As a young person I wish to discuss the online safety issues that I believe affect us most. I will discuss sexting and inappropriate content, the social media sites that affect us most and the issues relating to them.
The definition of a sext is a sexually explicit photograph or message sent via mobile telephone. It is very much a taboo subject, which people shy away from discussing, but it must be addressed. Many of the teenagers engaging in these activities are not informed of the dangers or the legalities relating to the sharing of intimate images. This issue was raised recently when stories surfaced in the news, leaving parents concerned and raising the need for awareness among young people. Sending an image to the person one plans to see it and trusts may appear harmless but can have disastrous consequences if it gets into the wrong hands. The sender of the photograph has no ability to prevent the image being shared with a wider audience than initially intended. It is important to take this into consideration when intending to send a risky image, even if it is to somebody with whom one is in a close or trusting relationship, as factors such as peer pressure or a break up might mean that the images stay in their possession. What would a future employer think of a resurfaced intimate image? It is important to consider the emotional stress of having pictures of oneself distributed to an audience. Under data protection and copyright law a person has the legal right to have the images taken off the Internet and if they are brought to the school's or the Garda's attention leaked images can be dealt with. This should be stressed to young people so they may become aware of the damaging and psychological effects of sexting.
Not only is sexting dangerous, it can also have serious possible legal consequences. Very few teenagers are aware of the legalities surrounding nude images, which can also be classified as child exploitation material. The Child Trafficking and Pornography Act 1998 makes no allowance or distinction regarding underage sexting. Child pornography incorporates a person under 17 years of age engaging in an explicit sexual activity or visual representation. Even the case of a suggestive provocative image that may suggest an explicit sexual representation of a part of the body may still come within the definition of child pornography. Offences include creation, distribution or possession of child pornography and the penalty can be up to 14 years imprisonment. The age of consent for sexual intercourse in Ireland is 17 years but while sexual activities under the age of 17 years are legal their recording is illegal and an offence. I believe this issue is getting out of control and becoming a popular trend due to the lack of education and information provided to young people. We can help prevent and tackle this by raising awareness and being taught the dangers of sexting in school as part of the social, personal and health education, SPHE, curriculum or the relationships and sexuality education, RSE, module.
Another concern with children using the Internet is how easily and instantly they can access inappropriate content, such as violent or sexually explicit images online, with or without the intention of doing so. Reports suggest that 25% of children have come across harmful content online and 11% have seen or received sexual content. The reports also found that less than 20% of parents are supervising their children's online activity. Parents can prevent this by monitoring their child's online usage, setting up safety mode within the settings of their YouTube account to filter out inappropriate content, setting up Google SafeSearch filters to filter out explicit material, setting up web filters and becoming aware of the apps their child is using.
Instagram is a free mobile app that can be downloaded to telephones, tablets, iPods and so forth. It is a form of social media that allows the user to upload photographs and videos to their profile page while allowing the person to direct message, follow, comment, view, tag in or like posts. It is a way to see what one's friends and favourite celebrities are up to, but can hold the risk of over-sharing personal details and information. It can be easy to feel one knows somebody from talking to the person online or seeing what seems like every minor detail of the person's life, but how easy is it to base one's opinion on somebody one has never actually met? The leaking or distribution of personal or banking details can also leave a person vulnerable to scams and hackers.
The Instagirl aesthetic envisages an unrealistic reality, an idealistic image of a perfect world that does not exist. With filters, exotic locations and a faultless lifestyle, this creates a false illusion of these glamorised fantasies. Feeds filled with airbrushed photoshopped flawless figures can lead to extreme self esteem and confidence issues in young girls who aspire to look and live like this new generation of role models. Unrealistic and unhealthy portrayals of female sexuality can lead young girls to feel insecure about their bodies, provoke fears of them being unattractive and lead to extreme dieting. Young people and celebrities are known for only posting the good and happiness in their lives on the media.
While a constant burst of a positive online influence may seem ideal, it can give young people an untrue perception of life, making them feel alienated for not constantly feeling the everyday optimism shared by these online influences. The messages that should be put across to teenagers are how it is okay not to be okay and that everyone has bad or off days. This should be highlighted through social media and should be used to promote the importance of mental health rather than damage it.
Public profiles on Instagram can be viewed by anyone, enabling access to any user to leave hateful or unkind comments. Privacy settings are in place to give the option for accounts to be on private, allowing the user to accept or deny follow requests. The age to own an account on Instagram is 13 years, but many children break this rule using false years of birth. Parents who are concerned by their children having accounts should implement their own rules, for example, having access to the account or controlling their child's online activity.
Snapchat is a photo and video messaging application that allows a person to send an image for a select amount of time. Snaps can be sent to anyone on a person's friends list. Snapchat lets a person draw on and add captions or text to his or her snaps. It also has a feature called stories where a person can post for his or her whole contact friend list to see and that lasts 24 hours. As well as this, it has a form of messaging known as blue chat. Here the chats will disappear if not tapped and saved. Snapchat is popular for sexting due to the users believing it will disappear once opened without considering the threat of a screenshot being taken of the image or the image being screen recorded. The age to activate an account is 13 years. There is a child-friendly version called "Snap kids" which allows a person to take pictures and save them to the camera roll without the option of friends and stories.
Snapchat launched a feature, snap maps, in June 2017 which outraged many people and was the subject of concern and alarm for parents. The feature allowed users to appear on a map for all their friends to see and pinpoint their location. This is highly dangerous and may cause serious threat to a child's location privacy. There is an option to turn off this feature - ghost mode - disabling access to the location.
Many of these problems can be easily prevented. The Internet is not a truly bad and dangerous place and, when used in a safe and responsible way, like many things, can be positive and beneficial. How do we tackle these issues? While there will always be negative and dangerous sources online, the right guidelines on children and young people, implemented with the assistance of teachers and parents, can help us young people remain safer on the web. Raising awareness is key. We need to get these issues talked about. There is much schools and parents can do to help. Safer Internet Day was yesterday, 6 February, with 100,000 teachers and students throughout the country taking part in activities relating to how to be safe when online.
Teachers addressing these issues through a range of subjects can help educate young people who are otherwise the most vulnerable to the dangers they may encounter online. Information evenings in schools or communities should be in place to inform parents and get them talking about the importance of safety online too. There are various helpful websites and organisations that provide information and help to people of all ages. With the right attitudes and resources and by addressing these issues, we can make a change and make the Internet a better and safer environment for the children and young people of Ireland.