Despite a minimum age limit of 13 years, 85% of nine to 12-year-olds are using social networking website Facebook, causing principals and teachers to have to deal with cyberbullying on an almost daily basis.
Irish anti-bullying service Bully 4U surveyed 1,720 children between nine and 17 years over the course of two months, asking them about their web usage.
One section of the survey asked different age groups whether they were on Facebook and Twitter.
It found that 85% of nine to 12-year-olds were using Facebook and 35% were on Twitter. For 13 to 14-year-olds 97% were on Facebook and 50% were on Twitter. And in the 15 to 17-year-old category, 98% were on Facebook and 55% were on Twitter.
The huge presence of the youngest children surveyed on Facebook was a significant concern for Bully 4U director Jim Harding.
Despite the website’s requirement for users to be aged 13 or older, he said the research showed 33% of those who said they were using Facebook were helped by their parents to when opening their account.
“There is a frustration among primary school teachers and principals who are having to deal, on an almost daily basis, with cyberbullying issues on Facebook when their students clearly should not be on Facebook,” said Mr Harding. “It won’t be long until primary schools refuse to deal with problems caused by underage Facebook usage.”
The survey found Irish schoolchildren were highly critical of Facebook’s perceived apathy and inactivity towards material which was complained about or reported to the site.
“The survey reveals that Facebook responds to/acts on only about 25% of complaints by Irish school children,” it said. “This lack of engagement by Facebook may discourage children from reporting abusive and offensive material.”
On a more positive note, Bully 4U welcomed a significant decrease in the number of children using Ask.Fm, the website linked to the suicides of two Irish schoolgirls last year and a 14-year-old girl in Britain earlier this year.
Where 40% of nine to 12-year-olds, 45% of 13 to 14-year-olds and 55% of 15 to 17-year-olds had used the site in the past, the percentages fell to 8%, 10%, and 10% respectively for those who said they still did.
Mr Harding said the decline was largely down to the media campaign against this site following the suicides, which were linked to cyberbullying.
On a less positive note, however, the report found up to 50% of secondary school children may be using the Snapchat App.
“Snapchat is being used by many Irish school children to cyberbully and for sexting,” said Mr Harding.
“In addition, 30% of secondary school children are visiting ‘Chat Roulette’ sites like Omegle that pair random people from around the world together for webcam-based conversations. These sites are totally inappropriate for children, and would be of great concern to us.”
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