The vast majority of local 11 and 12-year olds bypass age restrictions to use social networking sites, a Gibraltar Regulatory Authority survey has found.
One of the key findings of the survey include that virtually all students in Gibraltar use social networking sites including 92% of Year 7 students, and they do so mostly for private messaging – a trend that grows as students get older.
The GRA states in its report into the survey results that the high use of social networking sites amongst Year 7 Students is a concern as the most popular social networking sites are predominantly designed for persons aged 13 and over.
In particular WhatsApp which is used by 81% of Year 7 students, but is designed for individuals aged 16 and over.
Local teachers union, NASUWT, expressed concern over the results of the survey, flagging issues such as bullying and sexting.
The survey of local school children included Year 7 students from all middle schools and the Loreto Convent. Also surveyed were Year 8 students from Prior Park School, Year 9 students from Bayside School and Prior Park School, Year 11 students from Bayside School and Westside School, and students aged 17 and over from the Gibraltar College.
The survey comprised of 841 students, consisting of 481 boys and 360 girls, with most being between the ages of 11 and 18.
The purpose of the survey was to obtain an understanding of the extent of use of SNS amongst local students between the ages of 11 and 18.
Additionally, the survey also served to learn about the habits of these students with regards to SNS, in particular, which SNS are being used, the reasons and frequency of use, and the extent to which available privacy controls are being used.
The GRA, with the co-operation of the Department of Education, carried out the survey for the fifth consecutive year as part of its ‘Control Your Privacy Campaign’.
Nonetheless, this year’s results, including their analysis alongside survey results in previous years, has identified some positive developments.
For example the use of social networking sites to post images or comments has been decreasing amongst the younger students.
Additionally, the use of privacy controls by the students, although marginal, has increased and the use of security features on mobile devices such as a PIN to protect access to the device has increased.
Notwithstanding these positive developments, concerns still remain, such as the use of social networking sites by Year 7 students and the low use of privacy controls by a third of the students, the GRA said.
“Further, the continuous and increasing use of social networking sites demands that continuous efforts are made in relation to raising privacy awareness,” the GRA added.
The Commissioner has welcomed the improvements in privacy practices but believes that it is appropriate and necessary to continue monitoring the user habits of new technologies including SNS amongst young persons, and promoting the safe use of SNS and mobile devices.
Victor Gonzalez, President of NASUWT, said the results emphasised the need to better educate children at home and in school of the consequences and dangers of using social networking sites.
He highlighted two websites which aim to empower children and young people to identify the risks they may face online and know where they can go for support.
These are https://www.thinkuknow.co.uk/ and https://www.nspcc.org.uk/
As part of his initiative to raise awareness about privacy and data protection, the Commissioner has developed educational resources that teachers can use to educate students on privacy and data protection.
Two packs have been developed – one for middle schools and one for secondary schools, however teachers may adapt and use the resources in each pack across different age groups should they consider it appropriate and/or useful.
The lesson plans integrate into Gibraltar’s ‘privacy awareness regime’ an International Framework, which was developed by an international working group on digital education that the Commissioner forms part of.
The framework was adopted globally by the International Conference of Data Protection and Privacy Commissioners.