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Man alleged to have posed as Justin Bieber online charged with 931 child sex offences

Parent Zone has warned that relying on parental controls and privacy settings is not enough to protect your child online, following news that a man in Australia was charged with 931 child sex offences after he posed as the pop star Justin Bieber on social media to access explicit images from children.

According to Queensland police, the 42-year-old had been using ‘multiple online platforms’ including Facebook and Skype to communicate with children. Of the alleged 175 victims across the globe, 50 were in the US, up to 20 were in the UK and six were in Australia.

Sophie Linington, Deputy CEO of Parent Zone, has the following advice for parents.

‘While parental controls, privacy settings and filters can help with some content and contact risks, they can’t affect how children and young people behave.

‘Parents should aim to give a clear message to their children, that they should be able to tell them when something goes wrong, or if they’re not sure about someone they’re talking to online - that they won’t get into trouble and that they will know how to help them. 

‘If you think your phone will be taken away if you tell your parents you’ve made a mistake, you are not going to tell!

'Children lack the emotional maturity and critical thinking skills that are crucial in protecting them against harm online. Parents have these skills, even if they’re not totally familiar with the tech.’

Parents can help by understanding the functionality of the sites and apps their children use, advises Sophie.

They should find out whether the user can share photos or videos, whether there is live streaming and private messaging, and whether the site is moderated.

‘Once you understand that, it’s easier to set rules and help children behave in a way that keeps them safe and thriving.

‘Old messages about not being in contact with people online that you don’t know in the offline world are unhelpful - lots of children have people they would describe as friends online that they never meet offline through gaming or social media and this isn’t necessarily harmful, the context is everything.

‘Increasing children’s critical thinking skills is key: help your child question things they see online - why is this person asking me this? How can I tell this is a reliable source of information? If it sounds too good to be true, is it?

‘Parents who have high expectations of their children and offer them high levels of support, raise children who are more resilient online, more able to self-regulate and more likely to come to their parents with issues.’

A spokesman for the National Crime Agency told us: 'We are aware of reports that a number of victims in this case may be in the UK and we are liaising with police in Australia.

'There are many ways in which people engage with each other online and we know that those with a sexual interest in children will seek to exploit tools such as social media for their own ends.

'Information and guidance for children and young people on how to stay safe online and when using social media platforms, as well as information for parents and teachers, is available on our dedicated website www.thinkuknow.co.uk.

'Any concerns or suspected abuse can be reported via the ClickCEOP button at www.ceop.police.uk.'

 

Top 3 tips for protecting children online

1 Let your child know they can tell you anything if something happens online that feels wrong, or upsets them. You won't judge or get angry.

2 Reassure them that if they ask another trusted adult for help, like a teacher or relative, you will not be upset.

3 Look up the apps your child is using and find out whether you can share photos or videos, whether there is live streaming, if there is private messaging, and whether the site is moderated. If they are, you can remind them not to share or private message but if they do it anyway, make sure they know who to talk to if they experience any problems.

 

Parent Zone offers an online course for parents which offers advice and information on helping your child navigate the digital world. Module 2 covers what makes some online spaces riskier than others. The course is free if your child's school is a member of our Digital Schools programme. Other parents can take the course for £6.99+VAT. Find out more.

Further reading

Think critically!

Setting safety and privacy settings for social media apps

The 5 digital parenting rules that REALLY matter

A parent's guide to Skype

Online friends: who are you really talking to? Advice for teens from CEOP