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EXCLUSIVE: Thousands of Surrey school children walking legal tightrope online

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Published by the Eagle Radio News Team at 6:00am 11th August 2016.

New findings spark concerns over social media use among young people in Surrey.

The research comes from a youth cybercrime prevention project.

It was commissioned by Eagle Radio on behalf of the Surrey Police and Crime Commissioner.

Results have revealed a growing need for education on social media law in schools for both children and staff.

Almost 80 per cent of youngsters polled saying they were unaware that sending threats online could lead to arrest or prison..

Smartphone ownership among 11-18 year olds has risen from 79 percent to 97 percent between 2014 and 2016 in Surrey.

This has understandably seen an increase in usage of social media by youngsters.

More worryingly is the number of underage young people using age restricted apps.

Many social media and instant messaging apps have age restrictions but youngsters are finding ways around these:

  • 82% of 11-15 year olds use instant messaging apps which have an age restriction of 16+ such as WhatsApp.
  • Despite having an 13+ age restriction, 80% of 11 and 12 year olds have Instagram whilst 69% have snapchat.
  • Online dating apps are being used by 3% of 15-18 year olds despite mostly having an 18+ restriction.

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Worrying figures surrounding awareness of cyber law

Student awareness of social media and cyber law is one of the biggest worries from the report.

The survey revealed that:

 

  • 41% of students did not think there was a risk of going to prison for sending a racist tweet.

  • 26% didn't realise that a stranger asking for a sexual image of them online could constitute grooming offences.

  • 23% wrongly thought consensual sexual images of 16+ year olds were legal.

  • 78% did not think sending threats online could lead to arrest or prison.

  • 40% guessed that online film piracy could lead to a prison sentence.

 

Surrey's Police and Crime Commissioner, David Munro, spoke to Eagle about what is being done to try and tackle these figures.

"A lot of education is happening and the schools are paramount in that.

"But we must never relax because the thing with technology is that you think you've got a handle on it and somebody invents something new and it's all changed.

"There are far more new apps coming online [and] new programs which we've got to keep educating people about.

"But we mustn't lose sight of the fact that this new technology is a great liberator for people.

"If its used widely it will benefit all of our lives." 

David Munro

What is the project?

The project, run by Eagle Radio, was funded by the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner for Surrey.

It was commissioned as a youth cybercrime prevention project.

Professional social media law training was given to more than 7,000 students across Surrey between 2015 and 2016.

Furthermore 383 members of school staff received training.

Many commented that it was the only possibility for teachers to learn about the legal aspects of youth social media misuse.

Training covers a number of basic aspects of law including:

  • malicious communications
  • online threats and abuse
  • hate speech
  • harassment
  • indencet images of under 18s
  • 'revenge pornography'
  • digital piracy and copyright
  • libel
  • privacy and contempt of court

The course taught to staff and students has been designed by former journalist Holly Powell-Jones.

Speaking to Eagle about the findings of the report, Holly said: "The solutions that we need really are in schools, and in the home.

"We need to have conversations with young people about what kind of apps and messaging sites they're using, and what the problems are.

"There's a growing knowledge gap now between what adults know about social media and new technology, and what children know.

"It's 2016 - we need to have this kind of education compulsory in schools, because it affects so many young people.

"We wouldn't buy kids cars and not give them driving lessons, so we shouldn't really be giving out smart phones to kids without educating them about how to use them safely and legally, as well as responsibly."

Holly Powell-Jones

Camberley

Eagle reporter Tom Cantoni was in Camberley finding out what locals thought about social media.

Only one of the six people he spoke to were surprised about the figures.

He also asked whose responsibility it was for young people to be taught about online safety.

Katie: "I think its important that we protect our children, especially online.

"I think parents in educating our own children and also teachers and schools have got to look after their own safety.

Leon: "It's definitely down to the parents. You decide what your kids can do but you can't be around your kids all the time and its everywhere.

"They can get hold of devices anywhere at school. If their friends have got them you can't be in control of everything.

"There should definitely be lessons devoted to online safety and security and teaching kids the repercussions of what they put online - it stays there forever doesn't it.

Tracey: "Parents and schools have responsibility.

"Schools have really strong e-safety policies and I think that's really important. But parents do have to take responsibility as well.

"Just as well you wouldn't let them go off all day without knowing where they were going and what they were going to be doing.

"You have to take some responsibility for what they're doing on their phones."

Wendy: Parents responsibility but also schools because they encourage children to use computers all the time.

"It's part of the curriculum now to use a laptop to go online and look things up so absolutely it should be part of the curriculum."

Tom also put the question to David Munro:

"I think it starts in the home but not everybody has a home therefore the schools also play an important part.

"Quite frankly it's up to everyone - just like all education - to play their part and make sure our young people are equipped to get the most out of technology and stay out of trouble."

Are you interested in undertaking one of these courses? You can find more information here.

If you are an industry professional and wish to inquire into the full report, please contact Paul Marcus at paul.marcus@964eagle.co.uk.

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