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Two thirds of Northern Ireland children have seen online hate content, report reveals

Almost two-thirds of children from Northern Ireland claim to have witnessed hateful content online, a new report has suggested.

The figures were released in Ofcom's latest study of children's media and online lives for 2019.

The report also suggests that 43% of parents here are increasingly concerned about their child seeing content which might encourage them to self-harm.

Hateful content refers specifically to content directed at particular groups of people based on, for example, their gender, religion, disability, sexuality or gender identity.

However, 85% of parents interviewed did say they were more likely to speak to their children about staying safe on the internet.

Muriel Bailey from Parenting NI said the statistics are "very concerning" and encouraged parents to talk to their children about the use of the internet.

NSPCC Northern Ireland believes that an independent regulator must be introduced across the United Kingdom to hold technology companies responsible for media output to account.

The wide-ranging Ofcom report looked at the amount of children using the messaging service WhatsApp, the possibility of children being bullied via online games, as well as the number of young people using smart speakers.

The study, which was based on around 3,500 interviews with children and parents nationwide, indicates that:

  • In the UK as a whole, 51% of 12 to 15-year-olds who go online saw hateful content in the last year, but that jumped to 62% in Northern Ireland alone.
  • 55% of parents here believe the benefits of their child being online outweigh the risks.
  • The main gaming-related problems concerning parents here include in-game purchases (47% of parents) and the possibility of their child being bullied (39%).
  • WhatsApp is used by almost two-thirds of older children and now rivals Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram;
  • 24% of children in Northern Ireland are using smart speakers, while 77% own smart TVs.
  • Three-quarters of children here use a tablet to go online, while 43% use a mobile phone.
  • There was a 20% increase in the number of 10-year-olds likely to be trusted with their own smartphone in 2019 (50%) when compared to 2015 (30%).

Yih-Choung Teh, strategy and research group director at Ofcom, explained that education and stronger regulations will help children embrace their digital independence, while protecting them from the risks of the internet.

"Today's children have never known life without the internet, but two million parents now feel the internet causes them more harm than good," he said.

"So it's encouraging that parents, carers and teachers are now having more conversations than ever before with children about online safety."

Ms Bailey, Parenting NI's director for family support services, explained that the organisation often hears from parents who are increasingly concerned about their children's use of technology and the impact it has on their wellbeing.

"We would encourage parents to talk to their children about their use of the internet and convey that we should treat people online as we would in everyday life, with kindness and respect," she said.

"There are many filters and blocks which parents can explore with network providers to try and limit the risks of children stumbling upon things they shouldn't, as well as reporting features within apps and games.

"However, having open communication with your child is important when it comes to dealing with inappropriate or hateful content."

Ms Bailey added that parents can reassure their children that they can talk to them about anything they see online which they may find offensive or disturbing and they can then explore ways of handling the situation together.

A spokesperson for NSPCC Northern Ireland added that it was unsurprising that some parents feel the internet does more harm than good when "social networks' algorithms are designed to push even the most dangerous suicide and self-harm content at children".

"While it's encouraging that parents are talking to their children about their media use, we must look to tech giants to protect their users and ensure they are a force for good not bad," the charity's spokesperson said.

"We need an independent regulator to be introduced across the UK that will hold tech giants to account and implement tough consequences if they fail."

Belfast Telegraph