Using the Internet Safely
(For the Girlguiding UK's Internet Safety Guidelines, click here)
A great deal has been written on the subject of safety and the Internet. The Internet is a vast, world-wide structure which links many millions of computers and even more individuals and as in anything of that size, there are bound to be risks. Life itself is a risky business. Not everyone "out there" is a "good" individual, with normal values, any more than all your neighbours, or the people in your street, or town, are all fine upstanding citizens. It is our duty to protect our children, and the children in our care, from any form of danger. Within the Internet, contacts can be made between individuals in a variety of ways : via websites, chat rooms, newsgroups message boards and email are the most likely. Websites are the least likely method to introduce individuals and lead to direct contact : websites are a passive medium, rather like reading a book or a magazine; most websites have an email link so that the reader can contact the webmaster but it is a one-way link, and the webmaster cannot contact you unless you invite him to do so and provide an email address. Many websites also feature "guest books" where visitors can leave messages for the site owner which can also be read by other visitors; guestbook providers usually inform the site owner whenever a message has been left so it can be checked for suitability, and most if not all have the option for "profanity screening" to weed out such messages before they even reach the owner. A growing number of sites are now using "moderated" guestbooks, where messages are forwarded to the site owner for vetting and clearance BEFORE they are posted on the guestbook for everyone else to read. This site no longer has a guestbook, in accordance with current Guide Association policy, and items of a sensitive nature (e.g. those with contact details, phone numbers etc.,) are held in a password-protected area to which only bona-fide adult members of Girlguiding East Yorkshire have the passwords.
News group, chat rooms and bulletin boards are more personal forms of contact : bulletin boards are frequently unmoderated and it is perfectly possibly for anyone to post anything on them and get away with it ; I have personally come across pornographic photos posted on a Girl Scouts' mascot exchange board and for that reason alone I will not use bulletin boards under any circumstances nor would I consider having one on any of my own websites. Chat rooms are equally fraught with dangers for unsupervised children : while the vast majority of users are exactly who and what they say they are, there are no means of knowing whether or not the individual who strikes up a friendship is genuine and so it is safest to err on the side of caution, especially when children and young people are involved. Although not very likely, there is a slight risk that, while online, a child might provide information or arrange an encounter that could risk her safety or the safety of other family members. In rare cases, paedophiles have used e-mail, bulletin boards and chat areas to gain a child's confidence and then arrange a face-to-face meeting. Newsgroups are a very useful contribution to Internet "society" but are also open to abuse by unscrupulous individuals - in the end, we do have to take most things on trust and accept that the vast majority of individuals are genuine but at the same time be aware of that small minority, and again, the safest way is for parents and those with parental responsibility to supervise a child's access to such groups.
E-mail, like conventional or "snail-mail," is open to abuse and it is just as easy to discard unwanted "junk mail" by throwing it in the bin unopened; children should in any case be taught not to open email attachments from unknown sources, not least because they may carry computer viruses.
With any discussion of risks, it's important to realize that the most horrendous (i.e. the child abduction or molestation) is also the least likely. As with all aspects of life, the risk should be put into context. Statistically, probably the greatest risk is that a child will be encounter people in chat areas and newsgroups who are unpleasant or offensive or may expose them to inappropriate material that is of a sexual, hateful, or violent nature or encourages activities that are dangerous or illegal. A child might also encounter E-mail, chat or bulletin board messages that are harassing, demeaning, or belligerent. This risk may not be life threatening, but it could affect a child's self esteem and is most likely to occur if a child spends a lot of time in unmoderated chat rooms or exchanges messages on bulletin boards.
FOR MORE INFORMATION ON INTERNET SAFETY:
Reproduced with permission from Girlguiding East Yorkshire's website.