Rachel O’Connell, founder of trustelevate.com, an independent UK-based consultancy specialising in internet safety, said the key message was to get youngsters to “think before you post” in a world where anyone could potentially access your information.
Dr O’Connell, who is an advisor to the executive board of the UK Council for Child Internet Safety, said privacy settings were essential “to limit access” and the challenge for parents was “trying to put an old head on young shoulders”.
“Young people need to think about who they want to see their posts and who they are comfortable with viewing them,” said Dr O’Connell.
“You often see youngsters posting pictures from parties. But I would advise them to review their postings the next day and see if they are still comfortable with them. If not, take them down.”
The best move was not to post online at all if they had any doubts about sharing certain information, she said.
Dr O’Connell’s comments were made in the context of reports that pictures of at least 40 Irish girls, many from Cork, had been copied from their social media accounts and posted on a pornographic website without their consent.
“It’s the age-old thing, parents must always keep the lines of communication open,” she said. “Teenagers are figuring their identity out and aren’t always good at judging what pictures are appropriate to put online.”
Dr O’Connell, former chief safety officer at Bebo, said the UK government was actively tackling such abuses and would shortly launch a public consultation process inviting contributions from interested parties.
She said the adult porn industry was on board and a key element going forward was likely to be the issue of age verification and proving provenance of content.
“The porn industry is taking this very seriously. From their point of view, it makes good commercial sense to do the responsible thing,” said Dr O’Connell.
She said the expectation was that the UK government would legislate to address online abuses in the wake of the public consultation process, and that this legislation was likely to “cascade out” to countries such as Ireland.
Trustelevate.com is currently working on solving the issue of age verification online.
Here at home, the Law Reform Commission is currently examining the issue of cybercrime under the heading ‘Cybercrime affecting personal safety, privacy and reputation including cyberbullying’ — and as part of its work has conducted a public consultation on the matter.
A spokesperson for the Office for Internet Safety said the comission’s report “will be considered in detail when it is received”.
The Office for Internet Safety comes under the remit of the Department of Justice.