Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: The lesson for us all in tragic death of Ronan Hughes

Most parents warn their children when they are going out to avoid approaches by strangers or getting themselves into situations which could prove dangerous. Most of us, if we are honest, imagine that our children are safe in their own homes. Yet we unwittingly could be leaving our doors wide open.

For social media is a portal into our homes which is accessible by all sorts of people around the world at any time.

As our report today on a court case arising out of the tragic death of Coalisland teenager Ronan Hughes shows, he was the victim of a predator from the other side of Europe. Ronan was blackmailed by a Romanian man who had contacted him online, and the distraught 17-year-old took his own life.

For his grieving family there is some slight satisfaction in seeing the predator being tracked down and jailed, but the three-year term he will serve is, by common consent, not fitting for the crime.

What this tragedy underlines is the potential danger of unfettered social media. Due to the plethora of electronic platforms available it has never been easier for those of ill intent to prey on their victims, young or old.

Social media is of course a valuable communication tool when used properly. It is a great way for people to keep in touch or even to summon help in an emergency and we have often read reports of those who owe their lives to the medium.

But there is also a dark side to it. Trolls use it to vent their spleen in anonymity, often causing distress to those they target. And they are not even the worse of offenders.

Others use social media for cyber bullying, sometimes with tragic consequences and, of course, it is a medium where paedophiles trawl for victims.

A disturbing recent survey conducted by the NSPCC and ChildLine revealed that 60% of teenagers questioned said they had been asked online to send sexual images or videos. Worryingly 25% said they had sent such images, with a third of those saying they had forwarded them to someone they knew online but had never met.

That all begs the question - do we really know what our children and young people get up to online and what influences are being brought to bear on them?

Educating young people of the dangers online, and being able to monitor their contacts, is as vital as warning them about the dangers that lie outside the home.

Belfast Telegraph

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