The West

Kids slip into Facebook risks

It is so simple for young children to beat age barriers to get a Facebook profile there are moves for compulsory cyber safety lessons.

Children as young as eight lie about their age to get on Facebook and open themselves to sexual predators, Federal WA Liberal MP Nola Marino says.

Warning stranger danger was now high-tech, the member for Forrest said cyber safety should be part of the national curriculum the Federal Government was developing. Experts back her call, saying many parents are ignorant about their children's activities online.

It is a Facebook condition that members must be older than 13 and people must enter their date of birth when signing up but it does not verify ages.

Ms Marino, who gives cyber safety talks at South West schools, said the number of children who got sexually suggestive and explicit messages and pictures shocked her.

She said it was easy for paedophiles to groom children online, taking advantage of their naivety with comments such as: "I'm going to be your best friend."

"I ask the eight-year-olds … how old do you say you are to get on Facebook," Ms Marino said. "I've had an eight-year-old tell me they claimed to be 42."

Once on Facebook, it was easy for anyone trawling to work out their age. Children might not understand online grooming but could sense something wrong.

Even so, they might not tell their parents in fear the technology would be taken away.

Ms Marino said cyberbullying and sexting, when explicit messages and photos were sent on mobile phones, were other dangers.

Child psychologist Michael Carr-Gregg agreed children needed to be better educated about risks online and said too many parents used the internet as a "babysitter".

Children under 13 did not have the cognitive, emotional or intellectual maturity to manage their digital footprint and paedophiles went where they knew children were.

Facebook said nothing was more important than its users' safety. Its safety measures included deleting the accounts of children under 13 when it became aware of them.

It said it had a robust reporting infrastructure for offensive or potentially dangerous content.

A spokeswoman for Federal School Education Minister Peter Garrett said cyberbullying was dealt with in the draft health and physical education curriculum.

More than 670,000 teachers, parents and students had joined the Australian Communications and Media Authority's cyber safety Outreach program since 2009.

The West Australian

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