Pre-Teens Naïve on Risks of Social NetworkingAn Australian report on the legal risks associated with the use of social networking sites has found that while 95 percent of students use social networking sites, nearly 30 percent did not think social networking held any risks.

The project was designed to focus on the legal risks of social networking as experienced by secondary school students, teachers and parents.

Information was gathered from over 1,000 middle school students (grades seven to ten in Australia), 200 teachers and 49 parents.

In the report, researchers found that Facebook is the most popular social networking site, with slightly over 93 percent of students using it.

The majority of surveyed students update information on their social networking sites at least every day, with a quarter updating their profile several times per day.

The majority of parents (80.4 percent) said they had seen their child’s social networking site profile at least once. Parents and teachers were particularly concerned with issues of cyber-bullying, stalking or grooming (establishing an emotional connection with a child for purposes of sex or other exploitation), with a lesser number expressing concerns about identity theft and disclosure.

Surveyed students felt that social networking sites were safer than did their teachers and parents. While 48.8 percent of students felt there was some element of risk, more than one quarter (28.3 percent) thought social networking sites were safe.

Moreover, nearly 20 percent of students were ambivalent about risk, essentially reporting the degree of risk was irrelevant to them as social networking is “just what everyone does.”

Despite this, the majority of surveyed students (72.4 percent) indicated they had received unwelcome or unpleasant contact by strangers via their social networking profile.

A minority of students (13.8 percent) were concerned about security risks, such as identity theft. A very small group of students identified concerns relating to privacy or unwelcome disclosure of data.

“While risks posed by forms of abusive behavior such as cyber-bullying and grooming have been emphasized both by the media and policy responses, comparatively little attention has been given to the potential legal risks that children and young people may face when using social networking sites,” said Michael Henderson, Ph.D., one of the co-authors of the report.

“Such risks exist in the areas of privacy, breach of confidence, disclosure, defamation, intellectual property rights, copyright infringement and criminal laws including harassment and distribution of offensive material, and this report recommends that education about the full range of legal risks potentially encountered via social media should be part of a fully integrated school curricula.”

Source: Monash University