Teens urged to 'think before they click' in using internet


THE PEOPLE best placed to protect teenagers on the internet are teenagers themselves, according to a new web safety guide being sent to every secondary school in the State.

However, the guide also recommends that parents should get more involved in their teenagers’ online lives.

The teaching resource, Think Before You Click, has been developed by the National Centre for Technology in Education and the Irish Council for Civil Liberties and is aimed at teachers and their students on the Junior Certificate curriculum.

“The ultimate aim of this resource is to empower students to be effective, autonomous and safe users of new media,” said technology centre director Jerome Morrissey at the pack’s publication yesterday.

“Many teenagers see online social networking sites as private and free from adult and parental control but allowing opportunities for regular and instant communication with peers. However, as we feel our way in this massive social experiment some downsides of this phenomenon have emerged.”

The biggest issue was protecting one’s privacy, he said. This meant being careful with such activities as posting one’s profile in detail on social sites.

The pack is a guide for teachers to run classes around such topics as personal privacy, images on the internet and the legal situation of the internet.

Human dignity, a critical appreciation of the role of new media in society and developing ethical uses of new media are explored. It also looks at children’s rights, online rights and information for teachers.

Meanwhile, Northern Ireland’s top judge yesterday issued a stark warning about the dangers to which children can be exposed by unsupervised access to the internet.

Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan was delivering judgment in a case involving a man who was corrupted by internet porn at the age of 15.

The Attorney General believed the three-year probation order imposed on George McCartney, aged 21, who admitted 30 counts of making indecent photographs of children was too lenient.

But three Appeal Court judges dismissed the application and refused to vary the sentence.

The court had been told that Mr McCartney, a student, of Benson Street, Lisburn, began downloading porn of children as young as three when he was 15. He carried on downloading until he was 20, accumulating nearly 10,000 images and video clips.

The Lord Chief Justice said the special circumstance pleaded by McCartney’s counsel was that he was corrupted as a child and his offending was the product of that corruption.

“We consider that this case probably represents the outer boundary of the discretion available to a judge to select a rehabilitative disposal and accordingly are not persuaded that the sentence was unduly lenient,” he said.

He went on: “The internet has revolutionised the way in which we live. Although it is clear that there is much that is positive about the internet, this case demonstrates the dangers to which children can be exposed as a result of which they may be corrupted or indeed in some cases exploited.

“The ease with which an adolescent boy could disable the safe search facility in this case is of great concern. The case illustrates graphically the dangers faced by adolescents with unsupervised access to the internet and the need for parents to be aware of the requirement for a high degree of supervision of the use of computer equipment.

“It also raises serious questions as to whether service providers are doing enough to prevent the dissemination of this type of dangerous and degrading material on the internet and indeed whether there is in fact a legal obligation on them to do so.”