Do you feel safe on the internet? Online bullying has more than doubled within the last year, with 35 per cent of 11 to 17-year-olds becoming victims of such abuse, a new study finds.
The study, by internet security firm McAfee, is the latest in a series to shine a light on the darker side of the internet.
Bullying, loneliness and sexting – sometimes in situations where a naked picture is forwarded without the original sender’s consent – are on the rise, and young people told Channel 4 News it can happen to anyone.
Georgina Walters, a 21-year-old frequent tweeter, told Channel 4 News: “Anyone can become a victim, sadly, as boundaries online are blurred and people attack for their own entertainment without realising how it will affect and impact on a person’s life.”
The research, which polled 2,000 adults and 2,000 children and compared the findings to a similar study from last year, suggested that many parents are too relaxed about the dangers of the internet and are having the wrong conversations with their children.
In the poll, 35 per cent reported that they have experienced online bullying – compared with 16 per cent last year. And four in 10 said they had witnessed others being picked on online – almost double the 22 per cent recorded last year.
Parents are waking up to the issue, with more reporting having conversations about internet security, but still less than a third said they were worried about anything happening to their own children.
Andy Phillipen, professor of social responsibility in IT at Plymouth University, said: “It’s now time for parents to take the conversations to the next level and become further educated on the social platforms that exist, what ages they are suited for and what type of behaviour they encourage.”
There are other issues too, including around the use of dating apps like Tinder. Around one in six of (17 per cent) of the youngsters polled reported using Tinder every day, the report found, with almost half of those (46 per cent ) aged 15 and under.
Tinder is open to those who are 13 or older, with under-18s only able to “match” with people in the same age bracket.
Professor Phillipen added: “It is very concerning to see the proportion of younger teens using apps like Tinder, whose aim is essentially hook-ups and dating, and very much for an adult audience.”
One per cent of parents admitted helping set up Tinder profiles for their children, while nearly one in 10 (9 per cent) gave them a hand joining the photo-sharing app Snapchat.
Claire Lilley, head of child safety online at the NSPCC, said there were risks the apps could be used for grooming: “Young people we surveyed told us they’d been asked for sexually explicit images or videos by adults, despite making it clear that they were under 16.”
A poll by ChildLine also found when a youngster stated to an adult who had contacted them from a dating app that they were under 16, only 13 per cent of adults terminated contact.