Webchat with Lucinda Fell from Childnet


We welcomed Lucinda Fell from Childnet International for a webchat on Tuesday 9 February (Safer Internet Day 2010). This is an edited transcript of the live webchat.

Lucinda is Childnet's policy and communications manager. She's a member of the UK Council for Child Internet Safety and a member of the European Commission Social Networking Taskforce.

LucindaFell: Hi everyone, I'm really pleased to be here on Safer Internet Day and to try to answer some of your questions. As an organization, it is our aim to make the Internet a great and safe place for children and young people in the UK by responding to the risks and promoting the positive opportunities that the Internet offers.

We don't recommend specific services or technical solutions - but can hopefully give you some tips to think about in choosing such services. It's been great to see some of you sharing your advice and experience too.

Letter QJJ: I have a 12 year old. An ex(ish) friend of his is bullying via mobile a current friend of his. I've told him that if the ex(ish) friend texts anything to him about the current friend, he should either: say something nice about the current friend or not engage at all - most likely the best thing is the first followed by the latter.

The mother of the bully is someone I see occasionally socially and I haven't mentioned this to her; after talking to my friends I think it's just not my business, especially because the current's friend's mother doesn't want to say anything. Any suggestions? Guidelines for kids when they're not the victim or the perpetrator of the bullying but want to stop it and support the victim?

Letter ALucindaFell: This is an excellent question. Cyberbullying, which is what we call bullying through using mobile technologies and computers, is sadly an increasing worry for children and young people.

The advice you've given your son to not engage in these unpleasant messages is great. In the office here we have lots of conversations about digital citizenship – and what it means to be good digital citizen, and it sounds like you are encouraging your son to be a good digital citizen.

One indirect way of tackling the problem could be to suggest to your friend that she contacts her son's school to ask if they have done any work on cyberbullying. We produced advice for secondary schools with the DCSF on this topic that the school can access free and maybe a lesson would wake the bully up to what they are doing, and encourage other friends to support the target.

Letter QFimblehobbs: I'd like to know the best web filter for children, and do you install it permanently or can I switch it off when I want to go online? Can't imagine I'd be allowed on Mumsnet with a filter!

Also - is there a 'safe mode' for YouTube or children's equivalent – five-year-old DS loves watching Michael Jackson dance videos. Currently I vet them all first to make sure they really are what they say they are, but I would like him to be able to search himself in due course.

Rhubarb: You can set up on your PC a user for your children that is separate from yours. If you go into Start/Control Panel they are in there. You can then alter the settings on your children's, so go into internet settings and make sure the filters are on high. Google and YouTube have their own filters, I believe, that you can save as default. These DIY measures are often just as good as any you can buy and they don't interfere with your usage.

Fimblehobbs: Thanks Rhubarb, that's great.

Isnowsoonenough: Rhubarb has some good points. You have to be of a certain age to join these social networks, children just make it up. With mobiles being taken (even if banned) into schools, pictures etc are taken in the school and posted on Facebook with tags to pupils pictures.

I'm always looking over muy daughter's shoulder. And I am very concerned, that however much I protect her, her 'mates' online can publish what they like and link it back to her. It makes me uneasy.

Letter QLeninGrad: Please could you recommend a good web filter to ensure DS1 and I only click on appropriate things for him to view when we're browsing.

What age do you think kids should be able have internet-enabled phones and again can they be restricted to suitable sites? I know it'll differ per child but just roughly. Also, do providers still sell them with no data services? Do libraries prevent access to adult material online? Do internet cafés?

Rhubarb: LeninGrad, libraries do, yes. Our local one doesn't allow access to any social networking sites either.

LeninGrad: Interesting thanks. So is there a 'blacklist' of sites that a router blocks? It must be constantly updated as new sites must pop up all the time?

Rhubarb: Possibly it goes off keywords like 'social networking', 'adult' and so on.

Letter ALucindaFell: Thanks for your questions. You might find it useful to look at http://kids.getnetwise.org/tools/. They have a 'tools for families database' which allows you to tailor your search with many variables such as what operating system you are using and the type of content that you might want to filter.

It's hard to suggest an age for kids to use internet-enabled mobile technology, but a lot of the mobile phone operators provide parental controls which offer a limited amount of websites for kids to browse.

We have observed that children who see their parents modelling safe use of these types of technologies tend to follow suit. You can also check out a checklist we wrote for parents, with useful questions to ask when buying a mobile phone for children - http://www.kidsmart.org.uk/downloads/mobilesQ.pdf

LeninGrad: Thanks for the response, I'll have a read.

Rhubarb: A couple of stories for you. I was on Twitter as THEDavidTennant and I had loads of kids telling me they loved me, asking me for autographs etc. Obviously I wasn't the real DT and some of the kids were only nine or ten. Now you aren't allowed on Twitter until you are 16, I believe. I saw how easy it was for someone to fool these kids and I suddenly had a greater awareness of the danger out there for children.

I also came across a couple of disturbing Twitter accounts, including one that was set up to be two American boys who were famous, as far as I could gather. They were tweeting inappropriate things to girl fans and asking for mobile phone numbers. I was pretty sure upon Googling that these boys were not the real deal and so I reported them and another account involving a child to the people at Twitter. I never heard back and the account, some months later, was still live.

I think that social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook do appeal to children. The founders aren't stupid, they know that. The applications they have on Facebook capture children's interest too - such as YoVille (had a look on there, little avatars in bra and knickers, one asked if there was anyone over 16 there and they answered back giving their ages from nine to 13). They know their market. They lure children in and do nothing to protect them. Surely by now there should be a law in place that puts the burden of responsibility onto the shoulders of these people.

By default the settings of Facebook allow your profile, including photos to be public. As an adult I only found that out when someone searched for me and recognised me from photos I had thought were private. As a child how do you know that?

They are failing to safeguard our children. It's all very well saying that it's up to the parents, but very often the parents don't understand social networking sites and they are unaware of the dangers they pose.

The 13-year-old daughter of my boss was a victim of bullying on Facebook. They created a false profile for her, used a photo of Meredith Kercher and joined her up to groups such as animal sex and so on. She was devastated when she found out. It's all too easy to set up a fake profile on Facebook. I've done it myself. The government need to take action now to stop our children being exploited by these huge companies.

Letter QQuintessential12belowZero: My niece was on bebo. A man with dubious intentions was able to trace her and her friends, by lurking on their sites and following their comments to each other on the chat box. They mentioned local football teams, and a few local sites, and he started hanging around outside their school. Then he started following the girls home, one by one. Luckily, the police dealt with it.

He had also left comments on the girls' pages, pretending to be another girl in a few years above, thus starting dialogues with them. The girls were 12/13 at the time. They don't make references to anything they can be recognised by anymore, and they have taken their pictures down.

Letter ALucindaFell: Thank you for sharing your niece's experience Quintessential12belowZero. Sadly, there are those who will seek to use the internet to foster inappropriate relations. The theme of Safer Internet Day this year is 'Think before you post' and that goes for the content you post too – such as your photos, and comments and it's important for users to think about identifying features and details that they may inadvertently share about themselves.

It sounds like they have done just the right thing in being careful with the references they use now. The new digital code as part of the Click Clever, Click Safe strategy is 'Zip It, Block It, Flag It' and this can be helpful for young users to remember with regards to not sharing too much personal information, blocking those who upset them or telling an adult if they are contacted by someone who worries them, or see something that upsets them.

Letter QHulababy: What strategies or policies should schools be implementing to ensure children remain safe online in schools

Letter ALucindaFell: All schools should have a range of policies in place including an acceptable user policy in place, that both teachers and pupils are familiar with. Use of technology should also be embedded in other policies such as the bullying policy. Our education team are in schools daily, and they often say that the most effective policies they have seen in schools are the ones where children have been included in the process. We have observed that they are more likely to respect and adhere to these policies. It's also important for staff to now about the sorts of things that children enjoy doing online such as games and social networking services – much like we encourage parents to be familiar, so that they can talk to pupils and provide advice if they have questions on these topics.

Letter QCleanandclothed: I am struggling to come to grips with the world that my son (now only one!) will live in when he is at primary school. When I was small, the only phone was a landline in a public place in the home, and there was no internet. So my parents were aware of pretty much 100% of the contact I had with anyone outside of school hours. Now that is so unbelievably different. Already DS loves my phone, my blackberry and my computer, just for the bright colours and buttons.

Do you have simple guidelines for small children? I will probably err on the 'draconian' side at first - no personal computer, only a family one in a public place, no personal mobile until - not sure - maybe secondary school. But when it comes to which websites etc I am clueless. Can you give basic pointers?

Letter ALucindaFell: On the theme of parents and teachers staying up-to-date, there are a wide range of resources that we have produced, and the government has today launched a new website (accessed through Directgov – www.direct.gov.uk/clickcleverclicksafe), supporting the Click Clever, Click Safe code which provides a useful overview to some of the issues.

Letter QWrigsAndJiggs: I am concerned about the number of under-age children on sites such as bebo and Facebook. Do you think it will ever be possible to restrict accress to children? Obviously, a parent can restrict access, but what about the service providers / people behind such websites. Can they ever be held accountable for failing to keep checks on their users?

Letter QExperimentSixTwoSix: I know Facebook has a minimum age policy but I can see loads of underage kids that I know are friends with their parents. I haven't befriended any of them because some of the comments I make on other people's walls etc (which I think come up on newsfeeds etc) wouldn't be appropriate for them to read. What's best policy with Facebook?

Letter QCreditcrunched: Why do kids have to wait until they are 13 to join Facebook, bebo and others? As soon as they move to secondary school they want to be on social networking sites, especially to keep in touch with their old primary school friends and yet to do so they have to lie about their age. If these sites aren't 'safe' for under-13s then why can't they provide one with safer features, less open to all etc? This drives me mad, I would be happy for my 11 or 12 year old to be on social networking sites but I don't want to tell them that they should LIE to do so.

Letter ALucindaFell: We've had quite a few questions on Facebook, and you might all be interested to know that my colleague, Will, blogged about the importance of thinking before you post on the Facebook blog this morning.

Social networking sites, such as Facebook, are very popular with children – even those as young as eight and nine, and as some of you rightly point out, the minimum age for using these services is 13. We understand the frustration that younger users have – but don't condone lying about user age!

There are social networking services such as Club Penguin, which are aimed at a younger audience and which are more appropriate for younger users. I've mentioned our work on digital citizenship earlier, and part of being a good digital citizen is respecting the rules and the terms of the services that you are using – or in this case want to use!

It's also important to encourage children and young people to sign in with their correct ages as they are afforded a greater level of protection this way. However, we have heard of some families who model best practice to their children in their use of these sites, but have a family social networking account which they access, use and update together.

As a parent or carer, one of the best things that you can do is to familiarise yourself with the services that your kids are using and the safety tips.

Hulababy: Presumably though, many children are on Facebook with the permission of their parents. I have seen very young children with Facebook pages, and I know Mumsnetters have children on Facebook too for various reasons. I personally don't allow DD on Facebook. She is seven and in my opinion sites like Club Penguin are far more appropriate.

Creditcrunched: You can't be saying that Club Penguin is a suitable alternative to Facebook for the 11 and 12 year old secondary school pupil, Lucinda... can you?

Letter QFlashharriet: Totally agree with what's been posted to date, especially Rhubarb. It worries me that in today's time-poor society, too many children are left without adequate supervision at home - I've been guilty of this myself.

It's easy to think of the computer in the same way as the TV but children can be exposed to such horrific content at the touch of a button on the internet. I wish there was a way that I could filter content in the same way as on my Sky box eg some channels are blocked completely and don't even appear on the list and others can only be accessed by entering a PIN.

Having three children of different ages, I would like to be able to easily have three different approaches reflecting these ages:

  • For the six year old - strict filtering so some sites don't even appear
  • For the nine year old - slightly looser filtering and more use of a PIN allowing case by case discussion
  • For the 11 year old - same as for the nine year old with the extension of having their own PIN to allow them access to certain agreed sites.

Is there a system that would allow me to do this? I do not have time to personally supervise and vet every site my children visit. Re social networking sites - they are the Devil's own work for the under-21s, in my opinion.

Also, we discovered that despite having the highest level of protection on the kids' profile, they have been able to access a page showing hardcore porn where only a few of the pictures had been blocked out due to content. The website address was something like www.sexygirls - I cannot believe that any decent filter would let this through angry.

And finally (sorry, I know we're only allowed one comment), is it true that computer manufacturers sell computers with the default safety settings being "off" rather than "on"? Isn't this something that Govt should be looking to change PDQ?

Letter ALucindaFell: Thank you for your comments. You raise some very interesting points about the computer being used as a babysitter sometimes, and also how it can be difficult for parents to apply safety settings and to engage in this area.

Filtering is a useful tool, but technology is only part of the solution and it is important for parents to talk to their children about what they are doing online and support them in making safe decisions. However, we know that talking to children and young people about internet safety can be challenging for parents and carers and recent stats released today by the UK Council for Child Internet Safety for Safer Internet Day said that over a quarter – 26.8% of young people say their parents don't talk to them about how they are spending their time online.

This next bit also answers Rhubarb's question too - with the support of the UK Council for Child Internet safety, we've produced a CD Rom for parents to introduce them to the internet and to help keep their children safe online.

Letter Qflashharriet: It's so difficult though Lucinda - I might have the most internet-savvy children and well-protected system but then they go to their friends' houses. Most parents appear to be so laissez-faire about the internet in general and social networking in particular, judging by the amount of kids at our school who already have Facebook accounts (and have open walls). I feel like a lone voice in the wilderness most of the time even being bothered about this stuff.

Letter ALucindaFell: This is something that we hear a lot. This can be tough for parents, especially when other households have adopted different rules – or lack thereof! One of the things that we have recognised is that we can't stop risk, but we can equip children and young people to deal with these online risks.

The Government's code launched today is a significant step forward. We've seen the government, internet industry and third-sector partners like ourselves agree this new simple message – and it is the collective intention, that much like the Green Cross Code, this will be easy for families to remember and will start to become an ingrained part of thinking.

We would also expect to see schools and clubs etc to pick these messages up and share them too. From September 2011, the new primary curriculum will mean that all children from the age of five must be taught about how to use technology safely and responsibly – so the pressure on parents will ease as it is incorporated into the curriculum.

Flashharriet: Thank you very much for coming in to talk to us Lucinda - I'm going to go and have a read through all the links you've posted.

Letter QRhubarb: Why it is up to schools and parents to monitor children's online activities and the creators of social networking sites like Facebook do not take any responsibility whatsoever.

Not every parent is internet savvy - Mumsnet parents probably are because we are all on here, but a lot more parents won't be online. My husband knows almost nothing about the internet and doesn't understand why I refuse to let our daughter have a Facebook or an email address at the age of nine.

Surely if Facebook creators are luring children in with gaming applications like FarmVille and YoVille they should take responsibility and ensure that stricter measures are put in place to prevent fake profiles and disturbing facebook groups. I don't believe them that they can't, I think the government needs to take action and stop putting the burden of responsibility onto parents and teachers.

The government have launched a website - again great for parents who already know their way around the internet, not so for those who don't go on the internet. How about making this information more accessible to all?

Letter ALucindaFell: Rhubarb, you are so right when you say that it is important that this information is accessible for all users. The Know It All for Parents resource (the CD Rom I just mentioned) is available with a summary in 9 different languages including BSL and the Click Clever, Click Safe strategy has been designed to provide parents with a short and memorable code - Zip It, Block It, Flag It. Both the KIA CD Rom and the code can be used in the offline world – and so hopefully support parents who aren't yet online.

Rhubarb: Yes, but again the focus is on the parents doing something about it and it takes away the responsibility from Facebook and other networking sites. Aren't we just letting them off the hook? I'd like to see your CD Rom sent to every parent in the country.

Letter QMorningpaper: I don't know anything whatsoever about this topic although I have a seven year old. I would like to let her browse on the computer by herself. Where do I need to start finding out about this sort of thing and getting something implemented?

Letter ALucindaFell: I think we've covered some of this in my previous post, but we think that the first thing that all parents can do in helping to protect their children online is to be interested in what they're doing online and to start by asking the type of questions you raised – so that's a great start. We have a fun and interactive website at www.kidsmart.org.uk with all sorts of advice for children on how to stay safe online. You might like to start by looking at that website together, look at some of the videos of top tips from other young people and think together how they might be relevant to what your daughter will be doing online.

It's useful from the start to have simple rules in place about both of your expectations and for her to know that she can come to you if she sees something that upsets or worries her.

Letter Qsomebodiesmum: My daughter was unlucky to be targeted by someone online, there are videos of her semi-naked doing things to herself on the net still. The police say she enticed these people to do it as they would find it hard to prove she was only 11 when it happened. She was sent some pretty disgusting images and they asked her for more videos/images of herself.

I never allowed her to have the laptop out the living room, but she still managed to do it. They asked her where she stayed and if she could go someplace with them. She is now undergoing counselling but won't talk about it.

I thought I had protected her from things like this but instead I let them in my house. What could I have done differently? If anything?

Letter ALucindaFell: I'm so sorry to hear that. We've timed out now, but as this is such a personal case, do please feel free to call the Childnet office to talk about it and we can provide you with the other support and advice on this topic that we and other government agencies have issued.

LucindaFell: Thank you all for taking part in this chat today. We've ended on quite a dark note, but I would like to encourage you all not to pull the plug on the internet. It does offer many positive opportunities for children and young people and there are lots of tools available to help you navigate your and your child's internet journey safely and enjoyably.

Child abuse images can be reported to the IWF as has been pointed out, but their jurisdiction only covers content hosted in the UK. You can also report suspected grooming to the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP).

Do check our kidsmart.org.uk and digizen.org.uk sites for more tips about staying safe, and advice for parents too.

For more details on the new UKCCIS code launched today go to www.direct.gov.uk/clickcleverclicksafe and remember to Click Clever, Click Safe!

Last updated: 9 months ago