A third of school children playing online video games are ‘exposed to harmful content’

The number of children between the ages of eight and 12 with online social accounts has risen to 87%, according to a large survey of 4,500 Irish primary school children.

The research, conducted by CyberSafeKids, also indicates that more than one in four children have been bullied online, with the same amount of content that “bothered” them.

And almost a third of tween boys play adult games and are “exposed to potentially harmful content”. This includes violent imagery, according to the report.

More than a third of children are allowed to go online “whenever they want”, according to the survey, while 95% of children aged eight to twelve now have their own internet-connected smart device. One in seven say there are “no rules” at home for their online use.

Two-thirds say they have been contacted by a stranger in an online game.

The annual survey, which was conducted among 4,500 children between last September and June this year, includes a reported incident involving ‘sexually explicit and aggressive language’ on a Snapchat group set up by a group of children from sixth class from different schools that were integrating the same high school.

“Reading the explicit threats of physical assault and rape of my son in the most offensive and upsetting language was horrifying,” said the mother of a child involved in the reported incident.

YouTube remains the most popular app (78 pc), followed by TikTok (47 pc), Snapchat (41 pc) and WhatsApp (40 pc)

“We were able to act immediately because my son told me what was happening, other parents also acted and there was an intervention from the school, which took a zero tolerance approach to bullying. online. I was not vigilant enough and took steps to address it, but the duty of care cannot rest solely with children and parents.”

The CyberSafeKids survey claims that 28% of kids have been bullied online, and a third of those kids didn’t tell anyone before being asked in the survey.

Meanwhile, more than a quarter of children have “seen or experienced something online in the past year that bothered them”. Almost a third then kept it to themselves rather than telling their parents or someone else.

YouTube remains the most popular app (78 pc), followed by TikTok (47 pc), Snapchat (41 pc) and WhatsApp (40 pc).

When children post videos of themselves, they are more likely to do so on TikTok (74pc) or Snapchat (41pc) than on YouTube (20pc).

TikTok does not allow children under the age of 13 to post content on its platform. However, its age enforcement rules are circumvented by tens of thousands of Irish tweens who enroll each year.

TikTok is currently under investigation by the Irish Data Protection Commissioner for its data privacy standards.

“Data from this year shows that our young children are exposed to large amounts of inappropriate content that can be violent, disturbing and sometimes sexual in nature,” said CyberSafeKids CEO Alex Cooney.

“Video game makers and owners of major social media platforms need to do a lot more with the huge profits they make, to monitor and remove harmful content from their services, especially when it involves a child.

“We are contacted by members of the public with stories about children having negative experiences online – bullying, grooming, exposure to inappropriate content.

“We urge the government to put in place legislation that will meaningfully hold online service providers to account when things go wrong for a child online.”

The news comes after Instagram was fined a record €405 million by the Irish Data Protection Commission (DPC) for breaching children’s privacy.

The fine was imposed for making the accounts, phone numbers and email addresses of certain child users between the ages of 13 and 17 public by default.

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Carolyn M. Daniel