Website of the UK government

Please note that this website has a UK government accesskeys system.

Public services all in one place

Main menu

Social networking sites

Social networking sites are some of the most popular sites on the internet, particularly among children and young people. Find out what the potential dangers are and how to deal with them to ensure your child can enjoy using the sites safely.

What are social networking sites?

Social networking sites (like Facebook, MySpace or Bebo) are online ‘communities’ of internet users with similar interests. Members of the community create an online ‘profile’ which provides other users with varying amounts of personal information.

Once users have joined the network, they can communicate with each other and share things like music, photos and films. The sites are a fun way for your child to stay connected with their friends, family and peers.

What are the dangers?

Social networking sites are seen as being very ‘cool’ by children and they may be pressured by their friends into joining them. The sites don’t actually present any threats that don’t already exist elsewhere online. The danger is that the threats exist in a new online environment you or your child may not be familiar with.

As with most potential online dangers, the problems can start if your child doesn’t look after their personal information properly. The risks you need to be aware of are:

  • cyberbullying (bullying using digital technology)
  • invasion of privacy
  • identity theft
  • your child seeing offensive images and messages
  • the presence of strangers who may be there to ‘groom’ other members

Registering and choosing safe settings

If your child's about to join a networking site, there are things you can do to improve their security before they even start using it.

Privacy settings

Get your child to select the strongest privacy setting available when they create their account. This will ensure that their personal information is only seen by people they want to share it with. However, be aware that some sites are totally open to the public.

Safety tools

Learn about and make sure your child knows about the safety tools available to them on the service they're using. This might include a block function to stop unwanted contact or the option of pre-approving comments posted onto their profile before they are made public.

Profile/screen name

Although your child may be able to limit who has access to their profile, their profile/screen name shouldn't include their real name.

Staying safe while using social networking sites

The following guidelines will help make sure your child is safe while they are members of social networking sites:

  • make sure that they don’t publish personal information like their location, email address, phone number or date of birth
  • make sure your child is very careful about what images and messages they post, even among trusted friends – once they are online they can be shared widely and are extremely difficult to get removed
  • encourage them to talk to you if they come across anything they find offensive or upsetting
  • keep a record of anything abusive or offensive they’ve received and report any trouble to the site management (most sites have a simple reporting procedure, normally activated by clicking on a link on the page)
  • make sure they're aware that publishing or sharing anything which would mean breaking a copyright agreement is illegal
  • if your child makes an online friend and wants to meet up with them in real life, you should go along with them to check the person is who they say they are
  • tell them to be aware of online scams – offers which seem too good to be true usually are
  • encourage them not to get into any online discussions about sex as these tend to attract potentially dangerous users
  • if you suspect someone may be grooming your child on a social networking site, or your child is being stalked or harassed, you should contact the local police or Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP)

How children chat online

It's also helpful to learn how your child communicates online. Children often use shortened versions of words or acronyms of phrases - for example 'LOL' for ‘laughing out loud’.

It’s very common for people to do this when using message boards and social networking sites. You can find out what any of these acronyms mean by searching for them online.

Useful contacts

Was this information useful?

Thinking about what you have just read, how useful did you find the information?
Thinking about what you have just read, how useful did you find the information?
500 character limit

Why are we asking for this information?

  • we want to hear what you think about the quality and usefulness of our pages
  • your comments will help us improve our pages
  • your comments will also help with the future development of Directgov
  • telling us what you think will help make sure we give you the very best service

Additional links

Click Clever, Click Safe

Get help and advice on a range of internet safety issues from the UKCCIS One-Stop Shop

Access keys