Alliance Calls For Action To Protect Young People Online

The Alliance Party has called for action to help young people faced with blackmail or similar situations online.

The party's Children and Young People spokesperson and North Antrim MLA, Sian Mulholland, made the call following a case involving an individual 'catfishing' victims and eventually being charged with over 180 crimes, including manslaughter, blackmail and child abuse.

Highlighting the need to ensure the safety of young people online was paramount in a society where the digital landscape continues to evolve, Ms Mulholland said: "For years, conventional wisdom has said what goes online, stays online. Whilst this is well-intentioned, it can instil fear in young people, taking away hope issues can be resolved and leaving them vulnerable to exploitation and blackmail.

"It's crucial we shift the narrative from fear to empowerment. Young people need to know if they find themselves in a situation where they are being blackmailed with inappropriate photos or content, there are ways to seek help. They should not feel alone or helpless. If you feel you can't talk to a parent, there is help available from the Internet Watch Foundation and Childline.

"We want young people to know there is hope, there are avenues for resolution without resorting to drastic actions and the sooner you talk to a trusted adult, the sooner something positive can be done. By empowering young people with knowledge and support, we can create a safer online environment for all."

Alliance Education spokesperson Nick Mathison MLA added parents and educators should arm themselves with information to help protect the young people in their lives.

"The Department of Education has rolled out the Safer Schools app, which provides information, podcasts and updates about the latest online platforms, all with a view to empower adults to have these difficult conversations with children and young people in a meaningful way," Ms Mulholland continued.

"I would encourage any parent, carer or educator to engage with the resources available to them, to understand the online spaces that young people are utilising and familiarise themselves with the signs and symptoms of potential exploitation.

"As Education Committee Chair, I will be contacting the Education Minister to clarify what more can be done to support the education sector in keeping young people safe online."

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