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Children as young as four on Facebook

PUBLISHED: 09:54 14 May 2010 | UPDATED: 17:46 30 June 2010

A Facebook crackdown is sending a tough warning message to parents across the borough over the growing number of young children with an on-line presence.

A Facebook crackdown is sending a tough warning message to parents across the borough over the growing number of young children with an on-line presence.

The number of nine to 11 year olds who don't have a profile on the social networking site is said to be in a minority, with children as young as four apparently registered - even though according to the Facebook's own policy under 13's should not be on it.

For while anyone looking at a child's profile is likely to have to wade through such thrilling status's as “so-and-so hates maths homework” some children could be displaying a vulnerability - like not getting on with parents - to predatory paedophiles.

Norfolk Police revealed this week it was dealing with “two or three” cases of internet grooming and issued a clear warning to parents of the need to use privacy settings and monitor communications.

Det Insp Matt Sharman said officers and Safer Neighbourhood Teams (SNTs) were increasingly being asked to talk to children in assemblies as schools became concerned about cyber bullying and social networking safety.

He said it was fine on one level, enabling people to keep up with family and friends and share news, jokes and pictures, but said it could be used in a negative way, adding: “But as a general warning where children go paedophiles will follow and if it's Facebook they will go there because it's an option for them.

“Policing is very much following technology in what is a new area. It is not so bad if you have aware parents who know how to set privacy controls. But many of the children on there are too young and it's too dangerous. The fact that they do not know who they are talking to is worrying and children often declare too much information about themselves. People can find who they are, what school they go to, roughly where they live and they might expose a vulnerability in what they say.”

Parents at Cobholm Primary and Ormesby Junior Schools among many others across Norfolk have all had letters and texts home reminding them of the rules and risks. It is understood several children have been withdrawn from Facebook.

Ormesby headteacher Debra Whiting said she was concerned about the growing number of friendship issues triggered by Facebook with children swapping jibes they would never say face-to-face and plotting playground quarrels.

Some teachers she said had received requests to be friends from pupils and were shocked to discover they were able to view a child's page in full because no privacy settings had been applied.

She said some parents might not even know their children were on Facebook or that site policy said children under 13 should not register or provide any personal information. “Parents have appreciated it and a lot of the children did not know you had to be 13,” she said, adding: “We are just doing our best to keep them safe.”

Head teacher Julie Risby also commented that a letter reminding parents about Cobholm Primary School's e-safety policy, which promotes pupil safety both at school and at home, had recently been sent out.

Det Insp Sharman applauded schools that took a pro-active stance, adding: “It's good to see schools taking more responsibility.”

For more information for parents and children visit www.thinkuknow.co.uk and www.ceop.gov.uk


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