Internet Safety, Facebook, CEOP and the real dangers of the Internet

On Radio 4’s Today programme, the CEO from CEOP was explaining why Facebook should have a ‘Panic button’. you can listen here (if you are in the UK).
It is worth setting this in context of some of the literature available, particularly when this literature appears to be ignored by CEOP.
An attempt to briefly summarise empirical data will of course have shortcomings.
Dooley et al. (2009) found in their review of the scientific and non-scientific literature significant and major gaps in most areas of cyber-safety research. They report most of the areas addressed have been subjected to only cursory examination in the literature. Further, they report that topics often addressed in the popular media have received scant attention in the scientific literature. For example, online grooming is a risk associated with the use of the Internet that has not been subject to thorough scientific investigation in methodologically sound research studies.
Data from International studies found that between 2 and 23% of children received online sexual solicitations (i.e. innuendo, sexual questions, or requests for sexual content) (Rosen et al. 2008; McQuade and Sampat 2008; Dooley et al. 2009). The percentage of youth reporting offline contact as a result of online encounters is relatively low, and sexual assaults are very rare (0-3 in 1500) (Wolak et al. 2004, 2006). Dooley et al. (2009) using US data, found the rate of Internet-initiated sexual contact between adults and minors is between 4 and 7%.
The overall number of cases of sexual assault reported per year has steadily decreased since 1992, indicating that the total number of cases of sexual assault against youth has not increased due to Internet grooming. (National Center for Missing and Exploited Children 2006; Calpin 2006; Finkelhor and Jones 2008; Wolak et al. 2003) Social network sites do not appear to have increased the overall risk of solicitation (Wolak et al. 2008). Chat rooms and instant messaging are still the dominant place where solicitations occur (77%) (Wolak et al. 2006).
Under the direction of CEOP (UK Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre) the UK focus of cyber safety appears, until recently, to be almost exclusively directed towards sexual solicitation and grooming. Further, sexual solicitation, cyber-stalking and grooming retain primary focus in mass media (Newspapers, Television, Television News). However, of far greater concern is (cyber-) bullying, with rates of up to 50% being reported, and exposure to inappropriate material (e.g. violent, pornographic, pro eating disorder and self-harm content). Estimates of exposure to inappropriate content range from 15-90% of young people using the internet.
Despite shortcoming in the scientific and non-scientific literature, online safety remains widely debated and empirical evidence on how young people are using the internet continues to inform policy and practice (ISTTF 2008). Driving this debate are the very real concerns for parents and society as a whole about the safety of children and young people (Bryron Review 2008). Robust data on how young people are using the internet continues to be reported (for example see the work of Michele Ybarra). It is clear from this that our concerns, and our response to those concerns, must be proportionate. A strong challenge to ensuring a balanced perspective is the ever-changing landscape of social media. When it comes to understanding the digital worlds that children inhabit many adults feel out of their depth and so either don’t engage or become so anxious that they over-control a child’s behaviour (Byron Review 2008).
The greatest risk children and young people face is not, contrary to popular media reporting, sexual solicitation and grooming, rather exposure to (and creation of) ‘inappropriate’ content (pro eating disorders, pro self-harm, violence and hate sites) and cyber bullying. A significant gap in the literature to date (Livingstone, Dooley, ITTSF) is how the ‘risks’ of the internet affect those who are considered ‘at-risk’ or ‘vulnerable’.

Byron Report 2008. download here
Calpin, Christine M. 2006. “Child Maltreatment.” U.S. Department of Health & Human Services,.
Dooley et al. 2009. download here
Finkelhor, David and Lisa Jones. 2008. “Updated Trends in Child Maltreatment, 2006.” Crimes Against Children Research Center. (
ITTSF 2008. download here
McQuade, Samuel C. and Neel M. Sampat. 2008. “Survey of Internet and At-risk Behaviors: Undertaken
by School Districts of Monroe County New York.” Retrieved September 13, 2008
National Center for Missing and Exploited Children 2006. download here

Rosen, Larry D., Nancy A. Cheever, and L. Mark Carrier. 2008. “The association of parenting style and child age with parental limit setting and adolescent MySpace behavior.” Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology 29(6): 459–471.
Wolak, Janis, Kimberly J. Mitchell, and David Finkelhor. 2003. “Internet Sex Crimes Against Minors: The Response of Law Enforcement.” National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, November. (

Wolak, Janis, David Finkelhor, and Kimberly J. Mitchell. 2004. “Internet-initiated Sex Crimes against Minors: Implications for Prevention Based on Findings from a National Study.” Journal of Adolescent Health 35(5): 424.e11–424.e20.
Wolak, Janis, David Finkelhor, Kimberly Mitchell, and Michele Ybarra. 2008. “Online “Predators” and Their Victims: Myths, Realities, and Implications for Prevention and Treatment.” American Psychologist 63(2): 111-128.Wolak et al. 2006

2 thoughts

  1. A very well written and balanced article.

    We seem to be living in an era where adults, particularly men are being demonised. As a parent I am of course keen to see my children safe, but they need to feel comfortable in their world.

    More importantly they need to be able to make balanced judgements about the world around them which will come from sensible education rather than knee-jerk reactions to ill informed news.

Comments are closed.