Social networking sites may have initially been the preserve of the young, but that has changed. Facebook now boasts many millions of users, and not all of them are teenagers.
I’ve used the site for around a year now and it is a great way to keep up with friends. OK, some of the applications are a bit annoying, but you can easily block updates on your friends’ farming progress, their Mafia wars and the like. And it is an easy way to get updates from bands, music venues and tv programmes.
Social media as a campaigning tool is also taking off. Many charities and good causes use the site to gain support, while, at the frivolous end, there have been campaigns like the one to get certain songs to the top of the charts.
And now there’s Facebook: The Movie. No honestly, there is. The Social Network, which tells the story of how the company was created, and how its founder became a billionaire, is to be released next month.
But there is a serious side to social networking.
Sadly, in the modern world anytime you have a place, even a virtual one, where young people gather, there is a safety issue. There have been cases reported of predators grooming victims on Facebook before persuading them to meet in the real world. And this led to calls for a Panic Button to be installed on the site.
The campaign was led by the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (Ceop) and it came to a head when convicted sex offender Peter Chapman lured 17 year old Ashleigh Hall from Darlington to her death using Facebook.
An application was developed and launched in July, allowing young people who feel threatened on line to make a report to Ceop with just one click of the mouse. Around 55,000 people have installed it – which still leaves many young people unprotected.
In the first month Ceop reports that 211 contacts have been made through their application. Ceop routinely deals with between 500 and 700 reports every month from across the web, so this number is significant – and worrying.
There is no one step that can make the web safer for young people. Education and parental supervision have their place, but this new initiative gives another route for young people to report any suspicious activity they might find on Facebook to the authorities.
If you have a son or daughter who uses Facebook it is worth considering this new initiative. Further details of the application can be found at http://apps.facebook.com/clickceop/