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Liverpool Echo
Liverpool Echo
Amy Browne

Is the internet becoming too harmful for children and young people?

We’re all aware of the part social media played in swaying public opinion of the covid pandemic.

See also recent high profile legal cases. But are you aware of how easily your child can be encouraged to try an extremely dangerous challenge, simply by seeing it on TikTok?

Even seeing something over the shoulder of a friend, on a phone that doesn’t belong to them, on an app they haven’t downloaded, is enough to plant an idea firmly and compel them to try it out. Children aged between eight and 12 are said to be most at risk.

READ MORE: Liverpool mums priced out of the workplace by crippling childcare fees

On April 7, 2022 Archie Battersbee was found unconscious by his mother, Hollie Dance, at her home in Southend-On-Sea, Essex. He had a ligature around his neck, prompting her to believe he may have been taking part in an online challenge gone wrong. Archie was taken straight to hospital, where he stayed until his life support was sadly ended against his parents' wishes, after a legal battle. Although the official cause of the beautiful boy's tragic death was never proven, Archie's mum Hollie has spoken out about the dangers of social media and how children can be encouraged to try harmful things.

Hollie is now urging parents to have conversations with their children, in the hope that other families can avoid such situations. In an interview with LBC last week she said “when you look into it it's so frightening. It's heart-breaking because I think if I’d have known about these challenges, I could have had that conversation with him, even the day before. And I know that I would have been really firm with that conversation, and we wouldn’t be here now.”

Many parents nowadays are already on the lookout for signs of online bullying, grooming and revenge porn. But we should also add fake news, mob/cancel culture, hate speech and dangerous challenges to our list of things to warn children about, in the ever-changing social media landscape.

Some of the most terrifying 'challenges' circulating include tripping people up, drinking certain liquids in an attempt to hallucinate, freezing your own skin, and attempting to make yourself pass out. These 'dares' may have been around in schools and playgrounds for generations, but the scope and influence of TikTok has increased case numbers exponentially. The Independent reported that TikTok is currently facing three lawsuits over the blackout challenge, following the death of three children.

What people see online can shape how they view the world and impact their overall wellbeing. Especially children, teenagers and/or vulnerable adults.

Two very alarming examples include Hunter Moore, from Sacramento, who achieved sickening notoriety for his website Is Anyone Up, which promoted revenge porn and allowed people to post sexual and explicit images of people without their permission - alongside their personal details and social media links. Hunter was jailed for hacking and copyright theft and released in 2017.

TikTok user Andrew Tate meanwhile, is making a living ranting about his misogynistic views including claiming in one video that women are "a men's property". A spokesperson for White Ribbon, which seeks to end male violence against women, spoke out about the content, saying Tate's comments are “extremely misogynistic” and could have “concerning” long-term effects on a younger audience.

A spokesperson from the NSPCC added: “It is concerning that children are being exposed to misogynistic content that promotes violence against women while they navigate social media. Viewing such material at a young age can shape a child’s experiences and attitudes, resulting in further harm to women and girls in and out of school and online.

"It’s crucial the delayed Online Safety Bill gives platforms clear duties to prevent children from viewing harmful content and is prioritised by the next Prime Minister. A Violence Against Women and Girls Code of Practice should also be incorporated into the Bill to ensure the algorithms of sites do not amplify sexism and gendered abuse to users.”

Advice available for parents

You can read about some of the NSPCC’s work on TikTok, including advice for parents/guardians here.

The 2 Johns are retired police officers who now deliver bespoke child exploitation training to professionals, parents, and children. They produced a video about how to set up a child account on TikTok that's connected to your adult account, that should keep children safe from inappropriate content. You can find out more here.

The National Crime Agency’s Education Scheme, has games children age between 5 and 18 can play, to learn about online safety. Covering topics like telling an adult if an online video makes them feel worried or scared, who to add on social media and who to be wary of, what to share on online, stalking, sharing nudes, healthy friendships, and sexual abuse. Take a look here.

NSPCC provide educational resources on edited/filtered images, fake news hoaxes and misinformation, online porn, promotion of self-harm, suicide and eating disorders, violent or distressing content, live streaming, and online gaming. Find out more here.

Barnardo’s shared their online support, which leads to resources about covid-19 information, online gaming, sexual abuse and screen time. You can view it here.

The BBC provides educational resources about spotting fake news. Take a look here.

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