Internet chat can be used in creative ways to connect children together. However as the Smith's story sadly highlights, there are dangers for children online using chat unsupervised, especially where adults use it as a means of seeking to strike up sexual relationships with young teenagers.
Making the Internet, and chat in particular, safer for children is a task which takes all sectors - Industry, Governments, Education, Police, Child-welfare agencies, and parents. Childnet passionately believes in the positive power of the Internet for children and cherishes the right for all to express their views openly. However, where that right seems to conflict with protecting a child from exploitation we believe the welfare of the child must be paramount.
There are a number of organisations both in the UK and world-wide which are working on a wider range of issues. These include:
can better protect their children -
report illegal material
and cons of using Internet Filtering products
An international Internet rating system - see the Internet Content Rating Alliance http://www.icra.org
Childnet believes that those companies providing chat should act now to review their own policies and procedures in relation to chat room safety. A study Childnet has undertaken of teenage chat rooms hosted in the UK suggests that this aspect has far too low a priority.
We would recommend that as a minimum for any chat room (but especially those aimed at teenagers) companies should prominently and frequently display on screen a banner or message which contains the following warnings:
We would also recommend that these companies give prominence to these messages on their log in screens. If they offer chat especially aimed at teenagers we would ask you them to consider providing adult moderation to these groups. Our review suggests that whatever terms of service companies may have restricting participants from bad language or inappropriate conduct, these are frequently broken with no consequence.
a UK inter-agency group involving police, government, industry, child
welfare groups and others that has been considering these issues of child
safety and chat, and which will be issuing more comprehensive guidance
in the near future. But this matter is urgent. Companies need to act now
before other children are hurt. Childnet wants to help the industry in
protecting children and hopes that they will be able to include the CHAT
Danger banner ads on their chat sites and link and support this website.
Governments should review their laws to
A specialised national computer crime squad should be established without delay. Such a squad should be a focus of technical and policing expertise and should have the protection of children as a primary objective. This squad should develop high contacts with their foreign counterparts so that they gain from the technical know-how of others and be able to respond internationally to the problems of a global medium.
Local police forces should receive training in Internet crime and especially in timely preservation of evidence in a cases when a suspect is identified. They must be equipped with high performance computer equipment.
Police forces can also play a stronger pro-active role in fighting computer crime by running Internet safety campaigns as they do in other areas of crime prevention.