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Kids 'vulnerable' on social networking sites

Parents are not doing enough to protect their children from online abuse via social networking sites, according to research conducted by Ofcom.

The report says that parents must do more to ensure that their children do not post personal details on sites such as Facebook, Bebo and MySpace, leaving them vulnerable to abusers.

Ofcom's research found that half of all internet users aged between eight and 11 had set up social networking profile pages; and more than a quarter (27%) of the same group are ignoring age restrictions by lying about their ages and setting up profiles on social networking sites

The study, which was commissioned by Ofcom's media literacy unit, surveyed more than 7,000 children and adults in the UK. In many respects, its findings mirror those of the Byron review into the effect of the internet and computer games on children. Published last week and fronted by TV psychologist Dr Tanya Byron, the report's recommendations were backed by the government, which said it would form a UK council of child internet safety.

On Friday, the home secretary Jacqui Smith is due to outline a number of reforms aimed at increasing children's safety on the web. They are likely to include guidance about how sites such as Facebook and Bebo can do more to alert children to the risks of posting their personal information online as well as an eight-point safety guide for parents.

According to one report in the Daily Telegraph, social networking sites may even have to feature the 999 number on their pages.

The Ofcom research states that many parents are oblivious to the issues of privacy and safety on the internet. It said that 16% of parents are unaware of who can view their children's profiles online and therefore believe them safer than they actually are.

The report also warns that some children are becoming so addicted to social networking that their time spent online is having an adverse affect on their education.

But the report admitted that the sites did provide benefits for children. Robin Blake, the head of media literacy at Ofcom, said: "We don't want parents to pull the plugs out of the wall."

Since their advent in the late 1990s, the popularity of social networks has exploded, particularly amongst the young.

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