photo ID then some teenagers would have no way to sign up, some people would try and find fake ID or other peoples ID to bypass this and some people wouldn’t want to spend the time and effort to go through this process. Let's not forget this would also mean a big increase in staff numbers to manually verify the ID’s sent through.
It’s also important to remember that children can also change their age when signing up to these platforms, often allowing them to be over the minimum age limit which would stop them using the site.
Most of these platforms will often have minimum age requirements of around 13. But, as with people pretending to be younger, the verification processes aren’t good enough to stop them changing some details.
If your children are using these platforms then it is important to make sure they are aware of the dangers of online grooming.
There are many reported cases of adults using these types of platforms to groom children. Online Grooming is when people use fake information and profiles to befriend people online, usually for sexual purposes. Children are a lot more likely to believe information that people tell them without questioning its legitimacy.
An online groomer can take time to learn about their victim, looking into their online profiles, finding out their likes and dislikes from those profiles and trying to see how likely it is that the child may tell an adult about them.
Once they have decided they feel comfortable to go ahead, they may initially start talking to the child and befriending them, using compliments and starting conversations based on what the child likes.
They may move on to buying gifts for the child to make them feel special and eventually will try and convince the child into meeting in person. When they initially meet in person the groomer may continue to be friendly at first, however they may eventually attempt to coerce the child into performing sexual acts or sexually abusing the child if they don’t.
Teaching children about these dangers is more important than ever, so here are some top tips on what you can do to help prevent online grooming;
Groomers can be very sophisticated criminals that take a long time manipulating people without them knowing about it.
This doesn’t always stop with children though, some groomers have been known to focus on the family of the children, becoming a family friend in the process. This can make the children more susceptible to the grooming as they believe they should trust a family friend.
Previously, the law prevented groomers from been arrested unless they had met or sexually abused a child. Thankfully, in April 2017 a new law has been put into place allowing police to arrest online groomers who send sexual messages to a child, intervening before any abuse can take place.
With the new laws in place it is now more important to ensure your children know that they should talk to you about any issues with online strangers they may have. Teaching your children about the signs to look out for when chatting with people online can help keep them safe from any online dangers.
Matt Jones, Education Officer at Tutorful
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