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Social Media Apps- What are the dangers?

Oct 23, 2018

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I recently attended my first Level 1 Safeguarding training course as part of my internship at Pro-Action. The nuance of the course was to inform those working with children and young people about the different types of abuse, how to recognise them, and what legalisation and guidelines to follow in such situations.

The most significant aspect of the course for me was realising how susceptible children and young people to the threats posed by social media apps, by the sheer variety and accessibility of them.  

Children and young people in the UK are found to be one of the ‘most extreme’ internet users according to a 2017 report based on 35 countries by Education Policy Institute (EPI) thinktank. 

It’s not difficult to understand why this is. Social media apps give us quick and easy access to engaging and entertaining content. 

The scale in which social media apps are being produced is unprecedented; which means more challenges to monitor the dangers lurking behind them.

Of course, the dangers posed to children and young people engaging in social media is nothing new. We hear stories in the news, radio, friends and family, and ironically social media itself, of shocking cases of children and young people being groomed, bullied and exploited on these digital platforms.

In parallel there are also readily available resources out there promoting ‘Safe Social Networking'. Social media giants such as Facebook and Twitter give users option to ‘Report’ a profile. However, this is assuming the child or young person has already unwittingly witnessed or taken part in the offensive material. 

Despite most social media networks such as WhatsApp, Instagram and YouTube having age restrictions put in place, (majority of them you have to be 13+), this doesn’t stop users from sharing or accessing information that can put them at risk. 

One aspect of the course that struck me were the ‘Secret Folders’ apps such as the ‘Secret Calculator or Vault’, which allows users to store images or videos under the guise of a seemingly innocent app.  

More so, was the ample opportunity for children and young people to talk anonymously with others.

Being able to share experiences with friends in real life on social media is an appealing incentive to ‘make more friends’ online. However, with millions of fake profiles circulating on social media we can never be certain that that we person we are messaging are who they say they are.  

Apps such ‘Whisper’ and ‘Scandal Chat’ and ‘Anonymous Chat’ allow users to partake in different online communities which contain adult topics and destructive messages.

This culture of sharing every small detail of our lives with strangers is one of the most serious issues arising with social media apps. It doesn’t help that most apps aimed at young people give them a false sense of security that their messages will be deleted after they have been viewed. 

The app, ‘Monkey’, allows users to receive calls directly from strangers, or ‘Omegle’ allows you to engage in a one-to-one video chat. The popular, ‘Snapchat’ app claims to delete messages automatically after 24 hours but how can we trace where they end up- when a person’s message can be screenshot (using a trick) without the owner knowing. 

This then begs the question: How do we monitor the emotional, psychological or physical impact social media apps are having on our children and young people when the full extent of what they are exposed is yet to be realised?

Social media can never be entirely safe, but it can be safer. Education is the way forward in informing young people how to use social media responsibly. However, this also depends on stricter legislation for companies that produce these apps in the first place. 

Social media, can and should be, a fun and interactive place- that doesn’t mean our young people don’t have the right to be protected, in the digital world and the real one.

If you work with children and young people and want to know more about child protection then book on to our Level 1 and Level 2 Safeguarding Training courses here.