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Editor's Viewpoint

Our children must be protected online

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The latest report by Ofcom on what children view online should concern parents. Some 62% of young people aged 12-15 in Northern Ireland admitted they saw hateful content, well above the 51% UK average. (stock photo)

The latest report by Ofcom on what children view online should concern parents. Some 62% of young people aged 12-15 in Northern Ireland admitted they saw hateful content, well above the 51% UK average. (stock photo)

The latest report by Ofcom on what children view online should concern parents. Some 62% of young people aged 12-15 in Northern Ireland admitted they saw hateful content, well above the 51% UK average. (stock photo)

The latest report by Ofcom on what children view online should concern parents. Some 62% of young people aged 12-15 in Northern Ireland admitted they saw hateful content, well above the 51% UK average.

Parents' concern in keeping their children safe online is understandable given the number of well-documented cases of cyber-bullying or persuading youngsters to carry out sexual acts online, some of which have resulted in children taking their own lives.

But hateful content goes beyond those issues and includes comments directed at gender, religion, disability, sexuality or gender identity.

As has been well documented, the internet is almost impossible to police adequately. The number of social media platforms used by young people is growing all the time and while there have been calls for those who control the platforms to introduce new barriers to improper content or to remove it more swiftly, progress in this area has been painfully slow.

That means there is a greater onus on parents to both introduce filters and blocks on the devices used by children and to talk to them about the dangers online. That obviously will work best with younger children, but all ages are often more technically accomplished than their parents.

With the internet available on all sorts of devices from smart watches to tablets, phones and laptops, it is impossible to prevent children seeking out or using sites or platforms which could contain undesirable content.

Ideally, parents and children should be able to talk frankly to each other about the benefits and dangers of the internet - only 55% of parents here believe the benefits of their children being online outweigh the risks.

As the Ofcom report says, children should be taught that they should respect others they encounter online in the same way as they would if they met them face to face.

Anonymous trolls use online platforms to vent their spleen on all sorts of issues and target anyone from public figures to vulnerable children. If young people feel they are being singled out for unwanted attention they should immediately notify their parents who can then contact those who regulate content and the PSNI if they feel the content has strayed into the area of criminal behaviour.

An independent regulator who can hold tech companies to account is an idea gaining momentum.

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