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 Wednesday, 8 January, 2003, 14:33 GMT
How safe is the net for kids?
Child surfing the internet
You put your questions to Home Office Minister Hilary Benn in a LIVE webchat.

  • Click here to read the transcript

    The government is starting a new 1m campaign to warn children of the dangers of paedophiles who use internet chartrooms.

    The television, radio and website messages, being broadcast throughout January, aim to make parents and youngsters aware of how to surf the web safely.

    One advert features the voice of a young boy talking about his hobbies, but as the camera pans down it reveals a man in his forties speaking with the child's voice.

    There is also a new set of guidelines for internet service providers, who offer chat and instant messaging services.

    Home Office Minister Hilary Benn said he hoped the campaign would give parents and children "basic safety messages" without demonising the internet.

    Will the campaign succeed in making surfing safer for children? How widespread is the problem?

    This Talking Point is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

    It's time that parents became responsible

    Rik van Riel, Brazil/Netherlands
    Parents are responsible for guiding their children through this world, until they've fully raised their children. This includes the internet, just as it would include the shopping mall, the street or the park. Note that "modern parents" seem to be disclaiming the responsibility over their children in these other three situations, too. It's time that parents became responsible...
    Rik van Riel, Brazil/Netherlands

    The trouble with the internet is it's not regulated. Advertisements blatantly breach TV and press rules and are incredibly devious. Even respected well known companies have links to rip-off products and advertising on their sites. It's high time there was regulation so that anything offensive would not be found inadvertently by kids or the unwary.
    Nicola, UK

    The internet and anything on it should be introduced to children and its use monitored until the parents are happy the child is responsible to make decisions for themselves. Would you let your 10-year-old out of the house into a big city to socialise with anyone, with no control over who they interact with? No? Well why do parents let kids freely use the net?
    Rich F, Worcs, UK

    I work on the internet for a living. I think I understand the dangers posed by people in chat rooms, and at the risk of sounding alarmist, there is no such thing as being paranoid enough when it comes to kids. It's pretty straight forward. Parents, never let your child sit alone at the computer. Stay with them and they will be fine. If you want to make sure they are not on, do a little research for yourself and look up how to set a "BIOS password". Then your kids will be unable to get on with out you there.
    Nick, USA

    Too many see computers and the internet as an electronic babysitter

    Iain Monks, England
    It is time that parents started taking responsibility for their children, but far too many see computers and the internet as an electronic babysitter.
    Iain Monks, England

    I used to supervise an after school program where kids were allowed to chat on the net. I had just one rule for them - they could only talk to people they knew in real life. And I would ask them to tell me about the person they were talking to - how they knew them - just to make sure I was on top of what they were up to.
    Liz, USA

    I never use chat rooms. Nobody can trust a web chat room or forum that anybody can access and use and is operated by people you don't know about. Surely it is safer to let kids use MSN Messenger or a chat program like that, which is operated by a big company and you can choose whether or not to put someone on your contact list. That way, they can chat to their friends a lot more safely.
    Ben, UK

    I wonder where the parents of these children are, and whether they would be as keen to let them explore a pub or even a high street unaccompanied. It is sheer madness that people expect discussion areas designed for adults to be as predictable and as well supervised as a television station. How sad it is that every medium has to be dumbed down until it is suitable only for children.
    Vashti, Wales

    The net today is not safe unless you use a filter

    Bekah, 12, UK
    I'm a child. And I surf the net quite regularly. I know that there are bad sites such as porn sites, and sites with really bad swearing. The bad thing is these sites are the most unexpected sites you would see, like on a Pokemon site it had swearing, and on a dictionary of slang site it had seriously bad swearing. My little sister who is seven was going on e-mail and there was nudity, and really bad swearing. The net today is not safe unless you use a filter or something.
    Bekah, 12, UK

    I am a child and I agree with Bekah very much! They should put filters on the internet so that children can't look at bad language and disgusting sites!
    Rhiannon, 11, Wales

    The real danger here is not abduction by paedophiles, which thankfully is extremely rare. The danger is that children who spend their childhood on internet chat rooms when they should be outside getting some exercise are going to be at risk in later life of getting premature heart disease.
    Adam, UK

    There are parents who need to be informed

    Karen Matthews, USA/UK
    We allow our children to use the computer and give them access to e-mail. We check their mail and we found that someone had sent pornographic material to our 10-year-old. We did not look at the pictures as we were directed to do. We don't know if there was anything but the message was enough to disturb us. We don't want our kids to not get the benefits as there is a lot of useful information on the net. I police their computer and help my kids by educating them. I think there are parents who need to be informed and don't know about these things.
    Karen Matthews, USA/UK

    The internet is a world full of many things like the world outside your door. It is no place for children to wander freely. A parent should be with a child on the internet. Once again the government is trying to destroy the innocence of our children. It is better that children don't know about all the sick minded people out there. What the world needs is better parents.
    Laurence, England

    If I had kids I would make sure my modem was unplugged before I let them anywhere near the internet. I've seen too many crazy things one mouse click away that it's just too much of a risk to let them near it, even supervised.
    Simon Andrew, UK

    I support the guidelines in warning kids and parents rather than trying to force changes on the internet itself. You would not let a child wander out on its own talking to strangers, just because its on a computer, it is still the same thing. The internet isn't a virtual nanny either, it was designed by adults, primarily for adults.
    Fraser Heath, Aberdeen, UK

    Surfing the net has always been, and is still safe. Agreeing to meet people from net chat rooms is the dangerous part. I myself have tried internet dating, and have had one or two scary experiences. However, the latest meeting did end up with her becoming my wife, so its not all bad. Getting back to children and the internet - why not simply lock out chat rooms to kids, and make them adult only? Password them all, requiring payment for passwords, similar to porn sites?
    Paul, UK

    The internet is not, nor ever will be, a safe place for children to roam unguided

    Matt Smith, West Yorks
    The internet is not, nor ever will be, a safe place for children to roam unguided. It is not a 'virtual playground' and no amount of public safety advice will ever make it so. It is rather like expecting the Green Cross Code to make motorways safe to play on.
    Matt Smith, West Yorks, UK

    Some chat rooms and forums that claim to be monitored or moderated are not. I have seen a multinational company that has several forums, including one aimed at teens, being completely abused. There are sexually explicit comments aimed at youths as young as 10 or 12. There are offers of "modelling work" aimed at 12 to 16 girls. There are teens posting their home phone numbers on the forum. But the disclaimer at the top says that site is safe and it is a well known brand, so parents (after the new awareness campaign) will feel comfortable about allowing their children to post their details. Companies need to be held responsible for their actions - they spend millions on marketing to attract their users, then they do nothing to support or protect vulnerable groups (a broad generalisation, yes, but you get my point).
    Scott Boyd, UK

    All the government can say is "guidelines". I am part of an American site with all the administrators of the site either American or Canadian. I have mentioned that some things they do are breaking UK law but they don't care and say that they are an American site. With this kind of attitude you will not get any campaign to work if other countries do not agree with the policy.
    Richard, UK

    Rather than having the government tell us what to do - why don't parents take responsibility !!!
    Paul, UK

    Parents, read the logs from the chatrooms, it doesn't take long, you can always find out what your children are doing.
    Pete, England

    It's a nice idea thinking that if we take the necessary precautions our children will be fine, but in my opinion, you should tell them not to divulge any information, and then there's not much else you can do. Bombarding them with useless Dos and Don'ts will yield very little. Few children would pass over the opportunity of a good laugh just because they fear they'll see a naughty word on the site their mothers warned you about. You have to either trust them, or not let them on the internet, the rest is up to them once they know the risks.
    James H, UK

    You cannot stop those who are determined to try to entice young children over the internet.

    Steve T, England
    You cannot stop those who are determined to try to entice young children over the internet. These sick people will try and try until they succeed or get caught first! Internet safety has to be dealt with by both parents and schools. It is paramount that everyone, not just children, are aware of the dangers. Never give out your real name, phone, or email address, ever, if you are unsure. Children should be re-taught the 'stranger danger' of years gone by, and never divulge any information whatsoever to someone on the web. ISP's cannot do everything, but they can at least filter out known sites, and where information exists, known individuals, but the real responsibility begins and ends at home!
    Steve T, England

    I think the guidelines suggested for children using the internet apply to surfers of all ages. I think parents need to get more involved in what their children are doing 'on-line' without going too over-board. Children need to be made aware of the dangers, but in a way that doesn't frighten them or make them worry about everything they do on-line, but wrapping them up in cotton wool isn't the answer, either.
    Lee, Gloucester, UK

    I have two children one is at the moment too young to use the internet, the other is just starting to get involved under my supervision. On my pc I have Norton firewall software which has parental control but also has other areas which stops any e-mail address, house address or any other info that is set up on the software being sent over the internet, these tools are not that expensive and I think that this could help to prevent some of these problems. Neil Carter
    South Wales

    None of the above advice should be aimed just at children - it should be common sense for ANYONE who uses the Internet.
    Faith, UK

    You say to tell an adult if something is amiss, but in reality this would result in the parents stopping the child using the internet as many parents are technophobes and would not know what to do except restrict the use of the internet. Which may encourage the child to use the internet secretly which is surely more dangerous?
    David, UK



    Andy: Do you really think that warning children of the dangers of the internet through an advertising campaign will make a difference?

    Hilary Benn:

    Yes, I do. We're trying to make sure that children have the information they need to use the internet safely. The two key messages are never give out your address and contact details to someone you have only met online and never go and meet someone in person who you've only met on the internet without taking an adult with you.


    Mark: Don't you think any such moves to "demonize" the internet will just result in a climate of fear?

    Hilary Benn:

    We're not trying to demonize the internet. It's a wonderful means of communication. It opens up a whole new world for people who use it but we just want to make sure that children can be protected from those who may use the internet to try and do them harm.


    Ian: My parents always used to say "do not talk to strangers" isn't it the issue parenting rather than the internet?

    Hilary Benn:

    I think that's a very good point and the advice we're giving in this campaign about using the internet is exactly the same as what we've always told our children about not going with strangers when they're out and about and we certainly want to encourage parents to talk with their children about how they use the internet.


    S Hill: Why will the Government not implement a US type "Megan's law" to keep our children safe?

    Hilary Benn:

    Because it wouldn't help us to do so. If we did that it would drive sex offenders underground and if we don't know where they are then it's more difficult to keep an eye on them.


    Derek: It's not a climate of fear that's needed, just caution the same message needs to out to adults about releasing their details to stop them being spammed.

    Hilary Benn:

    I agree completely.


    Neil: I am a video chatroom host. You have published guidelines: 1. Where can I find them and 2. Are they going to become statute and legally enforceable at some stage?

    Hilary Benn:

    Copies are available from the Home Office. They are voluntary guidelines but they have been drawn up by internet service providers working with us so the industry is very committed to making them work. There is also a website address I can give which is:


    Keith: Are there any positive aspects of children using online chatrooms or should parents simply ban the children from participating?

    Hilary Benn:

    Lots of children get pleasure from talking to their friends online so it's not about trying to ban chatrooms, it's simply about helping children to use them safely.


    Neil: Why doesn't the Government produce a leaflet for households giving them advice on how to monitor their children's activity on the internet?

    Hilary Benn:

    In effect that is what the advertising campaign is trying to do, using television and radio and also messages in chatrooms themselves. I think this is the best way to get the message across to those who are using chatrooms.


    Andy: Why should we believe that this campaign is anything more than window dressing when few suspects from the 7,000 subscribers to the paedophile website have been arrested?

    Hilary Benn:

    Giving good advice about safety isn't window dressing - it's about helping children to protect themselves. But I agree that where people are using the internet to seek to abuse children, then we need to do all that we can to bring them before the courts.


    Simon: When are you going to make it illegal to send unsolicited pornography to web users?

    Hilary Benn::

    Part of the challenge we face in trying to deal with these problems is the global nature of the internet. There is a lot that is already done by organisations like the Internet Watch Foundation dealing with internet service providers based in the UK but everyone recognises the difficulties in trying to regulate services hosted in other countries. That's why we are talking with other governments about what we can do together to deal with this problem.


    Neil replies to your earlier answer to his question: Sure - however does this mean that shifting the burden of "policing" for want of a better word, to the ISPs is the way to go? I am not clear that the technology exists to monitor chatroom usage in the way that might be needed to give high levels of safety.

    Hilary Benn:

    As you no doubt know, some chatrooms are moderated and others are not and that is an issue for internet service providers to think about and also for parents in deciding which chatroom their children should use. I don't think it's about any one person or organisation taking responsibility, this is something that we all have to do.


    Quarsan asks: If you can monitor the net for terrorists, why not porn spam? You would be shocked to see what our 13 year old girls get sent?

    Hilary Benn:

    It's simply not possible for the Government to monitor all of the communication on the internet. What we have to do therefore is give parents and children the information they need, including who to complain to when they receive offensive material.


    Scott: The technology isn't needed - what is needed is human monitoring - if a company doesn't have the resources to effectively monitor a chat room then it shouldn't have one.

    Hilary Benn:

    As I said in answer to an earlier question, moderation is an issue that parents will need to think about when it comes to the choice of a chat site. I really hope that the advertising campaign we're launching today will encourage the kind of conversation at home that we've been having in the last 15 minutes.

    For more information there are two websites: The web site: is really aimed at parents. There is another website which is more directed at children:

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