Using social media can open many windows into the world for children, but can also leave them vulnerable to abuse and create other problems. Louise Daniel discusses the main issues, along with fresh government proposals
Most children are capable of posting information and pictures on social media sites. However, many platforms have no age restriction for registration, which means children can interact unsupervised with the online community.
Even if a post is not put up by your child it can stay on a social media site for years. This can have damaging consequences for youngsters when they are older because employers often search social media to vet job applications. What may have seemed amusing a few years ago can come back to haunt children as young adults.
Protecting children from harmful content
The risks posed by unrestricted access is underlined by an NSPCC survey that reveals four out of five children feel social media companies aren’t doing enough to protect them from harmful content.
Asked about what they were coming across on social media sites, children reported seeing content depicting pornography, self-harm, bullying and hatred.
New government action
Under new government proposals, individuals will be legally entitled to ask for the removal of personal data or information posted when they were children.
The proposals are part of the Data Protection Bill which will transfer the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation to UK law, regardless of Brexit. The bill will have its first reading in the Commons in September 2017 although it could be some months before it is implemented.
Other measures in the bill include making it easier to withdraw consent for personal data to be used online, and allowing people ask for data to be deleted. The bill will also require firms to obtain ‘explicit’ consent when processing sensitive personal data, as well as making it much more straightforward for people to get hold of information held on them by organisations.
The bill comes with tough penalties for non-compliance. Firms that have a serious data breach could be fined up to £17m or four per cent of global turnover. Currently the maximum fine for breaching data protection laws is £500,000.
What parents can do right now
Any legal changes will take months to come into effect. So what can you do now to protect your child?
Privacy settings are obviously important, but are often insufficient – especially if the post is stored on another person’s page.
Regardless of legislative changes, children still need to learn about the implications of their social media activities. If adults aren’t as internet savvy as their kids, they need to be.
Current legal solutions for social media issues
Until the Data Protection Bill is enacted, current law can help to remove content from social media. As a first step, though, you should approach the social media provider under its own terms and conditions.
It’s also possible to use the same laws that also apply to offline activities, such as data protection, copyright, privacy, harassment and defamation (libel).
Sometimes you can remove posts from social media platforms by sending a carefully worded request, but this does not always solve the problem as different social network sites have different terms and conditions.
Weighing up the costs and benefits
Another legal difficulty is that the headquarters of many social media companies are abroad. This means that if the company fails to deal with an issue, you need to weigh up the practicalities and costs of potential litigation.
Any parents considering legal action to resolve any sort of social media-related dispute should take specialist advice before proceeding.
For further advice on social media issues and children, call Louise Daniel on 01706 213 356, or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org