Warning on dangers of ‘online friends’ to kids

Deputy Anne Rabbitte: raised concerns of parents in Dáil.
Deputy Anne Rabbitte: raised concerns of parents in Dáil.

Educating parents on the use and dangers of social media apps is the key to protecting children, a Galway TD has been told by the head of the Garda National Protective Services Bureau.

And the Garda warned that children having 1,000 online ‘friends’ opens up potential to be exploited by paedophiles.

During a discussion on cybersecurity by the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Children and Youth Affairs, Fianna Fáil’s Anne Rabbitte raised concerns about apps such as Snapchat and Sarahah.

“I will reference Snapchat and the likes of Sarahah which came along during the summer. That was a particularly worrying app for parents because, once it was downloaded, it allowed the user to be tracked anonymously on Snapchat and allowed people to post faceless comments about him or her.

“When an app like that becomes available, what is the role of An Garda Síochána in informing the public and making us aware? “What is its role in telling parents that the app is red-flagged and not really suitable and in asking parents if their children are aware of it? How quickly does An Garda Síochána intervene?” asked Deputy Rabbitte, the party’s Spokesperson on Children and Youth Affairs.

Detective Superintendent Declan Daly of the Garda National Protective Services Bureau said awareness and education of parents are key.

“In the case of apps such as Snapchat’s Snap Map and so on, awareness is very important. At the time it came out there was a flurry of activity and we were involved in education about it.

“Webwise.ie has very good advice on the app on its website. We also gave advice on it on our own website,” said Det Supt Daly.

He added that he does not understand why children want to rack up so many online ‘friends’.

“I do not know why children want to have all these friends. They want to have online friends. It is a problem for us. Children might have 1,000 friends. They do not know 1,000 people. They let their guard down online and, because their guard is down, potential offenders or paedophiles will enter that space to try to exploit them.

“The whole idea is to educate them that they should limit access to their friends,” said Det Supt Daly.


For more on this story, see the Connacht Tribune.