Most teens approached by strangers on social-networking sites: survey

8 Feb 2010

Microsoft research shows that 71pc of Irish teenagers have been contacted by strangers online and 43pc have responded out of curiosity, which should be a cause for serious concern for parents, guardians and teachers.

The figures were revealed today, on EU Internet Safety Day, by the Minister for Education and Science Batt O’Keeffe TD.

Microsoft Ireland kicked off its campaign both in the Republic of Ireland and in the North to promote internet safety among children and to encourage them to “think before you post”. The campaign is being run by Microsoft Ireland in partnership with the National Centre for Technology in Education (NCTE) and An Garda Síochána to mark Safer Internet Day

Today, teams from Microsoft will visit 70 primary schools across Ireland and train more than 6,200 students from 8-9 February, 2010, in delivering internet safety sessions to students.

Of the Irish teenagers surveyed, 71pc of them said they have been approached online by a stranger through their social-networking page.

Of those contacted by a stranger, 43pc of Irish teenagers have responded out of curiosity.

Irish teenagers and internet usage

The research also shows that today’s Irish teenagers are sophisticated internet users, with 79pc of them actively accessing social-networking sites, but Microsoft’s research has shown worrying gaps in their online safety awareness and overall internet education.

Some 62pc of those surveyed said their parents/guardians are doing nothing to encourage them to be safe online.

However, when their parents were questioned, 58pc said they were confident that their children are taking necessary safety precautions with the information they are sharing online and more than 73pc said they took measures to control their child’s use of the internet, but only 46pc say they monitor their child’s online movements and regular postings.

Speaking in Scoil Mhuire in Ballincollig, Co Cork, today, O’Keeffe said: “Internet safety is a particular priority for me as minister, particularly given the ubiquity of online material now available.

“So, in partnership with the National Council for Technology in Education, I am now finalising a comprehensive education programme for the Junior Certificate curriculum which is aimed at raising awareness of internet safety and exploring online privacy issues. I hope that Safer Internet Day will encourage children to protect themselves online and remind parents to closely monitor their children’s internet habits.

“While the internet is the gateway to learning and knowledge, it can harbour risks for young people if it is not approached responsibly. I hope that message gets through to children and their parents through the activities planned for schools over the coming days.”

Research on Irish teenagers and social-networking sites safety

The research continued to show that the vast majority of teenagers (66pc) believe it is completely safe to share personal information across social-networking sites, with almost half surveyed allowing any internet users to access their information.

“We take the issue of internet safety very seriously and have continuously invested in schemes and programmes to help educate young users of the internet and their parents about how to use this great resource in a safe and efficient manner,” said Paul Rellis, general manager, Microsoft Ireland.

“As part of Safer Internet Day we are partnering with the Government, educational representatives and law enforcement agencies to highlight the importance of this issue. In addition, we have prepared useful resources for families to use – such as our family safety tools, and continually invest in our products to ensure that their safety features are constantly enhanced.

“Our latest browser, Internet Explorer 8, offers significant additional safety features over and above earlier versions and that is one of the reasons that we are encouraging people to upgrade to IE8 as part of the activity this week. We take our responsibilities as a leader in the ICT industry very seriously and prioritise the issue of child online safety in all of our activities.

“Today’s ‘web generation’ is increasingly communicating and sharing personal information via the internet and through the growing number of social-networking sites. The advent of social media has created a world of sophisticated web users, but our children and young people still need guidance on what personal information can be safely shared online.”

What Irish teenagers use social-networking sites for

Jerome Morrissey, director NCTE, said today’s youth are using online tools like Bebo, Facebook and Twitter to write about their lives, express their views and, more importantly, to connect and share their lives with friends.

“In these spaces, audiences are invisible, contexts are fluid, and distinctions between public and private are becoming increasingly blurred. Young people try to use privacy settings to restrict who can see their personal information, how it can be searched, and in what context it can be seen. However, in reality, these measures can be circumvented easily,” Morrissey said.

By John Kennedy

Photo: Irish teenagers are using social-networking sites to share their lives with their friends

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years