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‘One Direction Effect’ sees teens disregard internet safety

Heather O'Sullivan and Molly Maguire found teens spend 10 hours a week on social network sites. Picture: Denis Minihane

Global pop giants One Direction have helped two Irish schoolgirls unearth a worrying online trend, prompting an internet safety warning for teenage girls.

Harry Styles, Zayn Malik, Liam Payne, Niall Horan, and Louis Tomlinson — who between them have over 80m Twitter followers and who have used social networks to develop a global and fanatical fan base — inspired Molly Maguire and Heather O’Sullivan, both 16, to conduct research into the role of social networks in developing the cult of fanaticism.

The transition-year students in Christ King Cork, discovered through their ‘One Direction Effect’ project that teenage girls, aged between 12 and 13, are spending up to 10 hours a week on social networking sites like Twitter, YouTube and Facebook, checking out news about their favourite celebrities.

But worryingly, they also found almost 84% of those teenage girls would engage with strangers online about their shared interests.

Molly, from Innishannon, said they were shocked by the findings.

"We were surprised by the amount of time younger teenagers, especially girls, spend on social networking sites," she said.

"And we were especially surprised that teenage girls are more likely to disregard their online safety.

"They can be drawn in by their fanaticism and forget themselves and engage with strangers.

"Internet safety is very important because the people you’re talking to might not be who they say they are. They might be venturing in to dangerous situations.

"Our advice would be to always bear your safety in mind, and to never give out personal information."

Heather, from Rochestown, said they thought teenagers would only talk online to people they knew.

"We picked One Direction because we were trying to think about something that had relevance to our lives and to other teens," she said.

"Our generation does spend a lot of time on the internet but we were surprised by how much time they spend."

She said she hoped their findings would remind teenagers, especially young teenage girls, to be aware of their internet safety while online.

Their research will be among 150 projects conducted by 360 secondary school students from 26 schools across Cork city and county which will be showcased at the SciFest 2014 event at Cork Institute of Technology tomorrow.

Other projects include research into obtaining freshwater from seawater for use in third-world countries, and a project looking at the work of the late anti-suicide campaigner teenager Donal Walsh.

Dr Hugh McGlynn, head of CIT’s School of Science and Informatics, said SciFest encourages students of all abilities to participate in a science fair.