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Last Updated: Friday, 8 February 2008, 17:14 GMT
Providing a safety net for the web
David Reid
By David Reid
Reporter, BBC Click

The internet has caused children's leisure time to go through quite a revolution in recent years.

Council of Europe's Wild Web Woods
Council of Europe's game helps to warn children about online dangers
This has prompted the Council of Europe, which seems to be cornering the market in fighting internet nastiness at a legal level, to release a video game warning kids of online dangers.

The game deals with issues such as explicit spam, sexual grooming, but the thing that most commonly gets under the collars of parents is the abundance of adult content out there.

In the past, people have been turned off by tools that filter out content because they can be clumsy, but advocates say they are worth a second look.

John Carr, chairman of the Children's Charities' Coalition on Internet Safety, says: "Nobody that I know thinks filtering is a complete solution.

"There is no technical solution that will ever be 100% perfect," he says. "But I think, particularly for younger children that are going online, it can play a valuable role in helping to keep them away from horrific images that no parent really wants very young children in particular to be exposed to."

Cyber-bullying

And children themselves may not be as angelic as they seem.

The charity Childnet International has recently produced a video on cyber-bullying to show how the internet and digital technology can take an existing problem and multiply it a hundred times.

A lot of kids think, somehow, that their social networking sites are private, and they are astonished when their own parents find them
Stephen Balkam, Family Online Safety Institute
Stephen Carrick-Davies, head of Childnet International, says: "It really does wreck children's lives.

"Bullying itself is bad enough. When you've got cyber-bullying, which actually extends because there is 24/7 [and] lack of closure.

"With the tools that they now have - wonderful, engaging, creative tools like social networking, like mobile phone technology, like instant messaging - they can also hurt and cause distress and abuse other children and young people," he adds.

Public, private lives

The idea that the only thing that kids - and the rest of us for that matter - need worry about on the internet is generated by outsiders is mistaken.

In this era of user generated content, we can be our own worst enemies.

The internet is the world's largest printing press and so what seem like a fun prank to post on the internet today could end up following you for the rest of your life.

Stephen Balkam, head of the Family Online Safety Institute, says: "A lot of kids think, somehow, that their social networking sites are private, and they are astonished when their own parents find them, and get quite angry about that.

"So an awful lot of education needs to be done. The problem again here is that the teachers who would be doing the educating are themselves not necessarily up to speed with the technology," he adds.

Taking control

Social networking site Xanga
Your online reputation can be just as important as your real one
So if you were hoping online excerpts from your private life would last little longer than a mayfly and be taken in the same light-hearted spirit, think again.

Dr Divina Frau-Meigs, professor in media sociology at the University of Paris, says: "What we would like is to see children take charge of their identity online."

Ideally, she said, they need intellectual and technical tools that help them create and manage the image they want to project online.

The result, she said, would be responsible citizens with a responsible self image, rather than "an image that is collected randomly by search engines whose interest is mostly commercial".

While kids are being asked to retake control of their online image, the lesson to parents must be that their children are only beyond their control if they fail to take interest and action.



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29 Aug 07 |  Technology

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