One particular problem is the practice of online “grooming” by paedophiles. The University of Central Lancashire has published research showing one in five children aged nine to 16 uses chatrooms and that three in four children who go on to meet ‘virtual’ friends are not accompanied by an adult.
However, the site accompanying the campaign seems to have a rather ambivalent message. At ThinkUknow.co.uk the advice segways casually with a jaunty “Anyway…” away from advising a child not to meet someone offline, into… what to do WHEN you meet them:
“Meeting up with people you meet online isn’t really a good idea. However long you’ve been chatting to them for. You simply don’t know if they are who they say they are. Anyway, if you do meet up with someone, then there are a few very important rules to follow…”
Just what is the Home Office saying here? That it’s OK to meet someone you’re met online so long as you follow rules about taking a friend or meeting in an open place?
Surely just meeting someone who could potentially be a pervert is danger enough – whether it’s in public or not. Kids can be easily led or grabbed and dragged away, as if they are a son or daughter having a tantrum.
Why doesn’t the advice simply say that it’s better to be safe than sorry: don’t meet someone in person you’ve only previously met online.
Perhaps someone should point out the Home Office’s rather dangerous advice to the media?