POLICE Scotland last night issued a stark warning to parents that they must prepare their children for the dangers of cyber bullying and block access to chat rooms and social networking sites linked to abuse.
Detective Superintendent Steven Wilson, head of the new e-Crime division, said internet trolls would be traced to their homes and prosecuted for sending offensive messages or making threats online. And he detailed a checklist for parents, which includes joining social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter to understand how children can be approached and befriended online.
His comments come in the wake of two high-profile cases in which teenagers took their own lives after online abuse.
Detectives are investigating the death of a 17-year-old boy from Dunfermline, Fife, amid claims he threw himself from the Forth Road Bridge after falling victim to a scam on Skype in which users are blackmailed. His family has asked that he is not identified.
The mechanic is said to have believed he was talking privately to a US girl on Skype but was told by blackmailers that the conversations had secretly been recorded. He was told the recordings would be shared with friends and family unless he paid them money. He was told his life would not be worth living unless he did as they said.
Hannah Smith, 14, of Lutterworth, Leicestershire, was buried yesterday. She hanged herself two weeks ago after suffering abuse on the controversial Ask.fm social networking site.
Det Supt Wilson told The Scotsman parents had to be aware of new online dangers, both on mainstream sites and in the internet’s “dark corners”.
He said: “If you are taking this seriously, and parents should, literally half an hour will put you in a far better position to understand what the risks are and what steps you can take to avoid abuse online.”
Det Supt Wilson added: “We have faced problems of children being bullied from time immemorial. Now we have a new environment in which to deal with this and to police it where threats and criminal behaviour come in. Many of the solutions we apply back in school still work online. The problem is, though, so many of the kids and teenagers are more cyber aware than their parents are.
“You have to understand what your children are doing online. We would suggest putting content filters up to a higher setting, for example, although we acknowledge children might bypass these or use their mobile phone. That is why, at the same time, parents need to sit their children down and say, ‘These are the issues you need to be aware of, these are the sites you should avoid’.”
Police Scotland did not single out Ask.fm, which has been deserted by major advertisers in the wake of Hannah’s death, or others linked to trolling, but said that websites where anonymous users meet should be off-limits.
Det Supt Wilson said: “Parents should be saying to children, ‘Don’t befriend people you don’t know’. With social networking, the classic step is, keep your profile locked down. Don’t make friends with every single request, because people could be hiding behind some picture that isn’t them.”
He said users who abuse others may believe their comments or threats are harmless, but they would still be prosecuted.
“Firstly, these people need to think that they may be carrying out a crime and we will track them down. Secondly, when there is a large number of people collectively harassing someone, they need to think of the effect that could have, what the victim might do as a result.”
Police Scotland warned there were more officers and forensic computer staff working on e-crime in Scotland than ever before and new techniques make it far easier to trace suspects.
Officers said parents can receive advice on the following websites: respectme.org.uk, getsafeonline.org and thinkyouknow.com